Jul 8, 2018

Scenes from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Ill.

Even commoners like yours truly are sometimes guilty of overlooking the benefits of being a tourist in your hometown.  Perhaps it’s just too easy to take for granted what’s right in front of you.  Or maybe, as what often happens to longtime central Illinois residents, you just get burned out on all things Lincoln-related by the time you’re done with all those school field trips. 

Opening in 2005, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is the newest Lincoln-related attraction to Springfield, Ill., and by almost all accounts, it’s the top-rated and most rewarding attraction of them all (a handful of the nearly 4,000 Trip Advisor reviewers must still hold a grudge over the Civil War or something …).  In fact, since its opening, the ALPLM has been the most-visited presidential library in the country. 

Needless to say, it was a little embarrassing that I had never visited this local treasure until Punky and I devoted one afternoon late last summer to taking the Kiddo to the museum.

Although I’m used to seeing it almost every day, the first thing a visitor might notice is the architecture of the place.  The entrance and lobby are very spacious and open.  I’ve always thought from the outside it looked vaguely like Lincoln’s stovepipe hat.  As soon as you walk through the gates into the actual museum, you find yourself in another spacious plaza which serves as a central embarkation point from where you can enter each separate exhibit. 

The first thing that will probably get your attention here is the model White House in the backdrop and the Lincoln family ready to greet you and pose for those obligatory pictures. As usual, Mary looks less than happy to be there.      

You can tour the exhibits in any order you like.  Allow some adjustments in your schedule, though, to make sure you catch all the films, especially the “Ghosts of the Library” which combines a live action narrator with some spectacular holographic special effects. 

We worked our way through the museum in chronological order, starting with the log cabin replica of Lincoln’s boyhood home. 

You don’t get more Americana than a young Abe reading in front of the fireplace, a dog at his feet, while the rest of the family slept. 

Other exhibits focusing on the early years feature a replica of a New Orleans slave auction and Lincoln’s early adult life in New Salem, Ill.  (Do yourself a favor and just drive out to New Salem.)

There’s also an exhibit dedicated to Lincoln’s life in Springfield.  Again, that Mary Todd was a real charmer …  

One of the more interesting parts of the tour to me was the 1860 presidential election and how they put a modern CNN-style spin on a 19th Century campaign.   

Moving along – Spoiler alert:  Lincoln won the election – the entrance to the model White House begins a look at Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War.

Among the exhibits are the “Whispering Gallery” of political cartoons and “voices” from the era which really brings to light how unpopular Lincoln was in some circles. 

I was also impressed with the recreation of one of Lincoln’s cabinet meetings, which also gives a “voice” to each member and provides an even greater sense of how one attempted to influence the president.    

Remaining exhibits covering the presidential years focus on the death of Lincoln’s son Willie, the Emancipation Proclamation, the assassination at Ford’s Theatre and a scene of Lincoln lying in state at the Old State Capitol.  All are captivating in their own way with each set recreated in striking detail. 

As an aside, yet another section of the museum features a special rotating exhibit related to Lincoln or Illinois history that changes every six months or so. For instance, the summer 2018 temporary exhibit commemorates the Illinois Bicentennial and ties together all four presidents from the state (Lincoln, Grant, Reagan and Obama).  A future exhibit will look at how Lincoln has been portrayed in Hollywood and more specifically in the movie “Lincoln.”

During our visit, the temporary exhibit encapsulated the history of an Illinois rivalry just as historic as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas – the baseball rivalry of the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Huge Cubs fan that I am, I relished in my luck at seeing this exhibit as part of the admission price to the full museum. And, since I’ve also never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was rewarding to see some of their items on loan for this exhibit. 

Even the display devoted to the Cubs’ famous “Curse of the Billy Goat” was enjoyable …

… perhaps even more so since the curse was so recently broken.

Once you’re at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Libraryand Museum, it doesn’t take long to realize how fortunate it truly is for Springfield to have a historical attraction of this caliber in its downtown.  It’s a must-see for any first-time visitor to the area, and it’s worth regular trips back for anyone who has been there before.  Trust me, there’s always something new to see or at least a new perspective to learn.


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