Life-sized replicas of a slave couple being
torn apart at a 19th-century auction are part
of one of the more hard-hitting displays at
the Lincoln museum.
State-of-art museum shows visitors
life of the president with stunning displays
The most–visited presidential library and museum
in the United States is at once a journey into
the past and an eye-popping window into the
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and
Museum opened in 2005 in downtown Springfield,
Ill., the capital of that state and a city rich
with history. President Obama launched his campaign
there in February 2007, just blocks from the
Lincoln museum in front of the Old State Capitol
where Lincoln delivered his “House Divided”
speech in 1858.
The museum is a place for the full family. It
has the largest collection of Lincoln materials
anywhere, enough to satisfy the appetites of
true scholars. But the complex also contains
two state-of-the-art theaters. “Lincoln’s Eyes”
uses a multi-media approach, surround-sound,
smoke and numerous screens to give the audience
a view of life as the president saw it. For
my money, the best experience was the “Ghosts
of the Library” theater where an actor leads
the audience through a presentation involving
holograms of Civil War-era leaders and personalities.
It’s more endearing and educational than it
is frightening for children. If you get there
late and can see only one exhibit, this is the
one I would recommend.
One of the more compelling displays is in the
War Gallery where visitors can see a film titled
“The Civil War in Four Minutes.” Every week
in the war is cut down to one second. It’s breathtaking
Anyone who thinks politics only recently went
negative should visit the Whispering Gallery
where nasty editorial cartoons and unfavorable
newspaper pieces about Lincoln, the nation’s
16th president, are on display. Critics often
referred to Lincoln as a gorilla, monkey or
baboon. The Comic News on Dec. 27, 1864, tagged
Lincoln as “The Yankee Nero.” In 1861 the Phunny
Phellow depicted Lincoln as a “black Republican,”
showing him in the embrace of an African-American
Another key exhibit is the Lincoln cabinet room
where life-sized replicas of the president and
his advisers are displayed in a debate over
the Emancipation Proclamation, issued after
Gen. George McClellan stopped Gen. Robert E.
Lee at Antietam. Not all cabinet members supported
it. Secretary of State William Seward advised
that the proclamation shouldn’t be issued until
after a Union victory.
Secretary of Interior Caleb Smith supported
it because he thought blacks would leave the
United States after the proclamation.
Attorney General Edward Bates strongly believed
that once freed, slaves would depart the United
States and colonize Central America.
A moving exhibit is the replica of the Hall
of Representatives where Lincoln lay in state
following his assassination at Ford’s Theatre
in Washington, D.C. The president died at 7:22
a.m. on April 15, 1865, at a boarding house
across the street from Ford’s Theatre where
John Wilkes Booth, an actor and white supremacist,
shot Lincoln point blank in the skull the night
before. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was at
Lincoln’s side when the president passed and
said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
There’s a good deal devoted to Lincoln’s earlier
years in the museum. Visitors are greeted by
replicas of Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd, and
Replicas of Booth and various Civil War figures
are positioned outside of the Lincoln White
House display. Gen. McClellan and Gen. U.S.
Grant are engaged in a conversation.
“You wouldn’t see this in real life,” Larry
Weyhrich, a museum docent from Springfield told
me. The two Union generals disliked each other.
LOCATION: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum is located at: 212 N. Sixth
St., Springfield, Ill. 62701 Phone: (217) 558-8844.
Directions from Des Moines: take I-80 East to
I-74 East. Proceed to I-155 South to I-55 South.
Proceed to West Clear Lake Avenue Exit.
MUSEUM HOURS: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily (ticket
sales end at 4 p.m.) Closed on New Year’s Day,
Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day
WHERE TO EAT: Established in 1864 Maldaner’s
restaurant, 222 S. Sixth St., offers an historic
atmosphere and a top-shelf menu. It’s just a
few blocks from the museum. A long-time former
editor of the Springfield newspaper, The State
Journal-Register, Barry Locher, now director
of foundation and member services for the Illinois
Press Association, recommended it.
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.