Each time the telephone rang in our house growing up, a corded landline, of course, I would run to answer it. The thrill of finding out who was on the other end of the line filled me with joy. Almost every weekday afternoon, without fail, a vigorous ring will reverberate throughout the Harlan-Lincoln House signaling an incoming telephone call to the museum. I still feel the excitement I had as a child, pondering the limitless possibilities of what the call might entail.
During a quiet afternoon in late November 2018, the telephone rang at the Harlan-Lincoln House. The caller identified himself as a professional photographer and collector of historic frames. During a recent trip to an antique store in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he purchased a portrait of a “stoic” woman solely for the wooden frame that housed the photographic print. It was not until he returned home, when the gentleman examined the backing board of the piece and opened the frame, that he discovered its true contents.
Inside the frame were three photographic prints and a pressed leaf. The first photographic print was the portrait of the woman who faced outward in the frame. Its backing board included a pencil inscription reading, “Jane Harlan Whitford / Wife of John W. Whitford / Sister of Senator Harlan”. The two remaining photographic prints were an image of an unidentified man and the portrait of a toddler who was identified on the reverse side as “Wille Leedham- 13 months.” After a quick search online and work with a genealogical database, the caller identified the woman as Jane Harlan Whitford, sister of Iowa Senator James Harlan, and the toddler as either her son-in law, William H. Leedham, or her grandson, William Whitford Leedham. In his search, the caller also located the Harlan-Lincoln House at Iowa Wesleyan University, which prompted the November telephone call to the museum.
In just under a week, the contents of the frame from Colorado Springs arrived in the post. After review by the Friends of the Harlan-Lincoln House Executive Committee, the artifacts were approved for the museum’s collection. It is fascinating that after a century, pieces of history related to the narrative of the Harlan-Lincoln House museum are still being unearthed across the country. Of course, not every telephone call results in accessioning artifacts into the collection, but that ring signals unlimited possibilities.
The photographic prints of Jane Harlan Whitford and her family are part of the museum’s new exhibit, James and Ann Eliza: Influence to Action, which opens to the public on July 1, 2019. Through the exhibit, explore the early timeline of Senator James Harlan and his wife Ann Eliza Peck, 1820 to 1865. Discover the life events which shaped their philanthropic careers in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Washington, D.C., and beyond.
The Harlan-Lincoln House at Iowa Wesleyan University is a museum with the mission of interpreting the home to the public for its significance to the Harlan and Lincoln Families, to reinforce the relationship to the University, and to fulfill the home’s vital role in the living history of the University and the Mt. Pleasant community. The museum is open Monday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., and closed in conjunction with the Iowa Wesleyan University campus calendar. The museum requests groups larger than six individuals to contact the Harlan-Lincoln House in advance to schedule a tour. Please contact the museum with any travel questions or concerns. For more information visit www.iw.edu/harlan-lincoln-house or call (319) 385-6319.
Caption for Image: Photographic prints of Jane Harlan Whitford, William Leedham, and an unidentified individual; artifacts 2018.03.01, 2018.03.02, and 2018.03.03 in the Harlan-Lincoln House collection.