McLean County museum brings Lincoln letter back home

By Dave Fidlin For Chronicle Media

McLean County Museum of History Executive Director Adam Lovell (left) and author and local Lincoln historian Guy Fraker hold up the newly found letter from President Abraham Lincoln to a Bloomington businessman. (Photo courtesy of MCMH)

It contains a mere 24 words, but each scribed letter contains enormous significance to documentarians of bygone events, including staffers at the McLean County Museum of History.

Museum officials on Friday, Feb. 1, unveiled a rare artifact — a letter President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Kersey Fell, who is the brother of Bloomington businessman and landowner Jesse Fell.

Lincoln, the 16th and one of the most influential U.S. presidents, has long been synonymous with Illinois. But Museum Executive Director Adam Lovell said the artifact is one further sign of the politician’s deep ties to Bloomington and McLean County.

“I don’t know if people understand that his presidential campaign really started right here,” Lovell said in an interview with the Chronicle.

An outside organization, the Merwin Foundation, purchased and acquired the letter on the museum’s behalf for an undisclosed sum.

The museum is not in the habit of outright paying for artifacts, Lovell said, so the foundation stepped in and made the purchase before immediately handing the artifact over.

“This was a very special circumstance for a very special artifact,” Lovell said.

Lincoln’s letter to Fell touches on a legal case the would-be presidential hopeful wrote to Fell. Poignantly, Lincoln said he was uncertain when he would be returning to Bloomington in the correspondence, dated Nov. 1, 1859.

The letter, which is to be formally unveiled to the public later this month, helps tangibly share Lincoln’s story and influence in Bloomington and McLean County with the public, Lovell said.

In a statement, local author and Lincoln historian Guy Fraker points to the uncanny nature of the acquired document.

The McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington regularly celebrates the region’s ties to Abraham Lincoln, and renewed attention came during the state’s bicentennial year in 2018. (Photo courtesy of MCMH)

“The letter, delivered to Fell’s office at 106 W. Washington St., is back of West Washington 160 years later,” Fraker said in the statement.

Fraker observed some of the behind-the-scenes steps that led to the letter coming to the museum. He said a concerted effort from several participants helped make the letter’s display a reality.

Lovell and Merwin Foundation President Sharon Merwin worked with George Buss, a nationally prominent Lincoln impersonator, in acquiring the letter.

While the letter is brief, Lovell in his interview said he believes it points to a bigger portrait and hopes residents and out-of-town visitors alike attain the curiosity to want to learn more about the 16th president’s local influence and the other artifacts that are in display within the local facility.

“We’re obviously making a big deal about this because we want people to come,” Lovell said.


In a fitting tie-in with President’s Day, museum staffers will unveil the letter at noon Monday, Feb. 18. The inaugural display is part of a day-long program dubbed, “The Vote: The Museum.” The facility will be open until 7 p.m. on this day.

A preview showing of the letter also will take place, exclusively for museum members, from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13.

For information, visit or call 309-827-0428.

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