Springfield, IL: Part V – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential (Library and) Museum

15 12 2009

On Sunday, Oct. 11 this year my family and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  The ALPLM complex is located only a few blocks from our hotel, and comes under the purview of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.  Due to budget restrictions, the Library is not open on weekends: that’s why “Library and” is parenthetical in the title of this post.  Here are shots of the complex (buff buildings) from our hotel room, my son and me outside the museum, and the then closed library across the street (click on the thumbs for a larger image):

  

Inside the museum we paid our fees ($22 for two adults and one 11 year-old) and, with recommendations from Mike Kienzler in hand, started on our journey.

Basically, the museum consists of an open receiving area, a theater, two “journeys” which center on the two phases of Lincoln’s life, an artifact display (Treasures Gallery), a play area for kids (Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic), and the Ghosts of the Library program. Photos are permitted only in the receiving area (Plaza) and Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic.  Museum security is very strict with photo limitations – don’t press your luck.  There’s also a museum store, a cafeteria, and an Illinois Gallery.

This museum is not what comes to mind when old fogies like me think of museums.  The trend today is away from stuff – artifacts – and towards multi-media experiences, lots of 3-D models, recreations, etc; more or less the telling of a story with fewer limitations on how it’s told.  It will work for some folks, and won’t work for others.  It is what it is.  Frankly, I didn’t mind; my kid loved it, and there were some very cool artifacts in the Treasures Gallery and sprinkled along the Journeys for the over 40 crowd.  To me, the rubber dummies looked like rubber dummies.  But maybe my mind’s eye isn’t what it used to be.  Younger folks, the ones who will be taking their kids to this museum some day, are a lot better at believing, and so are maybe more receptive to the influence of this kind of approach.

In the Plaza, we were first greeted by lifelike rubber models of the Lincoln family as they may have appeared prior to leaving Springfield for the White House.  This is a very popular photo stop, as everyone wants to get their picture with the Lincolns.  While the museum has staff there who are happy to take pictures on your camera, it’s hit or miss on whether or not they know how to use it.  All of the first set of us with the “dummies” came out blurry, but we had another staff member take the pictures later and they turned out OK.

  

Taking Mike’s advice we started with the film Lincoln’s Eyes.  This, like the rest of the museum, is not a traditional approach, but a multimedia enhanced film guided by an artist commissioned to paint the portrait of Lincoln that is posted outside the theater.  Whether this is the real artist, or an actor portraying a real or fictional artist isn’t quite clear to me.  I got that kind of feeling more than once in the museum.  Below are images of the portrait and of the film’s poster.

 

Next we took the first of the two Journeys, Pre-Presidential Years.  The tour starts off in a recreation of what a teenaged Abe’s log cabin may have resembled.  We proceeded past a lifelike depiction of a slave auction, which Abe may or may not have seen in New Orleans and through the New Salem store.  One of my wife’s favorites was the models of Lincoln, Willie and Tad in his law office where mayhem ruled.  My son loved the TV production panel, with Tim Russert commenting on the candidates of 1860 with modern graphics, and paid political announcements – we sat through it twice.  Below are photos of the lifelike young Lincoln and his cabin, which is accessed off the plaza.

 

Then it was on to Journey Two, The White House Years.  This tour is accessed off the plaza via the south portico of the White House, where we were greeted by Mary Lincoln and a display of dresses – reproductions – of prominent ladies of the era.  Then we walked through the Whispering Gallery, with asymmetrical framings of many of the anti-Lincoln cartoons produced during his presidency, accompanied by whispered criticisms of him over the sound system, which moved through the years as we walked.  Then came a touching tableau of the Lincoln’s vigil over the dying Willie on February 5, 1862.  While muffled sounds of revelers and music can be heard from downstairs, Lincoln stands in the doorway of his son’s room, one of Willie’s dolls dangling forlornly from his father’s hand, while Mary hovers over the bedridden boy.  Two weeks later Willie was dead, and we find Mary in mourning, sitting in a White House alcove in the dark, rain pelting on the windows.

