Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Random Shots from the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Lincoln's Tomb

After leaving the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, I drove a few blocks to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield. I can't speak for the library part of the site, as I didn't have time to visit it, but the museum was pretty impressive. It is the largest Presidential Museum in the nation, taking up a whole city block and opened in 2005. The museum is basically divided into two sections. One is of Lincoln's life before becoming president and the other covers the turbulent White House years. Throughout the museum are a number of wax figure mannequins of Lincoln and others he was associated with, as well as scenes that he "may have" experienced. One of these scenes that Lincoln "may have experienced" when he went to New Orleans as a young man is of a slave family being torn apart at an auction. To begin the journey of Lincoln's life you enter a log cabin, designed to look much like one Lincoln could have grown up with in Kentucky and Indiana.

At the entrance to the White House, there are a number of mannequins of people that Lincoln met during his presidency. There are figures of generals McClellan, Grant, as well as Sojourner Truth, John Wilkes Booth and Frederick Douglass (pictured above). I thought the Douglass figure didn't capture his image very well.

Booth on the other hand, (pictured above) looked very convincing. He looks like the villain in those old movies that ties the damsel in distress to the railroad tracks. In a room beside this exhibit is a display of Mary Todd Lincoln and her dress maker Elizabeth Keckley. Ms. Keckley, a former slave, is fitting Ms. Lincoln while she is flanked by reproduction dresses of her social rivals. Inside the White House exhibit is an very interesting gallery of numerous political cartoons that both praise and denigrate Lincoln. There is an excellent Civil War exhibit that tells the stories of four soldiers on each side, and an exhibit on the Emancipation Proclamation featuring a "Team of Rivals" display. There are also displays of his assassination at Ford's Theater and his funeral and laying in state.
The museum has two theaters. One shows an excellent theatrical special called "Lincoln's Eyes." This is a fascinating look at Lincoln through the lens of a modern artist. The production is quite well done and is very hi-tech in its display. There is a part in it where cannons shake you by booming through sub-woofers and actual smoke rings come from the cannon ports in the walls.
The other theatre shows "Ghosts of the Library," which features something called Holavison. I didn't get to see this one, but I kind of wish I had taken the time to do so. Another neat video display was a side item called "Ask Mr. Lincoln." Here the video has individuals asking questions and then a historian uses primary source quotes to answer them. A very neat concept that kept me rapt for almost a half hour.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more about some of Lincoln's critics and his unpopular measures. Other than the political cartoon gallery and the Emancipation Proclamation section, I didn't see much that discussed his faults and his naysayers. All-in-all though it was great experience and I learned a few new things about Lincoln that I didn't know before, which is always my goal for visiting museums.

This is a statue of Lincoln just outside and across the street from the Presidential Library and Museum.

Here is another statue on the old Illinois state capital square, and just outside his old law office, that he shared with another Kentucky native, William Herndon. You can see their sign in the background.

The Old Illinois State Capital building.

I almost left Springfield without going to Lincoln's tomb, but I thought better of it since I don't know if I will ever get back. After making many wrong turns and asking a few times for directions, (you would think they would have this site better marked on the roads) I finally found my way to Oak Ridge Cemetery. As you can see from the above picture, the monument/tomb is huge! It is almost 120 feet tall! This is the final resting place of Mary, Abraham, and their sons Edward, William, and Thomas. Their other son Robert is buried in Arlington. There is a very interesting story about how Lincoln's body finally got to Oak Ridge Cemetery, but for that you should seek out the book and/or documentary "Stealing Lincoln's Body."

This sad looking sculpture is right outside the tomb. People have rubbed his nose shiny for good luck. I don't know why you rub the nose of a man who was assassinated for good luck....but whatever.

Around the sides of the monument are awesome sculptures of Civil War scenes.

Inside the monument is the burial room. There are seven state flags that represent the home states of Lincoln and his ancestors, and there is a presidential flag and at U.S. flag as well. Inscribed on the marble behind the vault is the quote, "NOW HE BELONGS TO THE AGES," reportedly said by Sect. of War Stanton when Lincoln passed.

If your are Lincoln enthusiast, and even if you aren't a big Lincoln fan, I would encourage you to come visit Springfield and learn more about the man. It is difficult to understand the Civil War without knowing Lincoln, and there are few better places to do that than Springfield.

1 comment:

  1. While I am not a big Lincoln fan, it still looks like an impressive trip with a lot of insight--I miss our road trips old buddy!
    D. Roberts