It seems like a long time now since the email message came from Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts at the Pennsylvania State University. She had heard from an alumnus who had an inquiry very different from any we usually get at the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center. She said that alumnus Al Lord had a friend who at the time owned a wartime printing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It originated as part of a forty-eight-copy run known as the Leland-Boker edition, which was signed by Abraham Lincoln and turned over to the Union League and the U.S. Sanitary Commission for fund-raising at the Great Central Fair held in Philadelphia in June 1864. Lord wanted to know if we would be interested in having it on loan for, oh, perhaps a year. Would we be able to take advantage of such an opportunity?
Some decisions are easier to make than others, and this one was certainly a snap. Because the original manuscript of the proclamation burned in the Chicago Fire, second-generation (or later) printings, especially ones created during the conflict and signed by the chief executive, were about as close to the real thing as one could get. Taking into account the time it takes for synapses to fire, mere milliseconds lapsed before we said, “Yes!” We then had to scurry to find a secure place to display such a valuable document. The Richards Center is not a museum but a collection of faculty and graduate students within the department of history, established to promote broad studies of the Civil War era and share these findings with the public. Something told us that hanging the Emancipation Proclamation in the hallway of a classroom building through which students and the public passed regularly was not exactly the best idea.
We are grateful to William Joyce, head of Special Collections at the University Libraries, for arranging the space to hang the proclamation in the exhibit room for the university’s archives. And we thank the library personnel in general—especially Dean Nancy L. Eaton and Jim Quigel in