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Theft of Lincoln’s hand baffles Illinois Museum.


 
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 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 there.
 
Museum officials had thought that the theft might have been a prank, and that the plaster study 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 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 that Lincoln was assassinated, and whose admiration of Lincoln was a recurring theme in his art. The sculpture was displayed along with other renderings of Lincoln in a wing of the county historical museum built specifically to showcase Mr. Barnard’s work.
 
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.”
The police report estimated its worth at $5,000, but described the artwork as “invaluable.”
“There’s almost no way to put a value on something like that because there’s no market,” said Jack Klasey, a longtime museum volunteer and local historian.
The theft occurred at the beginning of the museum’s busiest month. In December, groups of schoolchildren and others streamed through the museum — past the Barnard sculptures, tributes to local sports heroes and artifacts honoring three Kankakee County natives who served as Illinois governor — to admire Christmas trees decorated by civic groups.
 
In addition to being outraged, museum visitors were perplexed. “I think it’s kind of crazy,” said Kelly Lambert, a college student whose aunt works at the museum. “Why would someone want to walk off with a fake Abraham Lincoln hand?”