Schumer pushes for return of historic letters

WESTFIELD – Iconic letters exchanged more than a century ago between Westfield native Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln may return to Chautauqua County in the near future.

On Tuesday, Sen. Charles Schumer announced he is urging the Detroit Public Library and Shappell Manuscript Foundation to loan the letters to the Chautauqua County Historical Society for temporary display in the McClurg Museum in Westfield.

Schumer said an exhibit of the two letters would be a great celebration of Lincoln’s legacy as president and his connection to Westfield as the 150th anniversary of his assassination approaches.

In her letter, 11-year-old Bedell told Lincoln he should grow a beard if he wanted to win the 1860 election.

“All the ladies love men who wear whiskers,” she wrote.

Lincoln not only heeded her advice, but wrote back and paid a visit to Westfield en route to his inauguration.

Schumer said the exchange is a unique connection to the presidency that most counties and towns do not have, and Chautauqua County deserves to be able to display these letters for the first time ever.

He also noted there is precedence for giving these letters out on loan, since both letters were on display at the Library of Congress in 2009.

“I am beginning a campaign to bring these letters which connect Westfield in such a poignant way to a famous moment in our nation’s history home to Westfield to display in honor of the anniversary,” Schumer said, noting a detailed process to obtain the letters. “The Chautauqua Country Historical Society has a great collection of President Lincoln historical pieces, and there would be no better item to add to the exhibit for a time than the letter Westfield’s own Grace Bedell wrote to the president and his touching response. Grace’s letters are an important part of Chautauqua’s storied history and should be loaned to them to put on display for those who live where young Grace grew up.”

John Paul Wolfe, curator of the McClurg Museum and trustee of the Historical Society, said it would be a significant event for the museum.

“The Lincoln-Bedell story is told to every single person who participates in a tour of the McClurg Museum and we hand out copies of the Lincoln-Bedell letters,” Wolfe said. “The Chautauqua County Historical Society focuses a great deal on that story as part of our heritage and our historical contribution to American history. We are thrilled with Sen. Schumer’s efforts to bring the letters here, and having the letters on display for any length of time would be one of the most important events we’ve ever had.”