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Family finds stolen Lincoln bust in Gettysburg

Published Dec. 6, 2015
Andrew Johnson finds bust of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln

Andrew Johnson finds bust of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln

HUNTINGTON - If anyone was going to find a stolen bust of Abraham Lincoln from a Gettysburg museum over Thanksgiving vacation, wouldn't it be awesome if the man's name was Andrew Johnson (Lincoln's vice president at the time of his assassination).

Indeed it was, and this Andrew Johnson lives in Huntington.

With a Thanksgiving vacation tale that seems straight out of "Night at the Museum," Huntington resident Andrew "Andy" Johnson discovered, recovered and returned an Italian-made bust of Abraham Lincoln that had been stolen from a museum sometime overnight between Sunday, Nov. 22 and Monday, Nov. 23, just days after the historic central Pennsylvania city celebrated the 152nd anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19.

Johnson, whose parents live in Gettysburg, had driven up with his wife Ellen and their two kids up from Huntington to spend Thanksgiving with his folks and his sibling's and their families who came in from Delaware, South Carolina, and Kentucky for the holidays.

Johnson, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Huntington, said he and his kids and some of his family (eight in total) were placing wreaths upon relatives' graves at the Evergreen Cemetery on Friday, Nov. 27. They were walking back to their adjacent hotel, the Comfort Suites of Gettysburg, when he spied something odd.

"Under the bushes I saw what looked like concrete and that looked like it was in the shape of Abe Lincoln," Johnson said. "I immediately thought it must be some cemetery remnant they had cast aside but when I picked it up it was Abe Lincoln's bust and I showed it to the kids."

While they weren't sure what the bust was or who it belonged to, Johnson said his mom, who lives in Gettysburg knew instantly from a newspaper story that it was not just any Abe Lincoln statue but a hot one taken from the nearby Hall of Presidents and First Ladies Museum.

She called the museum's manager Rose Little and they all piled into the mini van and took it back to the museum.

"We didn't initially realize it was that big of a story and I didn't realize the value of it but they said it was by an Italian sculptor (Ivo Zini) that has since passed away and thus it has irreplaceable value and the FBI was on it because it was an art crime," Johnson said.

After cleaning some mud off the bust, it was placed back on the pedestal where it belonged across from a matching Dwight Eisenhower bust.

The Johnson clan got free admission to the museum that day, and better yet, a pretty exciting twist to their holiday. Their story and faces were featured on a local Gettysburg TV station, and then on TV stations, magazines and newspapers around the world - although they are not named.

Johnson, whose grandfather Lester O. Johnson, was a professor at Gettysburg College and who ran a restaurant for years in the historic town, said it was great to be able to right a wrong in a town that has meant so much to his family.

"This was big news because everything is so revered in this town it was very offensive to all the tour operators and tourists and museum owners that this could happen in this town," Johnson said. "There's two people you don't mess with in Gettysburg Abe Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower."

Johnson said the find was so exciting (like starring in their own "Scooby Doo" episode) that the kids couldn't sleep that night and haven't quit talking about what happened.

And the buzz has continued back home as it was the first thing that his daughters, Laurel, 6, and Claire, 9, were asked about when they got back to school at Southside Elementary School.

He said it also has been a good teachable moment too, in paying attention to your surroundings and in not being distracted by your electronic devices.

"I always tell my kids to keep their eyes out and look for things that don't belong not only to keep them safe but you don't come back with any stories if you don't look where you are at and where you are going," Johnson said