llinois state historian Thomas
Schwartz recalled the first thing he said on the phone
when a man named Tom Heyser called him a few months ago.
"Mr. Heyser, are you the son of Estella Heyser?"
He was. About 20 years ago, Estella Heyser had
written to the Illinois State Historical Library
concerning a few things of hers she thought the library
might want to purchase - Abraham Lincoln's presidential
briefcase among them, the one in which he likely carried
working drafts of his Emancipation Proclamation and
second inaugural address.
The briefcase was arguably one of the most valuable
Lincoln artifacts still in private hands - until Tom
Heyser called Schwartz, setting in motion a process that
ended Tuesday. That's when Heyser, his wife and son were
in Springfield for a ceremony marking their donation of
the briefcase and other Lincoln-related artifacts to the
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
In addition to the briefcase, the Heysers donated a
dress owned by Mary Todd Lincoln and Lincoln-monogrammed
pillow cases and handkerchiefs.
Estella Heyser and her husband, Albert, were
housekeepers for Robert Todd Lincoln and his wife, Mary
Harlan Lincoln, during the 1920s and '30s for about 10
years. As tokens of appreciation, the Heysers inherited
the items their son handed off Tuesday.
Albert Heyser died in 1982, and Estella in 1988.
Robert Todd Lincoln died in 1926; his wife, in 1937.
There's little doubt the Lincoln briefcase, also
called a document portfolio, is authentic, according to
Schwartz. It was part of a 1959 Smithsonian exhibit
marking Lincoln's 150th birthday - the last time it was
in public view.
The front of the weathered, leather portfolio has
"Abraham Lincoln" stamped in gold leaf. All Cabinet
members were given such cases, where they often stored
letters and speeches.
Lincoln's dates back to the time when he would have
been hammering out some of his most famous phrases, such
as "With malice toward none."
The ceremony took place downtown at the
not-yet-completed Abraham Lincoln Museum. Construction
workers were there, too, as the Heysers were flanked by
Mayor Tim Davlin, Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich
and library/museum director Richard Norton Smith, all of
whom took part in unveiling the briefcase and light-pink
and white dress.
Smith said the briefcase will eventually be showcased
within the museum's "holy of holies," a exhibit space at
the center of the building shaped like a huge stovepipe
hat that will also house an original draft of the
Also unveiled Tuesday was the library and museum's
new logo, designed by David Brodsky, a graphic designer
in Springfield and creative director for the Illinois
Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Smith, Schwartz and others said the donations will go
down as among the most valuable in the library's premier
47,000-item collection of Lincoln artifacts.
Mary Lincoln's dress is one of only a few known to
have survived. The Smithsonian has one, the Chicago
Historical Society has two, and the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library will now have three, plus part of
her wedding dress.
Chances are good that the Heyser dress was designed
by Lincoln's seamstress and confidant, Elizabeth
Keckley, a former slave who also made clothing for the
wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis when he
was a U.S. senator before the Civil War.
The Heysers had the briefcase appraised before
donating it. Tom Heyser wouldn't reveal the exact
estimate, but said it was for more than $300,000.
Heyser, a motorcycle salesman who lives in Maryland,
said many of his friends didn't even know about the
family treasure that was once almost destroyed when a
water pipe burst four feet from the briefcase, which he
had been storing in the basement.
State historians say the appraised value is difficult
to assess. In 1992, Sotheby's and Christie's auction
houses both sold Lincoln documents for $1.5 million and
$1.3 million, respectively.
The museum portion of the Abraham Lincoln
presidential complex is scheduled to open in the spring
of 2005. The library is supposed to open by the end of
Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or