Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Lincoln Museum and Library

A Home Run!

I recently had the good fortune to spend most of an afternoon in the Lincoln Museum in Springfield Illinois. Although most museum's aspire to creatively preserve and display artifacts, this one goes on to educate and provoke its visitors.

The Museum is part of a two building complex. On one side of the street is the largest presidential library in America. On the other is the museum. Sadly, the exterior of both buildings look vaguely like they were separated at birth from a Cheesecake Factory. 

But once inside the spaces and displays are truly inspired.

Visitors begin by entering a great central space called The Plaza. From there you select and proceed into the various journey's in Lincoln's life. In this museum, you do not passively view each journey. In this museum you experience each journey.

The Plaza
From a childhood in the wilderness to building and operating a flat boat on the Mississippi. From the horror of witnessing a family being ripped apart in a slave auction in New Orleans, to his adventures in courting, creating a family and building a law practice. 

From The Wilderness
Each presentation incorporates technology effectively. I particularly appreciated the portrayal of Lincoln's life in the White House. 

The White House tour starts with pomp and quickly becomes dark and claustrophobic. There are warped and twisting hallways in the "Whispering Gallery". You hear rumors fly from staff in the dark corners of the White House kitchen. Music from a state banquet eerily plays through the open door as you enter Willie Lincoln's darkened bedroom where the Lincoln's, having been assured their son is recovering, come to realize their son is perishing. Lincoln stands with vacant eyes framed in a doorway clutching his son's favorite doll.

You then move past Mary Todd Lincoln sitting in profound sadness all conveyed with raindrops washing over her face. The Illusion Gallery is filled with endless disembodied faces all speaking over each other in rage at the news of the Emancipation Proclamation.

As you move through the White House you come to realize that everyone abandoned Lincoln during his presidency. Bitterly vilified from both the right and the left, he persevered adhering to his own moral compass. The slave auction had left him with the conviction that all humans, despite the supreme courts morally bankrupt Dred Scott verdict, must never be considered "property".

Lincoln's lesson to us was clear; only a nation unified can stand.  America is the place where even a poor boy or girl from the wilderness can grow up to become president.

The Lincoln's Arrival in Washington 

The main film "Lincoln's Eyes" is presented in the Union Theater. In it an artist describes what he see's in Lincoln's eyes over time. During the presentation cannon's smoke, pyrotechnics explode and your seat lurches with every shot fired. 

The other major presentation Ghosts from the Library also leaves spectators dazzled. The presentation begins with a conservator on stage explaining the significance of the library. The presenter walks, picks up articles and sits in a chair whose cushion moves as he sits. During the presentation someone even called out from the audience to ask if the presenter on stage was real. 

Spoiler alert: That question was answered at the end when he dissolved before our eyes and the stage transforms from library to battlefield.

John Wilkes Booth
Lies in Wait
Alas photography is strictly limited to The Plaza. So I am limited what I can include here.

This museum is worth a special trip. And certainly anyone having reason to visit in Springfield should make sure not to miss it. It presents Lincoln in a way that inspires, and transforms. Visitors will come away with a new understanding of America's greatest president.

I found the implications of Lincoln's term to our modern America provocative. Indeed, how can America remain strong and thrive if we encourage the concentration of wealth and political power in fewer and fewer hands?

While in Springfield try to visit some of its other sights: both the old and "new" capital buildings, Lincoln's tomb, Lincoln's home and law office. Springfield is also home to the Dana-Thomas House (Frank Lloyd Wright's largest commission to date after leaving Sullivan's office) is a Prairie Style masterpiece.

Springfield Illinois - a wonderful first stop on the "Mother Road" Route 66!

Roadboy's Travels © 2012  

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