Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Suburban historian finds rare artifact linked to Lincoln

By Benjamin Yount 
Illinois News Network

A fragile object tucked away in a room of unknown historical treasures has been found and it is tied to one of the most well-thought-of presidents in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln.

Sandy Vasko, director of the Will County Historical Society, discovered a dried rose a few weeks ago that she said was on the funeral bier of Abraham Lincoln when his remains were at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on April 20, 1865.

The flower is fairly rare, according to Vasko.  She knows of only one other group of flowers and they are in the Library of Congress.

Vasko said the flower was given to General Isham Haynie of Illinois, who was a good friend of Lincoln’s and may have been by his bedside when he died.

General Haynie presented it to Mrs. James G. Elwood, who lived in suburban Joliet.  Her husband, James Elwood, was the mayor of Joliet and a civil war veteran.

The Historical Society received some of Elwood’s possessions and the flower was inside one of his boxes.

In 1971, the Will County Historical Society moved into the building they occupy now. Many of their boxes were put in closets and attics and were soon forgotten.

Vasko had been tasked with looking through those rooms and, a few weeks ago, she discovered the dried rose.

“For a museum director to find this kind of incredible artifact, it is so lucky,” Vasko said. “When I was touching it and handling it, it was like electricity. It was just so amazing.”

Vasko said a few lucky people will soon get the opportunity to see the flower.

“The first thing we’re going to do is have a sneak peek,” Vasko said.  “On Feb. 17, we’re going to allow 50 lucky people to come in this building and view it first-hand.”

After the viewing, the flower will be put back in a safe and won’t be displayed again until about June, according to Vasko.

Vasko said she and the museum staff are working to make the flower available for Illinois’ Bicentennial.

“You have to be approved,” Vasko said. “We started the process a week ago, but being incorporated, everyone has to look at it and see it and approve it.”

She also wants people to be aware of what hidden treasures could possibly be in their homes.

“There are so many attics in the state of Illinois that have boxes full of things,” Vasko said. “Don’t let them sit there. Look through them. Give them to the next generation.”

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