Like many people in Springfield,
Cullom Davis is rooting for the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum.
Davis, perhaps more than most, is personally invested
in the complex's success. As a professor emeritus at the
University of Illinois at Springfield, former director
of the Lincoln Legal Papers Project and one-time
president of the Abraham Lincoln Association, he has
spent much of his life looking after the 16th president.
But, since Richard Norton Smith came to town last
year to direct the library and museum, much has happened
that Davis does not like. An early supporter of Smith,
Davis is concerned that Smith's leadership style and
"lofty" persona have had a debilitating effect on the
Davis also has misgivings about hiring practices
there and the naming of the library's first-floor
reference room after the late Chicago Sun-Times
columnist Steve Neal.
Davis kept quiet, until recently, when he felt
compelled to share his complaints with The New York
Times, which interviewed him for an article about the
library and museum that appeared in the paper's Nov. 15
The article balanced the high expectations many have
for the scheduled April 19 opening of the Lincoln
Presidential Museum with sharp criticism by two
prominent Illinois scholars: Davis and Southern Illinois
University's John Y. Simon.
Davis's quoted comments were directed toward Smith.
Simon charged that plans for the museum are more
inspired by "Disney" than a reverence for history, an
opinion he has voiced previously.
"I don't want to be associated with the negative
comments about Richard Norton Smith," Simon told The
State Journal-Register. "But the museum is an updated
version of a wax museum - Six Flags over Lincoln. You
can tell those people in Springfield, I don't like that
Davis also elaborated on his concerns.
He claims Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
chairwoman Julie Cellini has hired friends, namely Susan
Mogerman and Estie Karpman, to run the library and
museum's foundation. Mogerman is the foundation's
executive director. Karpman is its chief fund-raiser.
Cellini, who has worked with both women in the past,
sits on the foundation board.
Mogerman and Karpman are longtime Springfield
residents. Mogerman, a previous Illinois Historic
Preservation Agency director and former head of Downtown
Springfield Inc., has been involved with library and
museum planning from nearly the beginning. Karpman, most
recently the Illinois State Museum's fund-raiser who led
a class on the subject at UIS for years, was one of the
first people the Lincoln foundation called about how to
set up a money-raising program.
Mogerman and Cellini said experts at a top-rated
fund-raising program at Indiana University recommended
scouting for local talent before taking on a costly and
time-consuming national search. The foundation already
had been dormant for about a year, Mogerman said, and
there was pressure to make up for lost time.
"(Estie and I) are two unique people with unique sets
of experiences," Mogerman said. "We were also at the
right time at the right place."
Cellini staunchly defends hiring the women.
"National searches are fine, but often in your region
there are excellent people," she said. "This team hasn't
been together that long, and they are already
Both Smith and Cellini refer to Davis as part of an
"old guard" and say his concerns may even be personal.
Even Davis tempers his concerns. He said he admires
Mogerman and Karpman, although he continues to question
whether anyone from Springfield has the experience to
run a "world-class" institution.
Davis also said he raises his concerns reluctantly.
He admires Smith greatly, he said.
"I was among the early champions of Richard Smith's
appointment," Davis said. "I remember calling him before
the news really broke, offering him my congratulations.
I'm not out gunning for Richard. He's a gifted guy."
Recently, though, a few things began to eat at him,
including the naming of the presidential library's
reading room after the late Sun-Times columnist Neal, a
close friend of Smith's.
When Davis learned of the honor, he was offended.
Neal's columns accused former Gov. George Ryan of
planning to use the library and museum as a patronage
dump and creating a Lincoln presidential center at UIS
for the same purpose.
When fund-raising confusion arose as UIS's Lincoln
center competed for dollars with the Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum's foundation, Neal wrote
about it. Among other things, Neal accused UIS of
"cashing in on Lincoln's legacy" by "hijacking" the
presidential library. Gov. Rod Blagojevich ultimately
yanked the center and its funding from UIS.
Davis was one of those helping UIS with fund raising
for its new center.
The whole affair was an "incredible embarrassment to
the university," Davis said, adding that UIS officials
never had selfish motives and didn't deserve Neal's
Asked if he took personally the naming of the library
room after Neal, Davis responded, "You're darn right."
Smith said he merely recommended naming the reference
room after Neal, who is credited by admirers for
restoring integrity to the library and museum. Neal also
was a major force behind Smith's appointment, which has
been heralded as a turning point for the facility's once
politically soiled reputation.
As for Smith's short tenure, it has not been smooth.
Davis said he knows many library employees and soon
began hearing about "absolute turmoil" among Smith's
staff, some of whom started fearing for their jobs and
of Smith's alleged temper.
Such allegations are not new.
"Richard is a visionary who often goes from A to Z
without saying the rest of the alphabet," said Linda Kay
Pritchard, assistant to the director of the Dole
Institute in Kansas.
Pritchard worked for Smith when he directed the
institute right before arriving in Springfield and
considers him a close friend - "the greatest person in
the world," she said.
Pritchard also said there were people whom Smith
frustrated in Kansas, generally as a result of
personality clashes and battles over long-term plans.
She once met someone at the Eisenhower Presidential
Library, which Smith also directed. The person told her
Smith "irritated people," but added that "his ideas were
Smith denies having a temper but confesses he
underestimated how much stress the job, public scrutiny,
belt-tightening budget cuts and a turgid state
bureaucracy would create.
Davis and library staff are particularly upset with
how Smith often has criticized the old Illinois State
Historical Library, whose material became the bulk of
the Lincoln Presidential Library this year. He has
singled it out as an "entrenched culture" that refuses
change and lowers expectations. Smith has made many
changes, including extending library hours and
"There is no doubt I've been an agent of change, and
there is an unavoidable consequence of one culture being
transformed by another," Smith said.
"I'm sure I've made mistakes. I will make mistakes.
The fact is, an awful lot is being asked of these
people, and by and large they have every right to ask
why so much change is being forced upon them. Most of
them have more than risen to the challenge. The bottom
line: They are better than the system in which they are
Davis concedes that, even among members of the "old
guard," change is necessary.
"Some could use some shaking up," he said. "(Smith)
is certainly correct - this is a new location. It needs
new energy, new ideas. I certainly agree with that,
All parties also agree that much is at stake. Getting
the library and museum running has been rough on nearly
everyone involved. There have been obstacles, some
political and some the inevitable mishaps associated
with large construction projects.
And conflicting leadership styles and personalities
are nothing new in the often-contentious world of
Lincoln scholarship. Legendary rivalries, large egos and
heated debates are well documented.
Cellini summed up what's often forgotten when so many
high-profile people come together for a common cause.
"This isn't about who's doing the fund raising," she
said. "This is a wonderful, quality project. The
superstar is what you're raising money for."
Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or