Location: Springfield, Illinois
Webpage: Presidential Museum
General Description: The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum are two separate buildings in downtown Springfield, Illinois. Both are open to the public, however, most visitors spend their time at the Museum. Within the museum are three permanent exhibits about the life of Lincoln. The first of these is the Pre-Presidential Years Journey which is a series of exhibits about Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood in Kentucky and Indiana through his courtship of Mary Todd and the events leading up and through his Presidential campaign of 1860. The second area is a continuation of Lincoln’s life in the Presidential Years Journey. Exhibits highlight Mary’s struggle to fit into Washington D.C. society, the tragic death of their second son, Willie, and the effect this had on Mary. Most of the journey deals with the political pressures of the Civil War over the emancipation controversy, the highs and lows of the Civil War, and his reelection in 1864. Finally, are the exhibits of Ford Theater where Lincoln was assassinated and a nearly full scale re-creation of Representatives Hall in Springfield where you can pay your final respects to Lincoln. The third permanent exhibit is an extensive collection of personal items important to the Lincoln family. In addition to the permanent exhibits are two theaters. The Union Theater shows a short multi-media film that showcases an artist attempting to understand what makes up the man, Abraham Lincoln. The Ghost of the Library Theater is a remarkable three-dimension presentation about the importance of the Presidential Library and some of the items that can be found there.
1) My recommendation is to have most of a day to spend in the Lincoln Museum as the exhibits are VERY well done and the two theaters should not be missed. The two permanent exhibits are a combination of artifacts, interactive displays, and full-sized recreation of important scenes in Lincoln’s life. You obtain a very good overview of Lincoln’s life before the Presidency, much of which we already knew from visits to his early homes in Kentucky and Indiana. The exhibits devoted to his Presidency are also very well done with again many artifacts, interactive displays and life-sized recreations. My personal favorite was the story of the controversies during his Presidency told through political cartoons.
2) Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore the temporary exhibit which highlighted the Illinois Presidents from Lincoln to Obama.
3) While they are not as historically interesting the highlight of the museum must be the two theaters. The Ghost of the Library Theater is an amazing three dimensional presentation of a curator in the Presidential Library. I don’t know how they do it, but the presentation looks completely real and solid, without the need for special glasses. The curator talks about the importance of history and the library while showing examples of some of the artifacts maintained in the library. The presentation concludes with the curator taking on the role of a Civil War soldier while the library itself transforms into a very realistic battlefield, after which he completely fades away. AMAZING.
4) The other presentation in the Union Theater is not as impressive, but is also well worth watching. It is a full multi-media presentation with lights and sounds that focuses on an artist attempting to discover the man behind the President. In addition to explosions that rocks your seats, there are even cannon that come out of the wall and blow smoke rings over the audience. It was very well done.