On a stroll through the White House kitchen we heard the staff scuttlebutt, including speculation about Mary’s sanity.  Lincoln’s office is arranged as it may have appeared when Lincoln revealed plans for an Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet, with attendant rubber sculptures of each member.  The wall and floor coverings are brightly colored and ornate, as were those in the Lincoln Home we visited the day before – I think we imagine Victorian furnishings less vibrantly, but I’ll accept that the museum did its homework.  On exiting the room we could hear criticisms of the EP, this time with accompanying holographic, hectoring images, then we were led into a Hall of Shadows where AL ultimately signs the document.

The next few presentations depict the progress of the war, including an expansive Gettysburg mural.  My son’s favorite was a time-lapse map of The Civil War in Four Minutes.  As various battles are highlighted, the casualties mount in the lower right corner.  He watched it twice.  Nearby is a wall of dozens of photos, with touchscreens to access background on each one.

A tableau of Ford’s Theater frames the assassination, and another shows Lincoln lying in state in Springfield in the Capitol’s Hall of Representatives.  Lincoln’s casket was open for viewing in “real life” – the catafalque in the tableau is so high, and the casket inclined to such an extent that I couldn’t see if this detail was recreated.  The final exhibit explores efforts of American’s to “Hold On” to Lincoln by collecting items he may have owned or touched.

Here are a few images of the entry to Journey Two.  A few figures are hanging out near the entry: John Wilkes Booth, George McClellan, U. S. Grant, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.  Check out the juxtaposition of McClellan and Grant: Mac imperious, properly holding cup and saucer, little finger extended, looking down on HUG; Grant gripping his cup ham-handedly, bothersome and useless saucer at his side, looking like he’s set to kick Mac’s ass.  I felt compelled to step between them.  (Funny – at 5’11” I’m taller than both these guys, but it doesn’t appear that way in the photo.  Am I shrinking?)

     

[Every narrative of a good guy needs a bad guy.  I don’t need to go into the problems I have with narrative history and its limitations, because I already talked about them here.  So let’s accept the validity of a narrative format and go from there.  It’s obvious who the good guy is going to be at the ALPLM.  And there’s certainly no shortage of bad guys in AL’s story.  Stephen Douglas, arguably.  The Radical Republicans.  Rabid Yankee abolitionists.  Fire-eating southern separatists.  Newspaper editors nationwide.  Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Braxton Bragg, Nathan B. Forrest et al.  The Confederate Congress.  John Wilkes Booth.  A nut-job wife.  All are likely candidates.  But all, if they are even mentioned in the displays or over the sound system of the museum, fade to static background noise behind the overarching presence of the great evil of AL’s life: you guessed it, George B. McClellan.  In Lincoln’s Eyes, he even appears as one of the divisive panels pulling the quilt of the nation apart.  What are the servants in the recreated kitchen of the White House overheard complaining about?  The limited reach of the Emancipation Proclamation?  The slaughter of U. S. Colored Troops?  No, of course not.  It’s that traitor McClellan.  All of this is set up by the depiction of Mac outside the entrance to the White House.  Ah well, what are you gonna do?  Gotta roll with it.]

After Journey Two we took in Ghosts of the Library.  Don’t miss this.  It’s a special effects wonder.  I think I figured out how they did it at the end, but still I’m not positive and nobody’s talking.  An actor (or is it?) describes to the audience the importance of documents and artifacts in learning about the past.  Are the items we can see during the program actual artifacts and documents?  Probably not, but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s the message that counts.  But damn, this is one cool show.  I didn’t see a single fidgety kid in the audience.

The Treasures Gallery will appeal to traditionalists.  There are a number of swell items in here, none sweller than one of Lincoln’s stovepipe hats, complete with worn fingerprints on the right side outer and inner brim, where he would grip it to tip the hat to passers by.

The last stops on our tour were Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic and the Museum Store.  The Attic is really a glorified play area, though I was glad to see that my son – who will never get a job cleaning giraffe ears – is at least taller than Willie at the same age.  It also has a doll house version of the Lincoln Home my wife really liked. 

  

The gift shop I thought had a particularly poor selection of caps and shirts.  In fact, the tee shirts we did end up buying were clearance items we found the next day on a quick return trip – after all the discounts were taken, they were $4 each!

