David Blanchette  /  Illinois Historic Preservation Agency via AP
William Malone, an employee of William B. Meyer Inc., moves Abraham Lincoln documents out of the Illinois State Historic Library stacks at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., on Sept. 2.
updated 9/8/2004 12:13:45 PM ET 2004-09-08T16:13:45

It’s bit more involved than renting a trailer and begging a few friends for help, but that can be expected when moving the world’s largest collection of Abraham Lincoln documents to its new home.

Sure, it’s all only going a block down the street. Just don’t tell that to Gary Stockton, who is coordinating the move that includes, among reams of documents that would make for several truckloads, a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address and the only photograph of Lincoln lying in state after his assassination.

The project has required years of planning, a platoon of movers, three weeks and $109,000. It is the last major step before opening the long-delayed, state-of-the-art Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, on track to open late this month.

The old library is a dungeon-like maze of rooms beneath the Old State Capitol in downtown Springfield. With the move underway, shelves are half-empty. The floors are crowded with orange “RentaCrates” being loaded with books and papers. Empty cabinets, broken chairs and boxes of odds and ends are scattered everywhere.

The library’s collection ranges from rare books and original Lincoln documents to microfilms of Illinois newspapers and copies of routine county records. Then there are the truly irreplaceable items, like the Gettysburg Address, one of only five surviving copies.

Kim Bauer, curator of the library’s Lincoln collection, said the address had not been moved to the new building yet. He said it will probably be transferred without notice or fanfare, protected in a special container, to the new library’s vault on some quiet day.

The collection also includes a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, letters between Lincoln and his wife, political correspondence, rare photos and a signed copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery (Lincoln pushed the measure through Congress, but it wasn’t ratified by the states until some eight months after his death).

Delicate cargo
The moving company hired to haul most of the books and boxes to the new library won’t be handling some of the most precious documents, said Stockton, the archivist for the State Historic Library’s acquisitions. Instead, those items will be wrapped in their protective folders and boxes, then moved to the new building by library employees.

One delicate item that will be handled by the movers is the original tombstone of Lincoln’s son Edward, who died in 1850 at age 3, Stockton said.

A library devoted to the 16th president has been discussed for decades, but the project really got off the ground six years ago. Construction began in 2001 with a price tag of $115 million for the library and an accompanying museum that is to open next year.

Stockton recalled an early meeting to discuss all the details. He asked how much money was being set aside to move the library’s contents.

“I could tell from their reaction that not a lot of thought had been given to it,” he said.

Perhaps as a reward for speaking up, Stockton was put in charge of moving the large collection.

The sheer volume is daunting: Imagine a semitrailer filled with paper from top to bottom. Now add four more just as full; that’s roughly the library’s 12,000 cubic feet of manuscripts, letters and prints.

Then there are the books. Line them all up on one shelf and it would be about 2.6 miles long.

There are 135,000 reels of microfilm and negatives, with more being added every day, and a little of everything else: statues, movies, paintings of obscure officials.

Biggest collection in the world
Much of that is general Illinois history and has nothing to do with Lincoln. Still, the library boasts that its Lincoln collection is bigger than the Lincoln materials at the National Park Service, the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution combined.

State employees have been moving office furniture, personal items and some key library materials to their new building for weeks. But the official Big Move started Aug. 23 and is on schedule to finish in mid-September so the library can open late this month.

Employees already had decided where everything goes in the new library, down to which shelf will hold century-old bound volumes of “Harper’s.” They got extra planning time when construction delays and problems with the building’s temperature-control systems held up the opening of the library. The original target was February 2003.

A company that specializes in moving libraries is being paid $109,000 to pack the material, truck it a block down the street and unload it at the new library. Mark Dalene, a supervisor for the moving company, William B. Meyer of Connecticut, said this is the biggest moving job he’s ever tackled.

He called it an honor, and also a great responsibility, to move such historic items.

“If you misplace one book, the chances of them ever finding it are slim,” Dalene said.

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