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new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

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  • Len Overmyer III
    Ill. Museum Brings Abraham Lincoln to Life Tue Apr 12, 9:56 AM ET Add to My Yahoo! U.S. National - AP By CHRISTOPHER WILLS, Associated Press Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 12, 2005
      Ill. Museum Brings Abraham Lincoln to Life

      Tue Apr 12, 9:56 AM ET

      Add to My Yahoo! U.S. National - AP

      By CHRISTOPHER WILLS, Associated Press Writer

      SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - In most museums, Abraham Lincoln
      is discussed in hushed voices and illustrated with
      sepia-toned photos and marble statues that give him a
      saintly air.

      The new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and
      Museum doesn't buy into that reverence � it brings
      Lincoln to life with booming cannons, holographic
      ghosts and latex statues so lifelike the arms have
      freckles. It shakes visitors up and shows them all
      sides of the former president.

      The Lincoln presented here is not the one-dimensional
      man most museumgoers know from the materials at the
      National Park Service, the National Archives or the
      Smithsonian Institution.

      The museum, opening this month in Lincoln's hometown,
      shows the nation's 16th president as an awkward
      suitor, a grieving father and a wily politician.

      It points out his changing views on slavery and the
      limitations of his Emancipation Proclamation. Visitors
      hear complaints about everything from his looks � "the
      Illinois ape," some people called him � to his
      restrictions on civil rights.

      "We want to totally surround you, involve you in the
      emotions, in the triumphs and the tragedies of the
      Lincoln family and our nation," said Bob Rogers, whose
      company, BRC Imagination Arts, designed the museum's

      The library portion of the $145 million complex houses
      the world's largest collection of Lincoln documents
      and artifacts, from letters he wrote as a young lawyer
      to an original copy of the Gettysburg Address.

      The museum side is geared toward the general public,
      and it grabs the attention of adults and children
      alike with myth-busting stories and special effects
      over 40,000 square feet, twice the size of any other
      presidential museum.

      An introductory film uses smoke machines, vibrating
      seats and the roar of cannons to bring the Civil War
      to life while summing up both Lincoln's life and the
      nation's painful divisions.

      Another presentation mixes a living actor with
      holographic images of Lincoln and Civil War battle

      The four-day celebration wrapping up April 19 with the
      museum dedication follows nearly 25 years of effort to
      create a world-class institution to study Lincoln's
      life and explain it to the public.

      The result is called a presidential library, but it
      isn't operated by the National Archives, like the
      Clinton and Reagan libraries are, and it isn't the
      official repository of documents from Lincoln's

      The federal government agreed to provide up to $50
      million, but the bulk of the money is coming from the
      state, which owns and operates the institution.

      The library was originally scheduled to open in 2002 �
      Illinois Gov. George Ryan even held a "ceremonial"
      opening complete with fireworks and jets flying
      overhead � but it sat empty for two years because of
      problems with the heating and cooling systems. The
      library side finally opened in October. The museum is
      opening more than a year late.

      People who have sneaked peaks inside say the museum
      was worth the wait. The holograms and rumbling seats
      are fun, they say, but the museum also drives home the
      reality of the Civil War and Lincoln's role.

      "It connects first emotionally and visually, then lets
      you dig deeper," said David Mosena, who runs Chicago's
      Museum of Science and Industry. "I felt the pain of
      this conflict and the burden that rested on him."

      There are critics of that showmanship, however, and
      the museum's draw on resources.

      Maynard Crossland resigned as head of the Illinois
      Historic Preservation Agency, saying the library
      complex was overshadowing other historic sites and
      eating up scarce dollars. "It's just a big vacuum," he

      John Simon, a historian at Southern Illinois
      University, has complained bitterly about the museum's
      "Disneyesque" approach, particularly the life-size
      latex statutes.

      But other scholars feel just as strongly that the
      museum's glitz can work with the library's scholarship
      to tell Lincoln's story in a new way.

      "I think it really will be an important impetus to
      Lincoln studies and keeping the figure of Abraham
      Lincoln right out in front of American attention,"
      said author Allen Guelzo.


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