All-in-all, the ALPLM is a must see.  If you’re old (like me), it may not be what you’re used to, and folks do hate change sometimes.  But I watched the younger patrons, and they seemed pretty immersed in the whole experience.  Take an open mind with you.  I give it two thumbs up, and hope to get a chance to see the library at some point.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part VI

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Springfield, IL: Part IV – Old State Capitol

6 12 2009

On Saturday, Oct. 10 this year my family and I visited the Old State Capitol  in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  After our tour of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, we walked across Adams Street to the state house, where Lincoln served in the state legislature.  This building served as the fifth seat of Illinois state government from 1839 to 1876 (the preceding four were not in Springfield), and is now maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Here are a few shots of a descriptive marker on the grounds, the building, and detail of the front columns (click the thumbs for larger images):

    

Upon entering the state house, the central hall is dominated by the staircases to the second floor, from the landing of which can be seen the interior of the dome:

 

The first floor of the Capitol houses the offices of the auditor, secretary of state, and treasurer, as well as the state library, law library, and supreme court.  Here are photos of each in order:

     

The second floor is where the senate and hall of representatives are located.  There are a few interesting items outside these large rooms, including a statue of Stephen Douglas, a banner from Lincoln’s 1860 campaign, an old-timey mouse trap (death by drowning, I think), and the Adjutant General’s office (occupied 1869-1873 by old leather breeches Hubert Dilger):

   

Here’s the Senate Chamber:

Lincoln delivered his House Divided” speech in the Hall of Representatives, where he had served, upon his being put forth as a candidate for the U. S. Senate in 1858.  A little under 7 years later, his body would lie in state in the same room:

    

The coolest thing I picked up on my trip was a free handout at the Old Capitol.  It’s Lincoln’s last paycheck from the legislature.  It contains three very interesting signatures: Lincoln’s; Auditor James Shields; and Treasurer John Whiteside.  This is cool because, as you most likely know, future Civil War general Shields once challenged Lincoln to a duel over some critical letters that appeared in the Sangamo Journal known as the Rebecca Letters, the second of which was almost certainly written by Lincoln.  As the challenged party, Lincoln chose broadswords for weapons, and put some other creative limitations on the contest such that neither man could possibly strike the other, or that the much taller Lincoln only could reach his shorter opponent.  Shields’s second in all of this was Whiteside.  You can find all the correspondence on page 291 of volume I of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.  Or you can go here and advance through the sections to see all the correspondence and notes.

I forgot to ask where Lincoln had his office during the presidential campaign (or was it after the election and prior to the inauguration?) – if any of you readers know, clue me in.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part V

Part VI

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Civil War Times – February 2010

4 12 2009

The new issue of Civil War Times has been mailed.  The cover is one of my favorite photographs of Robert E. Lee, taken on the steps of his rented home in Richmond shortly after the surrender of his army at Appomattox Court House.  Lee’s face clearly shows bitterness and defiance – perhaps he was still in denial.  I saw the lens Matthew Brady used to take this photo, in Warren Motts’s Military Museum in Columbus (see here).  This issue includes two Lee pieces, one by Gary Gallagher (Do the Numbers Add Up for “Marse Robert”?), the other by Noah Andre Trudeau (Lee’s Last Hurrah, about his postwar tour through the South).  Other feature articles:

  • Guerilla War on the High Seas by Craig L. Symonds
  • “To Rise Again”: the salvage of  USS Monitor by Kristina Fiore.
  • Seeing the War Firsthand:  rare newspaper sketches by Helen Hannon.
  • “Mimic War” No More: Phil Sheridan’s and Jubal Early’s faceoff in August 1864 by Fred Ray.

I also have a review of R. K. Krick’s entry in Broadfoot’s South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set, The 14th South Carolina Infantry Regiment, of the Gregg-McGowan Brigade on page 66.  And on page 15, I have a brief news item and photo on the Potomac Crossing and Shepherdstown Battlefield Tour program I wrote about here.

