Dec. 16--PEORIA -- The crown jewel of the Peoria Historical Society's artifact collection will shine a little brighter next year after a comprehensive cleaning that promises to add decades of display life.
The satin banner depicting Abraham Lincoln in oil paint carrying a briefcase and a scroll heralding his election to the presidency in 1861 was last on display as part of the Black History Month exhibit at the Caterpillar Visitors Center in February.
A donation from the company funded a six-month conservation process that was recently completed in Chicago, restoring some of the original brilliance of the once-common feature of political campaigns.
"It was a very popular style at the time," said Caterpillar Heritage Services Supervisor Lee Fosburgh, who also serves on the Peoria Historical Society board. "It was apparent that it needed a lot of work, and we saw the value in it."
Caterpillar also will contribute a custom display case to protect the delicate material for future exhibitions, the first of which will coincide with the next Black History Month commemoration beginning Feb. 1 at Cat's riverfront facility.
A silk patch on the reverse of the banner proclaims its provenance in gold thread: "Presented to the Wide Awakes by the Ladies of Peoria."
The abolitionist group carried the banner, which was painted by John Bush Sr., in street parades during Lincoln's 1860-1861 campaign -- and may have re-enlisted it for service in the run up to the 1864 election.
By about 1897, the banner made its way to the Peoria Public Library vault, according to later media accounts. It became part of the Peoria Historical Society collection after its rediscovery in 1934, donated by Alice Dodge in the name of McKenzie Irvin at the request of Annie G. McKenzie of Santa Fe, N.M.
The concentrated conservation effort in 2017 will mark a new chapter in the banner's life by spurring an effort to share and display it anew, said Peoria Historical Society Director Colleen Johnson.
"This is one of the most special pieces we own," Johnson said. "By collaborating with other entities like Caterpillar, we can achieve our goal to share Peoria history out in the community."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.
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