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Monday, October 20, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2005

Welcome to Abe's world

ONE hundred and 40 years after Abraham Lincoln died at the barrel of an assassin's pistol, a library and museum have been completed to commemorate the man who is unarguably one of the most beloved of all U.S. presidents.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., are "altogether fitting and proper," as Mr. Lincoln might say, especially considering a couple of historical comparisons: the Reagan and Clinton presidential libraries are already open, and George W. Bush is busy planning his.

It's not as if the Great Emancipator has been neglected, of course. The out-sized niche he occupies in the hearts of his countrymen is perfectly symbolized by the shimmering marble Lincoln Memorial, with its 19-foot statue, which has dominated one end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., since 1922.

The new museum, dedicated this week, and the library, which opened its doors in October, are projects of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Most of the $150 million cost was furnished by the state, which obviously values its history.

As most school children learn, Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but he spent most of his pre-presidential life in Illinois, which has jealously maintained the 16th president's legacy. His modest home, law office, and tomb are Springfield tourist attractions.

Although it carries Lincoln's name, the library is actually a repository for all state historical items, including the preservation agency's 47,000-piece Henry Horner Lincoln Collection. It is a reference and research facility with the country's most complete cache of Lincoln documents and memorabilia.

In contrast, the adjacent museum employs holographic images and chair-rattling special effects to allow visitors to experience Lincoln's life and times rather than just read about him.

Instead of displaying "dead stuff in a glass box," the designer says, the museum is "geared for the short attention spans of the Internet age."

Critics of its computerized multimedia exhibits have dubbed it "Six Flags Over Lincoln" and "Abe's World," although this is the type of fare younger visitors will enjoy even as they learn.

The Lincoln museum and library are not part of the system of presidential libraries operated by the National Archives, which is probably just as well. The operators don't have nervous guardians of a presidential legacy looking over their shoulders and thus are able to illustrate the full breadth of Lincoln's history, warts and all.

One exhibit, for example, questions whether the Emancipation Proclamation actually freed any slaves and suggests it may have been more of a public relations move to drum up lagging support for the Civil War.

Far from merely taking a cynic's view of a martyred politician, however, the museum portrays Lincoln in a respectful light and should add significantly to the understanding of one of our most revered presidents.

While many states, including Ohio, are cutting spending on historical sites, Illinois should be commended for ensuring the preservation of its storied past.



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