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Why The Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation Is Using GoFundMe To Raise Money

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

GoFundMe campaigns have become the modern-day version of passing the hat. But who would have thought that our 16th president would need a GoFundMe campaign. That's right. Abraham Lincoln - or rather, his Presidential Library Foundation has a GoFundMe campaign. And it's trying to raise more than $9 million to pay off the balance of a $23 million loan it took out more than a decade ago.

The money was used to buy some of Lincoln's personal artifacts from a private collector. And if the foundation can't raise the money, some of those personal items, including one of Lincoln's iconic stovepipe hats, might end up back on the auction block. Carla Knorowski is CEO of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, and she joins us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Welcome.

CARLA KNOROWSKI: Thank you.

CHANG: So give us a little bit of the backstory about this loan. How did a private collector end up with so many Lincoln artifacts?

KNOROWSKI: Well, there are many collectors out there for Lincolniana, which are Lincoln artifacts. And she was one of them. She was collecting all her adult life. At this one point, she was ready to sell. And we learned that it was filled with a lot of personal effects of Abraham Lincoln. We took a strategic move to purchase the collection. And we had to seek financing to do so because we were less than 10 years old. And now we're hoping to conclude the campaign for the collection.

CHANG: And what are some of the personal items that you guys were trying to buy in this collection?

KNOROWSKI: Well, as you mentioned, his stovepipe hat - the gloves he carried with him the night of the assassination that actually now are sadly bloodstained. One of the items is the oldest item linked to Lincoln in existence. It's his cipher book, which is a book he put together when he was doing his long division.

CHANG: (Laughter) Oh, my goodness.

KNOROWSKI: Yes. And he's very neat, I have to say.

CHANG: He had great penmanship.

KNOROWSKI: Great penmanship - but he also writes on that page, Abraham Lincoln is my name. And with this pen, I write the same. I wrote it here in haste and speed and left it here for fools to read.

CHANG: Quite the poet - as a young boy.

KNOROWSKI: Exactly. And, you know, we learn throughout his life later on that he is very poetic. We also learned from that that his sense of humor developed at a very young age, and it carried through throughout his life as well.

CHANG: Now the foundation has received some criticism for taking such a huge financial risk. Do you think that criticism is fair?

KNOROWSKI: You know, I don't think it's fair in as much as - at the time, the museum and library had just been opened. People were building, even though it's state-run, a national institution to our nation's greatest president. My colleagues from the state of Illinois, who were the historians at the time who wanted to purchase the collection, and the foundation felt that we could raise the money. And no one could foresee that the economy would bottom out shortly after the purchase of the collection, which is what happened - where a lot of donors, who would have normally come in for a lot more generous giving, could not at that time.

CHANG: So what's the latest on your fundraising effort? Where are you guys at now?

KNOROWSKI: When the news kind of broke publicly on this in May, we were at 9.7.

CHANG: You mean you still owe 9.7?

KNOROWSKI: We owe 9.4.

CHANG: You owe 9.4.

KNOROWSKI: We moved the needle a little bit. And we are actively working with private philanthropists, the legislature in the state of Illinois and the governor's office to ensure that none of these objects leave the museum.

CHANG: Carla Knorowski is CEO of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. Thank you very much.

KNOROWSKI: Thank you so much. It was really a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALISA JONES' "HARD TIMES COME AGAIN NO MORE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.