Thaddeus Stevens left his mark on Lancaster. An abolitionist, he is known for his work in that area. Lancastrians know him for his role in the Treason Trials after the Christiana Riot. He is known as a congressman who fought for equal rights. We know him for his relationship with his mulatto housekeeper Lydia Hamilton Smith, a relationship that historians still speculate about. At the moment though, it is his wig that is drawing attention!
That’s right – his wig. Earlier this week, the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts launched a six-week online campaign to save Pennsylvania's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts. Through midnight of November 1, the public is encouraged to support the preservation of 10 historic objects from every region of the state through voting, sharing and donating at PATop10Artifacts.org.
"Our goal with this campaign is to showcase the state's historic treasures and the need to preserve and protect our heritage for future generations," says Ingrid Bogel, Executive Director of CCAHA. "We've created this program to give institutions a new platform through which to share their stories and to give people a chance to show their support."
Institutions that meet their fundraising goals will begin the conservation process, and the artifact garnering the most votes will be named the winner of The People's Choice Award. As of this morning (Wednesday, 25 September), Stevens’ wig has 63,019 votes, seven supporters and 19 shares. It has raised $430 so far. Their goal is $5000.
That $5000 figure will not only preserve the wig but also provide for a traveling case and fake head to rest upon, explained Barry Rauhauser, Stauffer Cuurator and Director or History at LancasterHistory.org.
The hair of the wig is sewn into a wire and fabric mix. While the hair has stayed pretty much in place it is that wire and fabric mesh that has started to collapse, explained Rauhauser.
Stevens’ wig is currently held by LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Lancaster County. He wore wigs due to his alopecia – premature balding – though it was often noted that he cared more for the cause of equal rights than his own appearance. The wig, once properly restored and preserved, will be on display at the Stevens and Smith Historic Site, South Queen and East Vine Streets.
The wig was donated to the Lancaster Historical Society in 1933 by Frank Gorrecht, who was given the wig by Stevens himself. When Gorrecht was a young boy, Rauhauser recanted, he lived near Stevens in Lancaster City. He went over to visit Stevens with his father one day and mentioned an upcoming play in which he had to sing. Stevens asked the young Gorrecht to sing then handed him a wig and told him to try it again. He then gave the lad the wig, telling him to practice while wearing it and to wear it in the play. Stevens passed a short time after and Gorrecht simply kept the wig until 1933 when he donated it to the Lancaster Historical Society.
Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868), recently portrayed in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, died in Washington, D.C. He laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda. He is buried at the Schreiner-Concord cemetery in Lancaster. Stevens had chosen that specific cemetery because it allowed all people, regardless of race or creed, to be buried there. The cemetery is located at North Mulberry and West Chestnut Streets.
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