Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
Photos and text by Gleaves Whitney and Brian Flanagan
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.
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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.
The headline of Springfield’s daily newspaper, The State Journal Register, announces the big news (Saturday, April 16th, 2005): Bush would deliver the keynote address at the midday dedication ceremony for the museum on April 19th.
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.
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.
This close-up of Grant shows the stunningly accurate features of the life-size figures located throughout the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet debate emancipation in the president’s White House office. This was more than a half-century before the West Wing and original Oval Office were added.
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.
Lincoln scholar David Herbert Donald graciously autographed books, one of which (Lincoln) has become canonical, and many of which are best-sellers. Here he is signing Brian Flanagan’s copy of Lincoln.
David Herbert Donald (right) calls himself “an accidental historian.” He stumbled into studying history in graduate school at the University of Illinois because it was the most interesting and opportune thing for him to do at the time.
Donald’s former student, Matthew Pinsker, is to the left. To young, aspiring Lincoln scholars in the audience, Donald offered encouragement: “The best is yet to come.”
Holzer, a panelist and Hauenstein Center favorite, has spent more time than most thinking about our 16th president: he has written 23 books about Lincoln.
Did we forget to mention: that’s in his spare time? Holzer is the vice president for communications at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
This aerial view of Lincoln’s house at sunset was taken by Brian Flanagan, who hurridly snapped the photo while hanging from the wing strut of a Cesna 172. We lost Brian, but got a great photo for his sacrifice. The photo, taken moments before he lost his grip, shows the neighborhood near downtown Springfield where Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln lived with their sons. The simple clapboard colonial (left center) is the only house they ever owned. The National Park Service administers the site.
Brian Flanagan in front of the law office of Abraham Lincoln and his junior parter, William “Billy” Herndon.
Designed in the Greek Revival style that was all the rage on the 19th-century frontier, the Old State Capitol in Springfield opened its doors in 1839, when Abraham Lincoln was 30 years old. A successful attorney and sometime legislator, he spent much of his career doing research and defending clients within its walls.
Lincoln’s law office that he shared with William Herndon was across the street.
Five years earlier, in 1832, Lincoln made his first run for a House seat. He was only 23 years old. Earlier that same year he served as a captain in the Black Hawk War.
The returning veteran did not win this first foray into politics. But his views were well known. He subscribed to the Whig party platform that called for more internal improvements, lower interest rates, and greater educational opportunities for citizens.
The second time he ran for a House seat, in 1834, he won. He was 25 years old. The young legislator decided to take up a new career — he began studying law in earnest.
This is also the chamber in which Lincoln’s body lay in state before his burial on May 5, 1865.
In the early 1840s, some of the cases Lincoln argued were before an ambitious Democrat sitting on the Illinois Supreme Court — Stephen A. Douglas.
This statue of Stephen Douglas, “the Little Giant,” stands guard at the entrance of the Illinois Capitol in Springfield.
Douglas unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1852 and 1856. Finally, in 1860 he won the nomination of his party – but lost to Lincoln in the general election. (He came in second in a field of four.)
Douglas would not live long after the contest. He contracted typhoid fever and died on June 3, 1861, just two months after the outbreak of the Civil War.