Lincoln Presidential Library expands collection related to Illinois poets with papers of ‘Spoon River’ poet, Edgar Lee Masters

On the left, Alan Lowe, Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum welcomes the Papers of Poet and Essayist, Edgar Lee Masters, as they are donated to the Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum

SPRINGFIELD – The Edgar Lee Masters Home and Museum has given the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum a trove of documents, manuscripts and photographs related to the famed author of “Spoon River Anthology.”

The donation was formally presented Tuesday, August 23, which is Masters’ birthday. It represents a major expansion of the ALPLM’s holdings related to the prairie poets – Masters, Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay.

“We’re best known for our Lincoln collection, of course, but the presidential library also contains millions of items documenting 200 years of Illinois history,” said Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. “We’re honored to improve our Illinois collection with the addition of these papers and photos from an important Illinois author.”

Masters Home and Museum President Kathy Olesen and board member Bobbie Lipsky said the collection is being donated because the presidential library can ensure it is preserved and shared with more people. Other Masters documents and artifacts remain at the museum, located at the corner of 8th and Jackson in Petersburg, Ill.

“This is only the beginning of a new partnership between the Masters House Museum and the ALPLM that will continue as new items arrive,” Olesen and Lipsky said.Edgar Lee Masters 1912

Masters grew up in Petersburg and Lewistown in central Illinois. The people and places he knew there became fodder for “Spoon River Anthology,” which used fictional epitaphs to tell the often dark stories of a small town.

Masters published many other volumes of poetry and essays, as well as several biographies. One biography, “Lincoln: The Man,” was harshly critical of the 16th president.

“Given his central Illinois roots, I trust that Mr. Masters would be thrilled by having this collection of papers housed at what was once the Illinois State Historical Library. He admired the institution and donated several personal items in his lifetime,” said Ian Hunt, the presidential library’s chief of acquisitions and research.

One of those earlier donations, a death mask of Masters’ father, will be included in a new ALPLM exhibit this fall. The historical library, which began documenting the state’s heritage in 1889, became a part of the Lincoln Presidential Library in 2004.

The new donation includes hundreds of items: an 1834 letter by Masters’ grandfather, pictures of his family, complaints about his declining finances and much more. ALPLM staff will catalog the contents over the next few months, giving scholars a better sense of what information awaits their study.

One such scholar is Jason Stacy, a history professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, who is beginning a research project on Masters and the Midwest.

“This is a major acquisition for the ALPLM, coming as it does on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the publication of ‘Spoon River Anthology.’ Lately, there has been renewed interested in Midwestern history and culture,” Stacy said. “This collection will encourage scholars to revisit Edgar Lee Masters as a Midwestern poet whose work was profoundly shaped by the region Lincoln loved.”

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln documents, photographs, artifacts and art. It uses that collection, modern technology and traditional story-telling to connect visitors to the 16th president. Learn more at