We got to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library early this afternoon just before the rains arrived. I’ve only got a couple of pictures though because like the Dana-Thomas House no photography was allowed in most of the exhibit areas. That being said it is one of the best presidential libraries we’ve visited so far. According to the Museum it is the largest Presidential Museum at 50,000 sq. ft. It’s a different kind of museum in that instead of all static exhibits there are state-of-the-art full immersion exhibits, special effect theaters, and original artifacts. The special effects are tremendous and were designed, created and produced by BRC Imaginations Arts. The BRC web site
gives a flavor of what you see in the museum with a short video.
The “Ghosts of the Library” is a holographic presentation with a live, on-stage actor who appears to control smoke and vapors around him, causing the vapors to condense and form images that seem to interact with and respond to the actor who tells the story of the library and explains the activities, detective work, and discoveries waiting to be made in the presidential archive. The presentation really brings home the importance of learning the history of Lincoln and our country as he struggled with the trials of a President at war. There is a surprise ending when he puts on a Civil War coat and “transforms” into a Civil War soldier. He bids farewell and reveals that he too is a ghost, a Civil War soldier who carried the flag for the 54th Illinois Regiment and died in battle. As he speaks, the “Library” magically “transforms” into a battlefield and the Host turns, walks toward the horizon, and slowly fades away. It’s amazing that a presentation about a library could be so moving.
“Lincoln’s Eyes” is a special effects movie of the personal and political dramas and key issues of Lincoln’s presidency, especially slavery. The story is told by an artist who was commissioned to create the painting of Lincoln for the front of the Union Theater. Throughout the presentation, the theater sets change automatically as backdrops, sets, and projection screens fly in and out in front and on both sides of the audience and the seat vibrate with the sound effects of battle. The Host is himself a special effects projection.
You can walk through the “Pre-Presidential Years” of Lincoln when you enter Lincoln’s childhood log cabin home and go to his famous, emotional farewell speech before leaving Springfield, Illinois, for Washington, D.C., where he will begin his first term as president. Other venues visited are a New Orleans slave auction from which he developed his abolitionist opinions, his time in New Salem where he ran the Berry-Lincoln General Store and he met his first love Ann Rutledge, his life in Springfield, and the Presidential campaign of 1860. All are life-like settings that make you feel you are inside the scene.
The “White House Years” take you through the events of his nearly two terms as President. You pass through the White House South Portico to see figures like Generals Grant and McClellan standing in conversation, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth waiting for the opportunity to speak with the President, and, around to one side, John Wilkes Booth is watching Lincoln’s back. Inside are some of the women of Washington on display in ball gowns of the day. The Whispering Gallery is a weird hallway where voices are heard whispering vicious rumors and brutally unkind things about Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln. On the walls are cruel caricatures and mean political cartoons of the time that attack the Lincolns. The angles of the walls, lighting, and the out-of-square frames for the cartoons add to the nightmarish feeling as you walk through. If you think politics are tough and out of control now, take some time to look at the rough and tumble world of politics in our history and you may change your mind that it’s quite tame these days in comparison. Other White House scenes include the death of the Lincoln’s son Willie, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, Ford’s Theater, and Lincoln lying in state in the Illinois Capitol. There’s also an animated map “The Civil War in 4 Minutes” that shows all of the battles of the war, the areas occupied by the Union and Confederate forces and how they changed, changing dates, and a constantly moving counter of dead and wounded during the Civil War.
We spent about 3 hours in the museum which is not enough to spend time to study each of the exhibits. It’s probably worth a full day. We crossed over to the Union Station Plaza on our way back to the parking lot. The station has been restored to its 1910 appearance. One of the more prominent features of Springfield Union Station was a three-story (110 ft) clock tower. The only problem is there are no railroad tracks anymore. Apparently they ran along Madison Street (the street in front of the terminal) and the design was such that trains needed to back in since it was the end of the line for the Illinois Central. It’s one of the few depots we’ve seen with no tracks that is still in its original location.
In the park was a memorial to the Springfield Race Riot of 1908, a mass civil disturbance in Springfield on August 14, 1908 sparked by the transfer of two African American prisoners out of the city jail by the county sheriff. They had been accused (but not tried) of provocative crimes against whites, and the mob became enraged by not being able to lynch them. The mob rioted in black neighborhoods, destroying and burning black-owned businesses and homes, and killing black citizens. By the end of the riot the next day, the governor had sent in thousands of militia to restore order. At least seven people had died, and there was $200,000 in property damage, mostly to the black neighborhoods. It was the only riot against blacks in United States history in which more white deaths (five) were recorded than black (two). The riot was one element leading a biracial group to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.