CHICAGO - As she was starting to research Abraham Lincoln, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin stepped into a small book shop she'd heard about here devoted to the nation's 16th president.
That was about a decade ago and the first of several "pilgrimages" to the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop - during which she bought several dozen books that helped her write her best selling "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln."
"It really stands by itself,' said Goodwin, who thanks the store's owner, Daniel Weinberg, in her book and returned there in November for a book signing. "I certainly don't know of any other like it."
Today, as the nation celebrates Presidents Day, the book is a best seller and Goodwin is part of a long roster of the nation's leading historians, collectors and history buffs to visit the shop.
Poet Carl Sandburg, whose six-volume book on Lincoln is considered by many one of the greatest biographies ever written, was a regular visitor and even designed the store's hat and umbrella logo. "The Civil War" filmmaker Ken Burns and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas visited. Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote were both customers and historians, and their work is sprinkled around the store.
The store even made history in 1940 when 15 men started "The Civil War Round Table," the first group of its kind; now they're found throughout the United States and as far away as England and Australia.
Above all, the store stands as a monument to a man who more than 140 years after his death continues to make headlines as scholars and others put forth theories about everything from his physical and mental health to his sexuality.
"I've dropped a bundle there," said Frank Williams, sounding more like a gambler talking about a trip to Las Vegas than the chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He has been a collector of what is called "Lincolniana" since he was 11.
While it's called a book shop and has been around since 1938, it looks nothing like a dusty used bookstore, as Goodwin expected when she first walked in.
"I try to make this a museum in a way," said Weinberg, who became owner Ralph Newman's partner in 1971 and has owned the store outright since 1984.
Along with 8,000 books (more are in storage) there are all sorts of framed documents and photographs and other memorabilia lining the walls and in display cases.
Sharing space are the signatures of Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth. There's Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. There are signatures of presidents from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford. There are the John Hancocks of Mark Twain, Napoleon, Patrick Henry and, of course, John Hancock.
And there are documents bearing obscure names, like the parole order issued to Confederate soldier L.T. Jackson at the end of the Civil War.
There is what Weinberg said is the second earliest photograph of Lincoln, taken in 1854 when he was 45 years old - a photograph that is interesting not just because it shows a clean-shaven Lincoln, but also because he is holding an anti-slavery newspaper.
"If anyone would have noticed, that would have sunk him," said Weinberg, explaining any connection with abolitionism would have been political suicide for Lincoln.
Hanging in Weinberg's office is the one thing he said is not for sale: A letter dated Sept. 14, 1863, in which the author of the Gettysburg Address commits the most human of errors.
"There was not much going on that day (and) he signed it 'A. Linclon,"' said Weinberg, pointing to a signature that's been crossed out above one in which Lincoln is spelled correctly. "His mind got lost."
Some items are self-explanatory, like the first edition of "Gone With The Wind" open to the page autographed by its author, Margaret Mitchell - which explains the $9,500 price tag.
But across the room hangs a military commission signed by Lincoln promoting a Union soldier named Francis Brownell.
"Lincoln signed 25,000 of these," Weinberg said. This one is special. Brownell was in the regiment of Elmer Ellsworth, who Lincoln came to view as almost a son, Weinberg said.
Ellsworth came to Washington, D.C., after Lincoln was elected president and, in 1861, he led the regiment to nearby Alexandria, Va., where he spotted a secessionist flag flying from an inn.
After Ellsworth ordered the flag cut down, he was fatally shot by the innkeeper, thus becoming the first officer killed in the Civil War, Weinberg said. Brownell then shot and killed the innkeeper, earning the nickname "Ellsworth's Avenger."
"Think of Lincoln's emotional state when he signed this," Weinberg said.
Weinberg won't come closer than "hundreds of thousands of dollars" when asked the price of the most expensive items he's sold, like a desk in the room at Appomattox Court House when Lee surrendered to Grant at the end of the Civil War.
But he said collectors have paid more than they're comfortable talking about with anyone, spouses included - something that becomes clear when buyers ask that he not ship items to their homes.
"It goes to their office, their brother's home, their sister's home," he said. "It doesn't happen much, but it does happen."
Williams said his wife knows whenever he adds to his collection of 12,000 books and pamphlets. "Eventually the truth will come out as she sees the overburdened shelves," he said.
Still, displaying the kind of judgment that landed him on Rhode Island's highest court, he found a way to avoid problems: Name the collection after him AND his wife.
On the Net
Abraham Lincoln Book Shop: www.alincolnbookshop.com