Meet Mr. Lincoln / Mr. President
A visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois offers a broad perspective on our 16th president. As we celebrate his 200th birthday this facility, which opened in 2005, is the best place I’ve seen to meet Mr. Lincoln.
“Journeys,” exhibits and multi-media theaters relate Lincoln’s life and influence. Journey One takes us through the Pre-Presidential Years. Beginning with “Carving a Family Home” we visit a log cabin symbolic of his early years growing up in Indiana. “Self-Taught” take us to his teen years and the image of Lincoln reading borrowed books by firelight. “On the River, The Slave Auction, New Salem, Life in Springfield, The Permissive Parent, Campaign 1860, On to Washington” vignettes propel us to the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency.
After completing Journey One, The Union Theater presentation “Lincoln’s Eyes” offers a change of pace and more insight. The state-of-the-art theater presentation immerses the visitor into the dramas and issues facing Lincoln. We come away with a deeper understanding of his vision, courage and integrity.
Journey Two spans the White House years as we move from the “White House South Portico’ to “What Are They Wearing in Washington?” and the beginning of the Civil War at “Fort Sumter.” I found “The Whispering Gallery” one of the most impactful scenes. In a twisted hallway we hear the unkind voices of critics talking about the Lincolns’ first months in Washington. Political cartoons and ugly caricatures cover the walls. We realize that history tells a different story than the views and fears of any political time.
The story continues through more than a dozen scenes – “The Death of Willie, Emancipation Proclamation, The Gettysburg Gallery, Ford’s Theater,” and “The Funeral Train.” The compelling “Lying in State” is a recreation of Springfield’s Old State Capitol and the lavish trappings of Victorian-era mourning. A hushed reverence settles on visitors as they pass the closed replica casket. I feel as if I am paying my last respects.
A second theater presents “Ghosts of the Library.” The historian/curator host of the dramatic presentation takes us magically into the Presidential Library. He explains the importance of preserving items such as a music box or quill and the history they relate. My husband is still talking about the live actor slowly dissolving into thin air. We later learn about the Holavision® technology used in the show.
Additional permanent exhibits include a Treasures Gallery of actual items that were part of Lincoln’s everyday life and Ask Mr. Lincoln, an interactive theater where you’ll get answers and advice in Lincoln’s own words. Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic is a hands-on room for kids of any age. Dress up as a Civil War soldier, rearrange the furniture in the Lincoln Home doll house or take pictures with a life-size cutout of young Abe. The Illinois Gallery houses temporary exhibits.
You’ll be amazed at the Lincoln Museum experience, this is not your grandfather’s museum of dusty relics, Disneyesque yet relating an important part of our nation’s history. I’m betting you’ll spent twice as long as you planned and that even hard-to-entertain kids will come away with a vivid history lesson they’ll remember.
Of course, there’s an extensive gift shop with more Lincoln related items and books than you can imagine. A cafe offers hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups, deserts and beverages, daily 10am-4pm. Across the street The Presidential Library houses a repository for materials relating to Lincoln and the state of Illinois. You’re welcome to enter but facilities primarily serve scholars and researchers.
When You Go: The Museum is open daily 9am-5pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days. Check the website for admission fees and visitation details.