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Preserving history

Schumer calls for Grace Bedell’s letter to be loaned to Westfield

July 10, 2014
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Detroit Public Library and the Benjamin Shapell Manuscript Foundation to lend two letters exchanged between Abraham Lincoln and Westfield native Grace Bedell to the Chautauqua County Historical Society on the upcoming occasion of the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination.

Next year, Chautauqua County wishes to celebrate the life and legacy of Lincoln, as well as his connection to the town of Westfield, by displaying the letters at the historic McClurg Mansion. Grace Bedell, then just 11 years old, wrote to a bare-faced Lincoln and suggested that he grow a beard because "all the ladies love men who wear whiskers." To Grace's shock, the candidate not only responded to her letter, but also heeded her advice and grew a beard. He then even paid a visit to Grace on the way to his inauguration. Schumer explained that this is a unique connection to the presidency that most counties and towns do not have, and Chautauqua County deserves to be able to display these letters during the 150th anniversary year of Lincoln's assassination.

"Grace Bedell, and her letters to Abraham Lincoln, are a permanent part of Chautauqua County lore, and a special link to Lincoln's presidency and legacy. With the 150th Anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination approaching, I am beginning a campaign to bring these letters - which connect Westfield in such a poignant way to a famous moment in our nation's history - home to Westfield to display in honor of the anniversary," said Schumer. "The Chautauqua Country Historical Society has a great collection of President Lincoln historical pieces, and there would be no better item to add to the exhibit for a time than the letter Westfield's own Grace Bedell wrote to the President and his touching response.

Article Photos

FILE photo
Pictured above is the statue erected in 1999 in Westfield in what is now known as the Lincoln-Bedell Statue Park. This park showcases bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and Grace Bedell, the girl who suggested that he grow a beard for his presidential campaign. Grace Bedell, a young girl from Westfield wrote a letter to Lincoln, Presidential Candidate, in 1860, encouraging him to 'grow whiskers and her brothers would vote for him and he would look nicer.'

Grace's letters are an important part of Chautauqua's storied history and should be loaned to them to put on display for those who live where young Grace grew up."

Schumer explained that these letters would be put on display temporarily at the Chautauqua County Historical Society. This would be the first time in 150 years that the letters would be in Westfield, which would be a major event for the city and a great celebration of President Lincoln's legacy. Currently, the letters are in the possession of the Detroit Public Library and the Benjamin Shapell Manuscript Foundation, and Schumer is encouraging both of them to begin the process of allowing them to be displayed temporarily in Chautauqua. Schumer noted that there is precedence for giving these letters out on loan, since both letters were on display at the Library of Congress in 2009. Schumer said, given the letters' special significance to Chautauqua County and Westfield, these letters should be lent out again.

"The Lincoln-Bedell story is told to every single person who participates in a tour of the McClurg Museum and we hand out copies of the Lincoln-Bedell letters," said John Paul Wolfe, Curator of the McClurg Museum and Trustee of the Chautauqua County Historical Society. "The Chautauqua County Historical Society focuses a great deal on that story as part of our heritage and our historical contribution to American History. We are thrilled with Senator Schumer's efforts to bring the letters here, having the letters on display for any length of time would be one of the most important events we've ever had."

Below is a link to the text of the letters exchanged between President Lincoln and Grace Bedell:

www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gracebedell.htm

Below is a link to the Library of Congress exhibit from 2009, which includes photos of the handwritten correspondence between Lincoln and Bedell:

www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0903/letter.html

Copies of Senator Schumer's letters to Detroit Public Library Director Jo Anne Mondowney and Benjamin Shapell Manuscript Foundation Director Menachem Grossman appear below.

Dear Mr. Grossman,

Next year the United States of America will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the course of 2015, there will be a great many tributes and celebrations of Lincoln's life and legacy. His likeness, engrained in the minds of our citizenry, evokes strong feelings of hope, unity, freedom, and the importance of civic virtue. A key component of that likeness, Lincoln's beard, can be traced back to the town of Westfield, NY.

Grace Bedell, then just eleven-years-old, wrote to a bare-faced Lincoln and suggested that "all the ladies love men who wear whiskers." To Grace's shock, the candidate not only responded to her letter, but also heeded her advice and grew a beard. He even paid a visit to Grace Bedell on the way to his inauguration.

The Benjamin Shapell Manuscript Foundation is the trusted guardian of many historical treasures, including Lincoln's return correspondence to Miss Bedell. As you are no doubt aware, this piece was displayed at the Library of Congress in 2009 aside the letter that little Grace wrote to Lincoln. These documents deserved to be returned, temporarily, to Westfield, NY. Any celebration of our sixteenth president in Chautauqua County would be incomplete without an exhibition of this historic correspondence.

Therefore, I am writing to request that the Benjamin Shapell Manuscript Foundation loan the Lincoln letter to the Chautauqua County Historical Society for some duration over the next year. This correspondence, to be displayed at the historic McClurg Mansion in Westfield, NY, would serve as a reminder to all visitors of the importance of civic engagement and Chautauqua County's lasting impact on American history.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

Dear Ms. Mondowney,

As you are no doubt aware, next year the United States of America will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The year 2015 will see a great many tributes and celebrations of the life and legacy of our sixteenth president. Lincoln's likeness is engrained in minds of our citizenry, evoking passionate feelings of hope, togetherness, perseverance, and freedom. A key component of that likeness, Lincoln's beard, can trace its roots to the town of Westfield, NY.

Grace Bedell, then an eleven-year-old, wrote to the bare-faced presidential candidate and suggested that he "wear whiskers." To the shock of the entire region, Lincoln not only responded to her letter, but also complied. He even paid little Grace Bedell a visit on his way to the inaugural.

The Detroit Public Library has been a trusted guardian of letter that Miss Bedell send President Lincoln. This document deserves to be returned, temporarily, to the village from whence it originated. Any celebration of Lincoln's legacy in Chautauqua County would be incomplete without an exhibition of this historic correspondence.

Therefore, I am writing to request that the Detroit Public Library and the Burton Historical Collection loan the Bedell letter to the Chautauqua County Historical Society for some duration over the next year. This correspondence, to be displayed at the historic McClurg Mansion in Westfield, NY, would serve as a reminder to all visitors of the importance of civic engagement and this region's lasting impact of American history.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 
 

 

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