Lincoln library head on leave after shoplifting charge

October 24, 2008

State officials ordered an administrative leave this week for the executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, pending the outcome of an August shoplifting charge. Security guards at a Springfield Target store believe Richard E. Beard was trying to steal a DVD box set.

Beard, 61, sits on the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and was past chief operating officer of the New-York Historical Society and executive director of the Atlanta History Center. He makes $150,000 a year for running the Lincoln library and museum in Springfield, and appeared in court this week on charges that he tried to steal a Season 4 box set of the TV series "House," which retails for $39.99.

The incident was the second known shoplifting arrest for Beard. In February 2007, four months after he was named director of the Lincoln library, he was apprehended after security guards reported that he shoveled neckties into his shopping bag after buying other items at a Macy’s in Springfield’s White Oaks Mall. In that case, he paid a $200 fine and got court supervision. During questioning after the August arrest, he admitted to a theft of DVDs from Target in November 2007 in which he was not caught, said Ray Serati, spokesman for the Springfield Police Department, citing police records.

The Lincoln library has more than 6,000 manuscript collections and over 10.8 million unpublished letters and diaries from Civil War soldiers, papers of Illinois businessmen, individuals and government officials. The museum holds a trove of Lincoln family photos, Mary Lincoln’s music box, Tad’s toy cannon, and the first page of Lincoln’s boyhood sum book, in which the then-future president scrawled a rhyme and taught himself math.

Asked whether state officials had been aware of Beard’s shoplifting problem before this week, Dave Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, said, "It was a surprise."

Beard was put on paid administrative leave, and his duties were given to other officials "until further notice," Blanchette said.

Efforts to reach Beard for comment were unsuccessful.

— James Janega, Chicago Tribune

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