Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
On April 19th, 2005, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois, was formally dedicated. President George W. Bush attended, as did First Lady Laura Bush, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Illinois Senators Barak Obama and Richard Durban, and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The Museum, years in the making, cost $150 million, and is twice the size of any other presidential museum. Its holdings include an original draft of the Gettysburg Address and an outstanding collection of pre-presidential documents and artifacts concerning Lincoln's life and times.
Photos and text © Gleaves Whitney 2005
Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln experienced much personal grief during their quarter century of marriage. Perhaps most difficult of all, three of their four sons never lived to adulthood. In this scene in the White House, Mary tries to help her dying third son, Willie. What is particularly striking about this scene is the way it illustrates the great personal cost of serving as president of the United States. There is a party occurring downstairs, and President Lincoln spent the evening going back and forth between the White House gala and his son's deathbed.
Lincoln had a tough time finding good generals to lead the Army of the United States during the Civil War. Several failed him before he finally settled on Ulysses S. Grant.
George McClellan (left) was much acclaimed for building and training the Army of the Potomac. But when he got his chance to lead the United States Army he was painfully hesitant to engage Robert E. Lee's Confederate forces. Ultimately his reluctance to fight led Lincoln to relieve him of his command.
In 1864 General McClellan challenged Lincoln for the presidency. He was gathering momentum throughout the summer, and it appeared that he would successfully unseat the incumbent president. But Sherman's capture of Atlanta turned the tide of the war. In November Lincoln won in a landslide without Southern states voting.
Ulysses Grant (right) achieved the rank of Lieutenant General before war's end. He was the first to hold that rank after George Washington.
On Good Friday evening, April 14, 1865, the Lincolns went to Ford's Theatre to see "Our American Cousin." Accompanying the Lincolns were an engaged couple, Major Henry Reed Rathbone and Clara Harris. During the third act, the president took his first lady's hand, prompting Mary to ask, "What will Miss Harris think?"
Lincoln replied, "She won't think anything about it."
Those were his last words. Moments later, John Wilkes Booth made his way toward the president's box. An actor, he was recognized by the employees at the Ford and able to gain easy access to the presidential party. Shortly after 10 p.m., he aimed his derringer and fired a single shot into the back of the president's head. The president never regained consciousness and died at 7:22 on the morning of April 15th.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who was on the death watch, said, "Now he belongs to the Ages."
The president's body was taken from the nation's capital to Springfield by train, making numerous stops during the 13-day journey. On May 3rd and 4th, his remains lay in state in the Hall of Representatives in the Old State Capitol. Even though more than two weeks had elapsed since his passing, recent advances in embalming enabled 75,000 mourners to walk past the open casket to pay their last respects.
This photograph vividly illustrates some of the special effects used at the Lincoln Museum to enhance visitors' experience. Numerous historians were consulted -- the aim was to balance engagement with historical accuracy.
The new museum uses 21st-century technology to bring the 19th century to life -- hence the showmanship with the scholarship.
David Gergen delivered the keynote address at the conference, "Lincoln in the Twenty-first Century," held at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library on April 17-18, 2005.
The conference featured the world's foremost Lincoln scholars. Gergen, who teaches at Harvard University, is the former advisor to four presidents.