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Lost, Found And Replaced: Lincoln's Sword


Last fall, Abe Lincoln lost his sword. A copper blade went missing from atop President Abraham Lincoln's burial site in Illinois. Authorities eventually recovered it, but in two pieces. Now, as Rachel Otwell reports, the artifact has been replaced.

RACHEL OTWELL, BYLINE: Lincoln's tomb is at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. It's a massive structure with statues of Union soldiers that reach far into the sky. Mikle Siere works at the historic site. He describes the statue the sword was taken from.

MIKLE SIERE: It's just showing a three-man crew, and it's representing an artillery piece that has been struck by enemy cannon fire. And the officer is leaning back with his sword. You can see his jacket is being draped in the wind it looks like.

OTWELL: When the sword went missing the case gained national attention, including a parody on Jay Leno's show where thieves made off with a sculpture of Abe Lincoln's head. Reports claimed the sword had been stolen for its copper value. But it turns out that wasn't the case at all. It was a teenager who was to blame. He told authorities the sword broke while he was climbing the statue. He hid the two pieces, but they were eventually recovered. The last time the sword went missing was in 1890. Catherine Shannon heads the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. She says the case of the missing sword was a mystery that she's surprised got solved.

CATHERINE SHANNON: He shouldn't have been playing around on it. It's really a shame that the whole incident happened. But in the end, I mean, I think we're getting a better quality product, so we're grateful for that.

OTWELL: Marshall Svendsen lives in Chicago and was the sculptor chosen to replace the sword. He recently came to Springfield with a blow-torch, lots of tools, and an assistant. In completing the sword, Svendsen is manipulating its color.

MARSHALL SVENDSEN: This can be a little bit of an unruly process. It's kind of negotiating a favorable chemical reaction.

OTWELL: And what's that smell?

SVENDSEN: Sulfur. So, it's a process of adding and subtracting and pushing and pulling until you get the color you like.

OTWELL: Svendsen used the two pieces of the old sword to cast the new one.

SVENDSEN: I'm excited to be part of it just as a craftsman and knowing that, you know, what we're doing here today was done a hundred-plus years ago in a similar tradition. The whole thing has been a real honor to be a part of.

OTWELL: Svendsen was one of the many who volunteered to replace the sword for free. And that means the statue at Lincoln's burial site is now complete again. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Otwell, in Springfield, Illinois.


MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Otwell