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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Whiskery History At Risk

You might have heard of 11-year-old Grace Bedell's 1860 letter to Abraham Lincoln advising the candidate to grow a beard, because "All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be president." That letter now lies at the center of a controversy between Grace's great-grandson and the Detroit Public Library.

It seems that a friend of Robert Todd Lincoln named George Dondero was sent to return the letter to Grace in 1928, but instead finagled the document away from her.

According to “Lincoln’s Little Girl” — which chronicles the events surrounding the correspondence between Grace Bedell and President Lincoln, as well as the frontier lives of Bedell and her husband — Dondero stayed in Delphos for three days, pleading for possession of the letter.

Grace and George Billings were both elderly and in poor health, and Mr. Billings finally became angry with Dondero and told him to “take the damn letter and leave us in peace.” [Link]
Dondero bequeathed the letter to the Detroit library in 1968, where it remains locked away in an archival file.

But now Duane Billings wants the letter back, and has uncovered proof that it was given away by his great-grandmother "in a fit of generosity." And he isn't shy about stating his motives: to right a wrong, and to auction off the letter for as much as $500,000.

Despite his hope that the high bidder will be a museum, experts say that the treasured artifact will most likely end up on the wall of some Japanese CEO with a facial-hair fetish.

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