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home : news : state news free November 22, 2019

9/30/2019 11:35:00 AM
Teacher portrays detective at Lincoln Museum

By TALBOT FISHER
The Register-Mail

GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) — Sheryl Hinman of Galesburg has been teaching in one form or another for 50 years, and shows no signs of stopping.

In addition to spending over 30 years with Galesburg District 205, mostly at Galesburg High School teaching English and journalism courses, from which she retired in 2008, she continues to teach part time at Knox College as part of the education program, working with student teachers. She has also taught with writing, when along with fellow GHS teacher Glenn Busse she co-wrote a weekly Civil War history column in The Register-Mail.

Now, she has added historical re-enactor to her resume as she portrays Kate Warne at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield. Warne was the country’s first female private eye, joining the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1856.

Warne’s story is unique because as the first female in her field, she was able to get information that men couldn’t.

“Women were going to be invited to the sickbeds, the tea parties and things like that,” explained Hinman, her blue eyes showing excitement as she told Warne’s story.

“Other women would reveal their confidence to her... She was an actress and could do various accents, so she could pretend to be a southern woman and say things like, ‘I understand your son is a member of the military, is he in a safe location?’ and women would brag about their sons, or their sweethearts or their husbands, their brothers.”

As a result, many women would spill out information.
Warne also played a vital role in protecting the life of Abraham Lincoln. Between his election in 1860 and his inauguration the following March, Warne was working on uncovering secessionist activities in the slave state of Maryland. Pretending to be a southern woman visiting Baltimore, Warne uncovered a plot and specific details on a plan to assassinate Lincoln before he ever took office, while on his way to Washington, D.C.

Warne ultimately helped disguise the tall man from Illinois, making folks think it was her sick brother, arranging for a private train car and riding with him for protection from Philadelphia to Baltimore.

As for why she continues to teach, “it’s just so much fun,” Hinman said.

“I teach for the fun of it, I really do. It’s just an absolute joy. There are certainly hard parts about teaching, and it’s exhausting, but so are lots of things people love doing.”

“I love playing this character,” she said of her time in Springfield. “It’s like being a historical Disney princess... I’m not shy about introducing myself to little kids. I’ll show them my badge.”

The badge she carries is an exact replica of the Pinkerton Agency badge.

“They are fascinated,” she said of the reaction children give her. “I find kids are always fascinated with people who can do all kinds of voices, and found out information and brought it back to people... and of course the story about saving President Lincoln’s life.”

To help explain Warne’s story, she carries a children’s book, “How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln: The Story Behind the Nation’s First Woman Detective” — written by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, a Galesburg native and member of the Knox College graduating class of 1948 — in order to help tell the woman’s story.

Hinman became involved with the museum along with Glenn Busse as a volunteer in 2018. She always had a strong interest in history and, as a native of Springfield, one of her ancestors had settled in New Salem, and her great-grandmother had met Lincoln when she was a child.

“I think I just grew up loving the whole history of Illinois, of Lincoln and what shaped him as a young man,” Hinman said.

She also finds the story of Warne particularly empowering.

“For many of us, growing up, when you open a textbook there were very few female faces in those textbooks,” she said. “Yet we know that women were doing absolutely vital things throughout history. They were inventing things, they were helping in war efforts, they were running businesses, and taking on many different kinds of roles. But a lot of times they were left out of those books.”

Other minorities were often left out of the textbooks as well, said Hinman.

“I entered college in 1965, and I remember in a history class they introduced Frederick Douglass, and I had never heard of him,” she recalled. “And I learned all these things this man had done. What a remarkable abolitionist he was, the speeches he had done. The more I learned, the madder I got. I walked around the campus one day and would ask people, ‘Do you know who Frederick Douglass was? Had you ever learned about him in school?’ And a lot of people hadn’t. It just made me livid. I thought, ‘Who left this man out of the books?’

“We have been robbed of significant history that could have helped people understand how important all groups are. People who have all different kinds of skills and talents that they can contribute. It made me interested in all kinds of people whose stories haven’t been told before.”

It was this past summer that Hinman’s volunteerism moved toward a paid role of re-enacting Kate Warne.
“I felt that Kate’s story is so different. You have people who are Mary Lincoln, there’s a woman who plays Sarah Bush Lincoln (Abraham’s stepmother), you have Sojourner Truth. But I felt like this was a story that is so fascinating and it needs to be told.”

The children’s book on the detective were already present in the museum’s gift shop, and it was Hinman who suggested to the museum the portrayal, which she does several times a month.

The costume she wears was paid for herself, running nearly $400. Modeled in part on the illustrations in Van Steenwyk’s book done by Valentina Belloni, Hinman had the seamstress add unique stitching to the trim which would have been accurate for the time period.

In closing, Hinman encourages others to find ways to get involved in museums.

“Volunteer work is such a pleasure,” she said. “The time goes quickly, you have the opportunity to share your interest. Every time I’m there, I learn something. People come in and they tell me their stories. It’s delightful.”





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