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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Treasure Chest

A bureau built by Abraham Lincoln’s father joins a display of historic artifacts

Steve Haaff, a Spencer County native and an authority on 1800s furniture made by Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas, gets a lot of phone calls. Callers wonder if they might be sitting on a historical artifact at home, but many turn out to be false leads fed by rumor and legend. When descendants of William Wood reached out from Kansas City, Missouri, several years ago asking Haaff to look at a chest of drawers they owned, his interest was immediately piqued.

Steve Haaff photo courtesy of Spencer County Leader

During Abraham’s formative Southern Indiana years between the ages of 7 and 21, friends and neighbors commissioned his father to build furniture like this circa-1820 cherry wood Federal-style bowfront chest with maple inlay. Living just over a mile apart, it is safe to assume the Woods and the Lincolns would have enjoyed a close relationship.

Fast forward a couple of centuries. A direct Wood descendant, Mildred Moore, remembers her family storing linens, dresses, fabric, and other items in the chest through the years. As a girl, she and her sisters each claimed a drawer; Mildred used hers as a place to stash rag dolls.

“It’s always been in the house,” she recalls. “We didn’t know what to do with it. What do you do with an antique?”

Moore loaned it to the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis for display alongside two Thomas Lincoln-made corner cabinets and a bench mallet used by Abraham, first publicly revealed in Spencer County in early 2016.

Photo by Spencer County Leader

“(The chest) is such a beautiful piece, and important not only for the fine craftsmanship and beauty of it but also for the provenance and family story that’s attached to it,” says Susannah Koerber, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites’ chief curator and research officer.

The expanded Lincoln cabin display was unveiled on Jan. 25 as part of the “19th State” exhibit, where the chest will remain on view indefinitely.

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