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Exhibit invites public to share their Tallman Tales

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Shelly Birkelo
February 9, 2013

— What is your personal "Tallman Tale?"

Is it about your first tour of the Italianate mansion?

Was it a special tour featuring the room where President Abraham Lincoln slept in 1859?

Maybe it was a special Christmas tour when the house was decked out for the holidays.

Whatever the situation, there's always a story. The Rock County Historical Society wants to hear it.

"Tallman Tales," a participatory exhibit, now is on display through Friday, May 24, at the Helen Jeffris Wood Museum Center, 426 N. Jackson St. Along with information about the Tallman family and the house itself, the exhibit features an interactive segment that invites visitors to share their memories.

"We want people to share their experiences at the Lincoln-Tallman House; stories they've heard of the Tallman family or house and why it's important for us to preserve local history," said Laurel Fant, collections manager for the historical society.

The stories people share, such as the two provided here, will become part of the historical society's archives, she said.

-- For Sue Price of Janesville, it became tradition to visit each year on the last day of summer vacation before school started.

"My sons and I toured the Tallman House, then had a picnic lunch at Riverside Park and an afternoon of play in the park," she wrote. "My sons are grown and have families of their own. I sure do miss those trips to the Tallman House, but have plans to take my great-grandsons to the Tallman House this summer."

-- For Curtis Geller of Janesville, it was the time he and some curious boyhood friends rode their bikes to the vacant mansion to sneak in and see what was there. In particular, they wanted to see alleged Underground Railroad tunnel rumored to be beneath the house.

"We gathered tools—a hammer and crowbar—to get inside. It was in rough shape in the late 1940s and considered haunted by us, who went racing down the hill to home like you wouldn't believe after some neighborhood kids caught us near the house," he wrote.

Along with the stories and home and family histories, the exhibit offers visitors a chance to weigh in on the debate about whether the house's owner, William Morrison Tallman, who was a supporter of the anti-slavery movement, made his home a safe haven for runaway slaves.

After reading two differing opinions—one by Fant and another by Madison architect Kevin Donahue—those who visit are asked to share their opinions.

"Past docents at the Lincoln-Tallman House told tales of the Underground Railroad. However, there is no proof," Fant said.

Visitors also are asked to explain why it's important to save local history and preserve it, Fant said. This can be done on an old-fashioned typewriter.

"Every visit to the Lincoln-Tallman House is unique and special in some way," Fant said. "So please, share your tale with us and make a contribution to the history of the house."



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