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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
212 N. 6th St.
Springfield, IL 62701
Now, we have mixed feelings about this place. It is state of the art, for sure, as it traces the life of possibly the greatest-certainly most interesting-President. And between the museum and the library, it deserves much more time than we had to spend on it, probably most of an entire day.
But the museum starts with (admittedly superbly constructed) wax figures posed in recreations of Lincoln's family's one room log cabin and other early Lincoln locales, as one travels through various rooms and displays. Graphics, though interesting and well written, were small which made it hard to read if more than a couple of people were also trying to do so. Rooms with multimedia displays were often over crowded and it didn't help that one was forced into going through the history of Lincoln in chronological order, basically forcing visitors into a slow moving line. Adding in the minor Labor Day weekend mob and it felt too theme park, too plastic, for such a moving and complicated life. When even the slave handcuffs on display are marked "reproduction," you know something is a little off. (Given the enormous amount of artifacts owned by the organization, it makes little sense to have a replica of something so basic.)
But there were moments; a room full of reproductions of various (largely negative) political cartoons about the physically easy to lampoon politician, all skewed at angles to make a visual pun on the weird perspective politics gives historical events. A scene showing President and Mrs. Lincoln leaving an expensive White House ball to check on their dying son Willie, with merry ballroom music playing from down below. A figure of Mrs. Lincoln, after her son's death, in deep morning, in a room where rain is pouring down a window, reflecting on her stunned face, so that it appeared tears were pouring down her cheeks. A multimedia graphic showing the divisions between the South and the North, and how they changed during the course of the war, with a clock ticking off the days and the number of casualties, as the borders dissolved, Sherman marched, the numbers grew tragically high and then the whole thing comes to a sudden halt.
By the time we got to a recreation of Ford's Theater, with the dialogue from "Our American Cousin" playing in the background, and we thought about how this tired man just wanted a night to laugh, and how it all came to a bloody end right then, we were deeply moved. For Mary, the best exhibit was two bronze models of life casts of Lincoln's face, which visitors were allowed to touch. Run your hands over his skull, cradle that head in your hands, feel the difference between the younger self and the one with the gaunt hollows in his cheeks in the last years of his life, as he oversaw the near destruction of the country he loved. It was bronze, and yet it was the man.
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