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From Tragedy to Treasure - A Lincoln Collection Comes to New York

by David J. Kent

Washington, D.C.

Thursday, February 1, 2024


Jonathan Mann may not be a familiar name to Lincoln Group of DC members, but they may have heard of his online collecting community page known as The Rail Splitter, which he co-founded with Donald Ackerman, its current Editor-in-Chief. Mann tragically died last summer at the age of 61, and now his formidable Abraham Lincoln collection has been donated to the New York Public Library..


Mann was an avid walker, routinely walking across the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn. One fateful day last August he was assaulted by a disturbed stranger, sustaining head injuries. At first expected to recover, he suffered a fatal aneurysm two weeks later while later recuperating at a friend's house.


Mann had a career in finance and as a business ethics consultant, during which time he stored his growing Lincoln collection in extra offices and a West 37th Street loft. Prior to his tragic ending, Mann had made clear that his extensive Abraham Lincoln collection should be kept together if anything should happen to him. Working with another collector, James Olinkiewicz, the family opted to donate the entire Mann collection to the New York Public Library, "in part because of its commitment to public access and digitization."


The collection itself can be described as "anything Lincoln." The New York Times indicated that the donated items include "rare letters, photographs, banners, ballots, ribbons, campaign songbooks and other sundry bits of Lincolniana." There was also an unusual "pie safe," not surprisingly used to store pies, most likely created for one his political campaigns. There is also a bust by Leonard Volk, a wanted poster of Lincoln's assassins, a letter complaining that Mary Lincoln "is disgracing herself and mortifying her friends by attending Beecher's meetings," an 1860 broadside by the Charleston Mercury with the headline "The Union is Dissolved!" and an oilcloth cape once worn by a member of the Wide-Awakes, "a Republican political club known for their dramatic torchlit nocturnal rallies." The capes protected their clothes from the dripping lamp oil.


And apparently some of these Wide-Awakes were women. Among the memorabilia is a ribbon featuring a portrait under the words "Wide-Awake Girls." This was apparently one of Mann's favorite, and most enigmatic, items.


Many of the items were on display earlier this month during a memorial event at the library for Jonathan Mann. The New York Public Library will now catalog the collection and determine how best to make it available to the public and researchers, including digital access.


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