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Former Idaho AG donates rare Abe Lincoln items for exhibit

Former Idaho AG donates rare Abe Lincoln items for exhibit
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BOISE -- Idaho's 150th anniversary as a territory is coming up in about a year. Gov. Butch Otter signed a proclamation Tuesday putting the Idaho State Historical Society in charge of the celebration.

At the event, former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy made a donation that will help create the largest President Lincoln exhibit in the Mountain West.

The Abraham Lincoln collection is something that is near and dear to the hearts of Leroy and his wife Nancy. With something so dear, they thought it was time to share it with the entire state.

Idaho cares about Lincoln because Lincoln cared about Idaho, said David Leroy.

For a quarter of a century, Leroy has collected just about everything he can get his hands on relating to the 16th President of the United States.

I revere Lincoln, I appreciate Lincoln, said Leroy. I understand that he was not a perfect human being, that he was not a perfect politician, but I understand with a very mellow background, with a very weak set of skills from formal training, he aspired to and became what I think was our greatest American at the time of the most critical need. He saved the country, that speaks for itself.

As Leroy puts it - with a stroke of a pen in 1863 - Lincoln signed Idaho into existence, further adding, Lincoln needed Idaho territory, he created Idaho Territory.

Now he's taking his collection and donating it to the Idaho Historical Society.

The collection itself is spectacular, but the opportunity for the public to see it, without having to have an appointment, without having to be a researcher, is really unique, said Janet Gallimore, Executive Director of the Idaho State Historical Society.

This is a copy of the Lincoln v. Douglas debates. A hardbound book published in 1860, said Leroy.

This best seller sold 50,000 copies for $1.00 each.

It was literally the book that elected Lincoln to the presidency of the United States, said Leroy.

Leroy says they had transcriptionists from newspapers who literally took every word down from shorthand; the friendly papers for Lincoln would take his comments down accurately and slightly distort Douglas. The Douglas papers would do exactly the opposite.

Civil War items will be on display as well, buttons, belt buckles and shells.

This represents humanity and the remnants that remained in the ground of that battle, said Leroy.

This is a life mask taken in May of 1860, Leroy says the sculptor didn't trust photographers.

He had Lincoln sit in a chair in his office, gave him a straw so he could breathe through his nose and his mouth and put plaster over his face to produce this cast, said Leroy.

There was another life mask from 1965.

This as contrasted with the earlier one shows not the young Lincoln, not the vigorous newly elected or nominated president Lincoln, but this shows the tired, careworn, anxious President Lincoln with all of the lines and wrinkles born of decision making the Civil War and the White House, said Leroy.

Also on display, will be casts of Lincoln s hands, one done the day after his presidential nomination.

His left hand actually shows a scar, which you can see in the cast from where Lincoln almost cut off his thumb when he was an ax man. His right hand was swollen from having shaken 20,000 of his neighbor's hands because of his nomination in Springfield, so he went out to the woodshed behind his house, cut off a broomstick to give his hand a little more definition, said Leroy.

There will also be photographs. One, Leroy says is the only up close picture of Lincoln wearing spectacles.

Each item has a story. Leroy says many of those stories are tied to the Gem State.

Idaho, more than any other state, is related to Abraham Lincoln. I expect to make believers at this gallery of that proposition, said Leroy.

The plan is to have the Lincoln exhibit open to the public by fall of 2013. The Idaho State Historical Society still needs to raise $100,000 to make this exhibit happen. For more information on the exhibit and what Idaho is doing for its 150th anniversary, click here.