If wealthy candy confectioner and noted collector Charles Gunther had gotten his way, Chicago would have become the home of many transplanted historical sites:
If relocating entire buildings like this sounds like an impossible feat, know that Charles Gunther had already done it once. In the late 1880’s he purchased the Libby Prison from Richmond, Virginia. He dismantled the prison, transported it to his hometown of Chicago, and rebuilt it there. The Libby Prison Museum operated from 1889 to 1895 before decreasing visitors forced Gunther to dismantle it. When this article was written in 1893 it is likely Gunther was hoping to reinvigorate his museum by creating an entire campus of historic sites.
As we know, Gunther never managed to purchase Independence Hall, the Petersen House, or the Surratt Tavern. Despite his generous offer to Louis Schade, the Petersen house was eventually sold to the federal government instead. Had the Petersen House been sold to Gunther, he could have reunited the building with some of the items that were there when Lincoln died. The bed upon which Lincoln died and many other articles from the Petersen house were acquired by Gunther in 1889. When Gunther died, the Chicago Historical Society purchased most of his extensive collection. This is the reason why Lincoln’s true deathbed is in the Chicago History Museum and not in Washington, D.C.
I believe Charles Gunther’s proposed acquisition of these historic sites allows for a very entertaining “what if”. Imagine what it would be like to look out a window of the Surratt Tavern and see the house where Lincoln died. Imagine the historical DisneyWorld that could have existed in Chicago. Instead of Mickey Mouse ears, visitor would purchase powdered wigs at the “Ye Olde Independence Hall Gift Shop” before taking the monorail to the “Lincoln Assassination Pavilion”. Had this eccentric collector been able to build his dream, how differently our nation’s history would be interpreted today.
The Chicago Historical Society has a nice website recounting Charles Gunther’s collection and Libby Prison Museum.