Ruth came to get me as I was looking at a re-creation of the Berry-Lincoln store in New Salem. She wanted me to see a wild scene portrayed in Abraham Lincoln’s law office where Lincoln sat on the sidelines paying no attention as chaos reigned. His 2 undisciplined sons were literally tearing the place up. Ruth, a teacher who expects order, was both surprised and a bit delighted by this scene because it clearly showed Lincoln’s human side. And that, to me, was the strength of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (ALPLM) in Springfield, Illinois.
We hadn’t planned on going there in mid-September, 2014; but the Indiana attraction we wanted to see was closed on Sunday, so we headed west from Champaign Urbana. Run by a historic preservation agency rather than the National Archives and Records Administration, ALPLM will be 10 years old in 2015. I resisted going for all 10 because I heard early and often that it was rather gimmicky, a bit too kitschy. It’s also worthwhile and being loved by hordes of visitors used to video games, 3-D movies, etc. If you doubt ALPLM’s appeal, read some on-line comments.
I entered Journey 1, the Pre-Presidential Years, and quickly began to observe Abraham Lincoln as a real human, not a historical icon. Perched on a log outside a boyhood home with Aesop’s Fables opened on one leg, he was teaching himself to read. That same year he was kicked in the head by a horse and “killed for a time”. Lincoln was described as a calculating fatalist, a negligent spouse, a teller of vulgar jokes, a melancholy comic, etc. I read about his teenaged delight at receiving 2 half-dollar coins in “less than a day” from ferrying travelers to a steamer. I laughed when, engrossed in a book, he told an interrupter, “I’m not reading. I’m studying law.”
Ruth came to find me again for the Holavision Theater’s noon presentation of “Ghosts of the Library”. I defy anyone not to be impressed with this multimedia presentation that uses 3 projectors to dazzle audiences.
Kitsch. A lurid display of a family being torn apart by evil slavers who look like chainsaw massacre characters as “Amazing Grace” pours down on them from the sound system, John Wilkes Both looking glum and leaning against a White House column, etc. But also compelling. A display of popular board games of the era, the humble explanation that Lincoln won 5 and lost 5 elective offices before becoming the 1st Republican President, etc.
Plan to be in the 4 Compass Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum for at least 3 hours, even longer if you wait until 2015. The staff promises additional dazzlements during the 10th anniversary year. Before then, “Undying Words”, an exhibit that focuses on Lincoln’s most famous speeches, opens on November 20, 2014.