A Lincoln memento for Constitution Center

A rare piece of Americana - the only known signature made by President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg - has been acquired by the National Constitution Center and will be displayed there for a decade.

In a room deep in the center's inner spaces yesterday, Joseph M. Torsella, the center's president and chief executive officer, donned a pair of white gloves to examine the document, an autograph book bearing the signature of Lincoln and 12 other dignitaries gathered for the famous Gettysburg Address.

"This is, without question, a treasure," said Torsella. "This is the only autograph connection of Lincoln to Gettysburg, the only thing he is known to have signed that day."

The day was Nov. 19, 1863, when Lincoln gave a few remarks that became some of the most important words in U.S. history.

The autograph book was purchased in April by businessman and philanthropist Lewis Katz, a part owner of the New Jersey Nets and New York Yankees.

"I got a call from Lewis Katz, and he said 'I just bought this Lincoln autograph at Sotheby's,' " Torsella said. "He never collected a document in his life. He said, 'I bought it and I want it to go to the Constitution Center.' It was just out of left field and mind-boggling."

According to news reports, Katz paid $937,000 for the book.

Katz was out of the country and unavailable for comment yesterday, but Torsella said Katz told him that he was drawn to the fact that a visitor "can imagine the moment when pen hit the page."

Torsella said that the book would be put on display at the center in three to six months and that it would be there for at least 10 years.

Among the signers of the book were Lincoln's secretary of war, Simon Cameron; his secretary of state, William H. Seward; Pennsylvania Gov. A.G. Curtin; and Abner Doubleday, a Union general who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, and is credited by some with inventing baseball.

Torsella said that although it wasn't known who collected the signatures, it was believed they were gathered by someone in Lincoln's traveling party. All those who signed are thought to have been on stage with Lincoln when he made his address.

The Constitution Center is the perfect home for the signatures, Torsella said.

"There is something great about this as a kind of a homecoming for this document. It started life on the speakers' platform or the train station in Gettysburg. Then it disappeared and went off for many years. And there is something great about it coming back to Pennsylvania, where it belongs, more than 140 years later," he said.

 



Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.