new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
- Ill. Museum Brings Abraham Lincoln to Life
Tue Apr 12, 9:56 AM ET
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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
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
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
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
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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