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Posted on November 13, 2020 at 2:37 PM by Melissa Dalton
Our blog this week is taking a different approach. A couple of weeks ago, Robin came across an insert in one of the Civil War Medical Pension Books, and it invoked some curiosity amongst us. What she found was a blank O. H. Oldroyd Certificate for the purchase of a book titled The Words of Lincoln (Fig 1). The purchase of the book was to “preserve for historic purposes the house in which Lincoln died, until such time as it is purchased by Congress, or the Patriotic people of America.” Who was O. H. Oldroyd, and what was his involvement in preserving the house in which Lincoln died? All it took was a quick Google search to learn a great deal about the fascinating Ohio native, and his admiration for our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.
Fig 1. Certificate of Purchase of The Words of Lincoln (Greene County Archives)
Osborn Hamiline Ingham Oldroyd was born in 1842 in Ohio (and you’ll likely notice that his initials also spell OHIO). Oldroyd took great interest in Lincoln during his campaign for the presidency, and his esteem for the man only grew with Lincoln’s election as the 16th U.S. President.
At the age of 19, Oldroyd enlisted in the Union Army at Camp Chase, joining Company E, 20th Ohio Infantry. He spent four years in the Army, all the while writing of his experience, and collecting Lincoln memorabilia. Although Oldroyd wanted to continue his service in the Army, he was mustered out in 1865 due to his asthma. As such, Oldroyd took up a post at the National Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, Ohio as a Steward (Fig 2). Oldroyd married Lida A. Stoneberger on April 23, 1873 and the couple had one child, Daisy.
Fig 2. 1870 Census of National Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, Ohio (Ancestry.com)
Oldroyd’s fascination with Lincoln continued to grow, and he moved the family to Springfield, Illinois in 1880. As soon as Oldroyd learned that the former Lincoln home was available for rent, he jumped on the chance, moving his family into the home in 1883. Oldroyd’s collection had grown exponentially, and in 1884, he converted the first floor of the Lincoln home into The Lincoln Museum. Then in 1885, Oldroyd published portions of his writings of the Civil War, titled A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg, which provides accounts of the 65-day campaign (Fig 3). Oldroyd’s time in the house weren’t without controversy. Robert, Lincoln’s son, still owned the home, and he apparently wasn’t a huge fan of Oldroyd or his practices as Oldroyd avoided paying rent, yet charged entrance fees into the museum. However, the family remained in the home for ten years, even after Robert donated the home to the State in 1887. However, in 1893, Oldroyd was replaced as custodian, so he decided to move his family and personal collection to Washington, D.C. to the Petersen House.
Fig 3. Image of cover of reprint of Oldroyd’s book, A Soldiers’ Story of the Siege of Vicksburg (Amazon.com)
The Petersen House is located opposite the Ford Theatre and is where Lincoln died (Fig 4). Oldroyd gained permission to live in the house and run a museum on the first floor. The federal government bought the Petersen House, but allowed Oldroyd and his collection to remain in the home. Oldroyd continued his celebration of his favorite president, and published another work titled The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1917. The book was an almost instant success.
Fig 4. The Petersen House (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1925, Oldroyd sold his Lincoln collection, containing roughly 3000 items, to the U.S. government for $50,000. Even after selling the items, Oldroyd was permitted to remain in the home. Osborn H. I. Oldroyd died in 1930. Just a year after his death, the collection was moved to the Ford Theatre.
Even with some questions about Oldroyd’s practices at times, his actions may have saved many of the items from use and deterioration. Ultimately, Oldroyd is credited with making one of the largest contributions to the history and memory of Lincoln.
So, once again, we learn that the Archives holds some strange and fascinating things – and we just never know what sort of stories we might learn from our collections.
Until Next Time!
Allen, J. D. (1963). Documenting the Lincoln Museum Collection. The American Archivist, 26(4), 463-467.
Greene County Archives, www.greenecountyohio.gov
Hartley, A. (2020, Jul 22). Eccentricities from Our Archives: The Man Who Collected Lincoln. Ford’s Theatre. https://www.fords.org/blog/post/eccentricities-from-our-archives-the-man-who-collected-lincoln/.
Library of Congress, www.loc.gov
McAndrew, T. M. (2008, November 19). The first Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum: How a deadbeat huckster saved history. Illinois Times. https://www.illinoistimes.com/springfield/the-first-abraham-lincoln-presidential-museum/Content?oid=11451890.
Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osborn_Oldroyd_in_front_of_Petersen_House,_1925.jpg
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