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Skeletons in the Family Closet

July 23, 2023

Occasionally we encounter material culture accompanied by intriguing provenance, evidence of the former owner – at times names worth recalling.  Bibliophiles, book and ephemera collectors, time-to-time find bookplates that detail such names. Two items once found in the late Dr. Lattimer’s collection include plates from “Foreman Lebold.” One object is a cased ticket to Ford’s Theatre from the night of the assassination. The other is the classic 1860 Thayer campaign biography presenting the candidacy of the Rail Splitter!  But… who was Lebold?  One tease: that was NOT his real name!

Labeled “the crime of the century” in 1924 (an appellation used again in the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 and again in the infamous O.J. Simpson double murder in 1994) the Chicago thrill-killing of 14-year old Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb endures as an endless source of intrigue and study. Books with “new evidence” continue to be written 100 years later.  The arrest and trial of Loeb and Leopold was expected to lead to execution. The brilliant lawyer Clarence Darrow, however, “successfully” defended the 19 and 18-year-old killers securing sentences of life imprisonment sparing them the electric chair.  Nathan Leopold’s older brother was Foreman Michael Lebold, changing his name for obvious reasons.

The killers Loeb and Leopold

Foreman, known as “Mike” with friends, was ten years older than his infamous brother. He made a small fortune running his family paper mill and was a prolific collector of Americana: manuscripts, documents, books, a great amount Lincolniana.  His agent and collecting mentor was Ralph Newman (see Rail Splitter issue Vol. 3, No. 1-2, September 1997 in “Past Journals” on this site for our interview with Ralph on dealing in Lincoln), founder of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop and creator of the Civil War Roundtables that have now spread worldwide. Lebold worked hard at securing friendships with influential figures to lobby for his brother’s parole decades after his imprisonment.  (Loeb was murdered in prison in 1936.) One such person, another friend of Newman, was the great poet and author Carl Sandburg.  In fact, 34 years after his incarceration, Leopold was paroled; it was Sandburg and Newman who met him upon his release and drove him away. His brother Foreman had died in 1953, his New York Times obituary from November 13, 1953 details that he was a collector of Lincolniana and that he was survived by his brother Sam; no mention of his other sibling!

Lebold’s huge and quite diverse collection was sold and gifted to a number of repositories including various university collections. One of his treasures purchased through Ralph was the original manuscript by notables for The Lincoln Memorial, Album Immorteles volume by Osborne Oldroyd in 1882, now owned by the Museum at Lincoln College. A great deal of the Lincolniana was sold off through Ralph hence the two items pictured with Lebold’s bookplates. 

The brother of one of the most notorious murderers in American history collected Lincoln, and to quote the famed broadcaster Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story!”

Foreman Leopold (left), later Lebold, at his brother’s trial, 1924