Rick Beard, man of mystery

They finally replaced Richard Norton Smith over at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) with a fellow who gets around but of whom little has been written online, one "Rick Beard." In terms of self-publicity, he is the anti-Smith.

The few Beard quotes from search results are not encouraging. Try this one: "It is too much to argue, as some have, that the history of the Presidency can be ascertained by resorting to a careful examination of the memorabilia." Maybe that was a joke.

In Atlanta, he was key to a program hiring minorities for museum work. An article on the OAH website summarizes his contribution with comic brevity: "This gets back to Rick Beard's idea of letting students know that public history institutions exist and what's involved in the work."

Beard appears to be a self-styled people's historian. The problem with being a "people's historian" is that of transmitting received wisdom instead of searching out wisdom. It is not at all good to have a people's historian - a non-scholar - stand at the head of a major presidential library.

We know Beard was fired from his role as COO of the New York Historical Society and that the instrument of his demise appears to be Richard Gilder, a funder of Lincoln prizes and friend of Lew Lehrman and Gabor Boritt.

Boritt, if I can be cruel for a moment, fronts the award of prizes in Lincoln scholarship funded by Gilder and Lehrman. A political division in the Lincoln camp thereby continues.

Having now given you more Beard background and links than any newspaper, press release, or commentator to date, let me add more.

The man's actual name is "Richard Eric Beard" although you will be hard pressed to break through the walls of his preference for "Rick Beard."

He seems to have one book to his name, and that as editor.

He has at least one major controversy behind him, failing, due to political opposition, to mount a lynching exhibit in Atlanta.

His sole connection with Lincoln seems to be tangentially through his leadership of the Civil War 150 Sesquicentennial Initiative, a celebration that lacks its own website. I had not heard of this outfit until Beard's promotion.

Beard appears to be a kultur apparatchik who suits the ALPLM's needs. Reading the tea leaves, I would guess that Smith was the showman intended to drive attendance. The need now seems to be on the fund raising side. Let's see what develops.

p.s. Beard's appointment was disclosed on Oct. 4. There have been no new stories, profiles, or interviews following the announcement - very unusual. He's either keeping a low profile or the negotiations were incomplete when the appointment was made...

p.p.s. Speaking of Lincoln tourism, you may enjoy this from Springfield: "The mayor laughed and said a previous mayor said of visitors 'Tourists are easier to shuck than corn.' "