Theft of Lincoln hand sculpture baffles police, museum

Sculptures of 19th-century US president Abraham Lincoln by George Grey Barnard at the Kankakee County Museum. The missing hand sculpture had been on display at the museum since at least 1991, said executive director Connie Licon, adding that this was
Sculptures of 19th-century US president Abraham Lincoln by George Grey Barnard at the Kankakee County Museum. The missing hand sculpture had been on display at the museum since at least 1991, said executive director Connie Licon, adding that this was the first art theft she could remember in more than 20 years at the museum. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

KANKAKEE (Illinois) • Someone stole Abraham Lincoln's hand. The crime had no witnesses. There are no suspects.

The police are not even certain when the hand disappeared. About all anyone knows is that a plaster sculpture of the 16th American president's hand, proudly displayed for years at the Kankakee County Museum, has been missing from its shelf since at least Dec 11.

Any art theft would be jarring in Kankakee, a working-class city about an hour's drive south of Chicago, but because of its connection to Lincoln, the loss of this sculpture has touched a nerve here.

More than 150 years since the former Illinois legislator ascended to the presidency, he remains ubiquitous in the state.

His face is on licence plates. Illinois calls itself the "Land of Lincoln". And along the interstate near the Kankakee exit, a giant statue of Honest Abe greets passing motorists from the parking lot of an equipment rental company.

"Lincoln is a local treasure for us," said Kankakee police chief Larry Regnier, whose department is investigating the theft.

So far, he said, promising leads have been hard to come by. Museum officials had thought the theft might have been a prank and that the plaster sculpture would resurface in a few days.

The police hoped someone might provide information about the theft after seeing a Facebook post by the department, which included photographs and described the hand as roughly "the size of a 8-10 pound (3.6-4.5kg) ham".

The local newspaper, The Daily Journal, published an editorial pleading for the thief to come forward. "We are blessed to have such a fine museum with an impressive inventory," the editorial said, "but the collection is not complete without Lincoln's hands."

The hand was the work of George Grey Barnard, a sculptor who spent part of his boyhood in Kankakee around the time Mr Lincoln was assassinated, and whose admiration of the former president was a recurring theme in his art.

The sculpture was displayed along with other renderings of Lincoln in a wing of the county's historical museum.

Ms Connie Licon, the museum's executive director, said the hand sculpture had been on display since at least 1991.

This was the first art theft she said she could remember in more than 20 years at the museum.

"We were devastated. It just brought us all to the floor," said Ms Licon, who was alerted to the theft by a custodian who noticed the vacant spot on the shelf. "We're a small museum and we just don't acquire pieces like this."

Ms Kelly Lambert, a college student whose aunt works at the museum, asked: "Why would someone want to walk off with a fake Abraham Lincoln hand?"

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'Theft of Lincoln hand sculpture baffles police, museum'. Print Edition | Subscribe