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
The museum bills itself as the gateway to other Lincoln sites in the Midwest. The facility is also called a "marriage of scholarship and showmanship" that takes the union of historical legend and modern technology to a new level.
With its yellow school bus parked out front, C-Span covered the festivities for a national television audience.
Richard Norton Smith (left), the director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, met with Hauenstein Center Assistant Director Brian Flanagan two days before the dedication ceremony.
Norton Smith, in addition to being an estimable author, has been the director of numerous presidential libraries and museums -- the Hoover, Eisenhower, Ford, and Reagan.
BRC Imagination Arts -- the same organization that contributed to the design of DisneyWorld -- helped design the Abraham Lincoln Museum. The result is a new kind of presidential museum that encourages immersive, interactive experiences. One of the museum's outstanding features is lifelike figures set in carefully reconstructed settings.
The photo at right shows a replica of the White House facade. Here Abraham Lincoln greets visitors as though to welcome them to his world.
In the background, leaning against a column, stands John Wilkes Booth, who on April 11th, 1865, changed his plan to avenge the South: rather than abduct the president, he would assassinate him. Booth had just heard Mr. Lincoln's speech outlining reunion and reconstruction, and Booth vowed that it would be the president's last.
Already as a boy, Lincoln was a daydreamer; his stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston, appreciated and cultivated his contemplative nature.
On the Indiana frontier Lincoln received less than one year of formal schooling. But he loved to read. Among the books he read were the Bible, The Life of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Aesop's Fables, Robinson Crusoe, and The Abrabian Nights.
In 1844, the 35-year-old Lincoln looked back on his childhood home in the Indiana woods and wrote:
"My childhood's home I see again, / And sadden with the view; / And still, as memory crowds my brain, / there's pleasure in it too."
This scene -- a slave auction -- depicts a slave family going through the anguish of being separated. Twice Lincoln traveled down the Mississippi to New Orleans and personally observed the sale of slaves that resulted in families being separated.
It is often noted that Abraham Lincoln did not begin the Civil War in April 1861 with the aim of freeing all black slaves on U.S. soil; he would have settled for the restoration of the Union. But by the end of 1862 emancipation was as important a wartime aim as restoration. Lincoln's convictions were no doubt shaped by observing the slave auctions in New Orleans.
Lincoln's children at play in his law office in Springfield.
William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, complained that while Lincoln reclined to read newspapers (as he does in this depiction), he allowed his children to do whatever they pleased in the office. Herndon later recalled that Lincoln's children could have "s[hi]t in Lincoln's hat and rubbed it on his boots, [and] he would have laughed and thought it smart."
In 1858, Republican Abraham Lincoln challenged incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas for one of Illinois' two Senate seats. During the campaign they tangled in seven debates; the one represented in this scene took place at Knox College.
In these famous debates Senator Douglas consistently maintained that the states should choose whether to be slave or free. Candidate Lincoln argued in effect that "a House divided against itself cannot stand" -- Americans should stop the spread of the peculiar institution into the western territories.
In the final debate, at Alton, Illinois, on October 15, 1858, Lincoln said, "Stephen Douglas assumes that I am in favor of introducing a perfect social and political equality between the white and black races. These are false issues. The real issue in this controversy is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong. One of the methods of treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger."
The Lincoln-Douglas debates were not anything like the political debates in today's sound-bite culture. The 1858 format opened with one speaker making his case for one hour, followed by his opponent getting an hour and a half to make a rebuttal; then the first speaker delivered a half-hour counter-rebuttal. Large audiences gathered to hear these three-hour marathons.