LITTLE PIECES

Gordon Woods / Journal — Above: The museum recently received an autograph book from the 1880s belonging to a Weldon resident. Below: A chair often used by Abraham Lincoln from a local residence is on display at the DeWitt County Museum.

Donated artifacts help museum get a picture of the past

People like museums. 

Nearly everybody can find a museum that appeals to them.  Besides being educational, and even entertaining, museums perform a vital function.  They, of course, preserve the history of the famous, but they also preserve the history of the not-so-famous, the ordinary person.

Joey Woolridge, director of the C.H. Moore Homestead / DeWitt County Museum, works with some of those artifacts of the famous but just as often receives pieces of history that give some insight into the lives of the average person.

The museum houses a chair it received fairly recently that, without a doubt, once had its brush with greatness.  The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, often sat in the chair when he visited friends at their home in Clinton.

Lincoln had law offices in Clinton during his days as a circuit-riding attorney in Central Illinois.

An elderly man called from Flint, Mich. and asked if the museum would like to have his family’s “Lincoln chair.”  

Woolridge said, naturally everyone wants to believe they have a “Lincoln chair.”

“But, if you think about it, if you go to someone’s house to visit, you take a seat.  If you go to someone’s office for business, you’re going to sit and talk,” she said.

The man, who mentioned he was 90, said he hadn’t been to Clinton since he was 14.  But, when he related a story to Woolridge about his great aunt having worked for a wealthy, Clinton family and their friendship with Lincoln, she became interested.

They later gave the chair to another family, but the man could not remember their name.  But, he did remember that their home was located on the “northeast quadrant,” of the intersection of Center and Woodlawn Streets.

“I remember this like I remember my own name,” the man told Woolridge.

She tested him by asking if the house was brick.

“No, not brick,” he answered.  “A big, clapboard house on the northeast quadrant with a big yard.”

Of course, Woolridge knew he was talking about the C.H. Moore manor.

“Okay, she told him.  “That’s this house, and we want the chair.”

The man and his wife later personally delivered the chair while on their way to Tennessee.

Woolridge speculates the chair later was given away and found its way into the family of the man who eventually gave it to the museum.

The museum also has other chairs associated with Lincoln.

Another piece of DeWitt County history arrived at the museum earlier this month, when a Kankakee resident mailed an item once belonging to a Weldon resident.

“It is from 1887-1888,” the man wrote.  “I have a small book that looks like it was used as a school year book.”

The book was in a box of old postcards the man bought at a rummage sale.

The small autograph book apparently belonged to a Weldon school girl, Bertie Lisenby.  As it later became the fashion for students to inscribe personal messages to their friends in the pages of high school yearbooks, each page of the autograph book includes a message from one of Bertie’s fellow students or adults she knew.

Woodridge says that, with artifacts collected here and there and with research, it’s possible to get a picture of the people who once owned and used them.

“You can put the pieces together and you have little pieces of people’s lives,” Woodridge said.

Years ago, the museum received a box of items that had been kept in a storage locker.

“And, it was basically this guy’s live,” Woolridge said.

The box included high school yearbooks from the early part of the 20th century.

“At one point, he was a Merchant Marine, and there was a little Bible that was given to him by his mother.”

A key to saving people’s history depends largely on who finds the artifacts, Woodridge said.

“The right people have to find these things.”

Helping to save that history is what the museum is about, she said.

“That’s what we’re here to do; we’re the keepers of the memories.”

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