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The Lincoln Hall Project « College of Liberal Arts & Sciences « University of Illinois

Lincoln Hall Project


An anonymous member of the Statue Liberation Society confesses to stealing the Abe Lincoln bust from Lincoln Hall in 1979—but denies claims that it was roughed up during the heist.

Good morning. I am submitting this recording for the Storyography for the University of Illinois about an experience that happened about 30 years ago. And it’s a wonderful project. We think that this memory needs to be recorded as part of the history of the University.

What inspired me to tell this story are a couple of recent mentions in the LAS News, issues of Winter 2011 and Fall 2009, about the disappearances of some statues at the University of Illinois in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I am the founding member of the Statue Liberation Society, and I wanted to set the record straight because there are some things being written that are not exactly accurate. And I think it’s time for the story to come out, and this is an opportunity we are going to take to let everybody know what really happened since it is getting some coverage 30 years later amazingly enough. So it’s a great project.

The people involved were basically college pranksters and now they’re, most of them are professionals in accounting, law, management. They were not thieves. It began really as a college prank.

The beginning of the Statue Liberation Society was innocent enough. In 1979 a group of college students decided to just do a prank. That’s all it was. We never intended to steal the bust of Abe Lincoln, but we just thought it would be kind of a fun thing to do at the end of an evening, and we did it without a lot of thinking. We never intended to harm the bust. And after a couple of days we put it on the golf course, we alerted University police, and certainly we were not responsible for any damage or any scratches that appeared later. If anything, the bust was left on that golf course longer than it should have. But we did alert the police. They probably didn’t believe us, but we never intended to harm anything or steal anything. We just wanted to have a prank and we returned the bust. And there was the Lincoln statue in 1979.

There are implications in a recent LAS News article titled “A Nose Waiting to Be Rubbed” that somehow many of the disfiguring scars on Lincoln’s bust may be attributed to 1979 when pranksters kidnapped the bust, implying that a heavy bust like that could have been dropped. I just want to reassure everyone that nothing could be further from the truth. We took great care in making sure no damage was done to Abe Lincoln’s bust. We are very fond of President Lincoln, and we wanted to make sure no damage would be done. As a matter of fact, when the police waited and waited to retrieve the bust, we were very concerned that another thief could come around and take the bust forever. But no damage was done when the president was under the care of the SLS.

Now two years later I lived in another dorm and a number of my colleagues were having a conversation about how to leave their mark on the University. Do something dramatic that’s going to be remembered for a long time. So I stepped in and said, “I think I know just what to do,” remembering the Lincoln situation. Then we got organized, and this was a whole different group of people, and we called ourselves the Statue Liberation Society. There was a test run. We went over to Greg Hall and kidnapped three statues and things worked out just fine. So then we got a little more emboldened and we went after Morey from the Graduate Library, Lloyd Morey. We borrowed him for a while. Then we used the opportunity to try to get some concessions from the University on some things to improve student life. We made our demands, and some of these demands included making bike path laws strictly enforced to make it safer for pedestrians, improve University food service, improve check cashing services, have more security and widening to protect women walking on campus. There were a lot of incidents for some reason, you know, we see them. And to allow students to renew their season basketball tickets. All of these things were things that were bothering us at the time, and to our surprise our demands received a lot of coverage. As a matter of fact, there is a story in the October 16, 1982, edition of the Daily Illini where this story was in an orange box on the front page.

And eventually, of course, we returned Lloyd Morey. We had no intention of harming the statue or stealing it. Again, we told the University police where it was, and they were delayed in getting there, and I think something happened to it for a while. It certainly wasn’t our intention.

I’m pleased to see that after all of these years, actually a lot of progress was made on those issues that we raised. So that makes me feel a lot better about the whole thing. And again, to my amazement, years later, like I said, in the LAS newsletter of the fall of 2009 and winter of 2011, there were mentions of the Lincoln bust, so that kind of brought back all these very fond memories that we have of those incidents, and I think we did make a mark on the University. We didn’t mean any harm, certainly, and I wanted to make sure that that’s out in the open. We didn’t want to harm any of these busts. We were just having some fun and trying to get some publicity for some issues we cared about, social justice-wise.

So it’s something that we’re always going to remember, and we just wanted to set the record straight and make sure there is a record of this organization 30 years later. So thank you for listening. We didn’t mean any harm, and we had some fun with it, and you know, it is part of a historical record so thank you for giving us an opportunity to finally tell the story of the Statue Liberation Society.

And certainly when we go back to campus these days I note how many of the statues are bolted down. Obviously security is much improved, but the kids are a lot smarter these days and you never know. The next chapter of the Statue Liberation Society may already be on campus. You never know.

Bust image

(Length: 7:22)