PHOTO BY SHAWN POYNTER/SJ-R
First lady Lura Lynn Ryan accepts the desk in the Hall of Representatives at the Old State Capitol. With it is a chair Lincoln is believed to have sat in during visits to a local drugstore.
Gift includes chair he probably sat in
A desk believed to have been used by Abraham Lincoln when he served in the Illinois legislature is set to go on display at the Old State Capitol State Historic Site in downtown Springfield.
State experts are "90 percent sure" the desk was used by Lincoln, based on a strong provenance, or chain of ownership, that includes signed statements from previous owners of the desk, according to Dave Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which runs the Old State Capitol.
The desk was donated by William Hughes Diller Jr. of Springfield and has been in his family since 1890. Diller also gave the state a chair believed to have been frequently used by Lincoln on visits to Diller's Drug Store, a Springfield establishment operated by his ancestors.
The desk and chair will be on display in the Hall of Representatives at the Old State Capitol, which is furnished with modern reproductions of the desk.
Susan Mogerman, director of the IHPA, said the likelihood that the desk was used by Lincoln is not the most important reason for putting it on display in the Hall of Representatives.
"This is a true original," she said. "It gives a us a look at what this room looked like in the 1840s and '50s."
Illinois first lady Lura Lynn Ryan officially accepted the donation of the desk and chair in a ceremony at the Old State Capitol Friday.
"It isn't hard to visualize Abraham Lincoln or one of his fellow legislators using this desk while debating issues that would change the world," she said. "The chair ... is also a valuable artifact from Lincoln's life."
Lincoln served as a state representative from 1834 to 1841.
The desk was one of a number of identical pieces used by the Illinois House of Representatives after the state capital was moved from Vandalia to Springfield in 1839. A reduction in the size of the House in about 1848 caused a surplus of desks, and a public sale was held.
The Lincoln desk was purchased for a local carriage maker, Obed Lewis, by a man named Henry Van Hoff. Van Hoff reportedly had tried to buy the desk used by Lincoln's fellow representative and law partner, Stephen T. Logan, thinking that Logan would one day be the more famous man.
Logan's desk was unavailable, however, and Van Hoff bought Lincoln's desk instead. In 1890, Lewis sold the desk to one of Diller's ancestors, Roland Diller. For the past 35 years, the desk has been on loan and on display at the Lincoln College Museum in Lincoln.
It is believed that Lincoln signed his name in pencil inside one of the two drawers of the desk. Someone apparently tried to preserve the signature by covering it with lacquer, but the attempt was unsuccessful and only the small patch of lacquer is visible today.
Doug Pokorski can be reached at 788-1539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.