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Springfield, IL: Part III – Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices

8 11 2009

On Saturday, Oct. 10 this year my family and I visited the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  After our tour of the Abraham Lincoln Home National Historic Site, we headed to 6th and Adams Streets where the offices are located across Adams from the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln served in the legislature.  It was pretty cool to realize how closely these three critical Lincoln sites are situated to one another.  Adams St. from 6th to 5th is closed off into one of those urban malls that were all the rage in the 1970s.  Unlike most of those, however, this one seems to work, probably due to the tourist factor.

The law offices are maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and for now, at least, it is open on Saturday.  The building is three stories, and when Lincoln had offices there from 1843 to 1852 with first Stephen Logan and later William Herndon, they were located on the third floor.  Exactly where is not certain, but it is believed they were on the 6th St. side, two floors above the Post Office – the left end of the building in the first image below.  The building in Lincoln’s day extended further up Adams, but that part of it was demolished later, so it is possible that the actual space occupied by Lincoln’s offices is gone.

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Our tour began on the first floor, where we heard some of the story of the building’s use and learned a little about the post office.

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The Federal court and offices were located on the second floor.  The old Capitol can be seen out the window of the courtroom in the front of the building.

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Then to the third floor, which has a recreation of the Lincoln-Herndon office as described by Herndon, but set up in the front of the building.  Two long tables were arranged in a “T”, and a couch representing a custom seven-footer upon which Lincoln would lounge to read the paper each morning sat in a corner.  The room in the last picture is where the office was more likely located, in the rear above the Post Office.

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The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices is a must-see, despite some questions about where the actual office was located.

Part I

Part II

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

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Antietam’s Bloody Lane Trail

4 10 2009

On September 18, 2009, I found myself at Antietam National Battlefield with time on my hands, and decided to fill it by walking the park’s new Bloody Lane Trail.  The 1.5 mile loop begins and ends at the park visitor center, and covers the attack and defense of the Sunken Road.  It was just about a perfect day, weather-wise, though it wound up being warmer than I at first thought.  So, I stopped into the VC bookstore and bought one of the NPS Bloody Lane Trail pamphlets for $0.99 (you can get a trail pamphlet for free at the front desk, but it’s bare bones).  Setting out about 4:00 PM, I snapped some photos along the way.  Click on the thumbs for larger images.

From the VC, I walked north to the New York monument.  From there I looked southwest towards the Sunken Road (the end of which is plainly marked by the red roof of the observation tower) and northeast toward the Mumma (m-you-ma) Farm.

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Here at the monument the pamphlet gives a quick overview of the battle’s morning phase, and an only slightly less general description of Sumner’s 2nd Corps and what transpired through the end of the fighting in the Sunken Road.

I decided to follow the instructions dutifully; though I had walked the grounds before, the official NPS trail is a little shorter than the tours I had been on.  So I walked from the NY monument generally east to the Mumma Farm lane, and then made a left toward the picturesque farm, stop #1.  The farm buildings were burned during the battle, and only the stone spring house (and spring) are wartime structures.  Right about where the spring house sits on the gravel lane, I followed the trail right (southeast).

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At the head of this path is an NPS wayside marker.  The trail took me towards the even more picturesque Roulette Farm.  Along the way I saw one of the many outcroppings that litter the field, all oriented about 23 degrees east of north – I guess glaciers don’t zig or zag much.

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The trail brought me to the bucolic Roulette Farm’s (stop #2) outbuildings, and inside one was a surprise – a limber (or was it a caisson missing a chest?) in disrepair.  I don’t think this is an original.  Regardless of budget constraints, I can’t imagine the NPS storing a 145-plus-year-old item like that in a shed.  I got a couple of nice shots of the house and a fuzzy one of the barn – it’s a new camera and this is the first time I used it.  It has about a dozen pixies flying around inside, and I think they make the camera shake when they get rambunctious.

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The trail snakes around the barn and continues straight while the Roulette Lane makes a right and continues southwest to the sunken lane.  The Three Farms Trail shoots off to the northeast, and then the ground gets really interesting. 

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As I walked towards the line on which the Irish Brigade (among others) advanced on the Sunken Road, I was confronted with this hill and the sudden disappearance of the top of the observation tower.  It comes back into view at the top of this hill (stop #3).

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The ground still rises from this point, and I made a right turn southwest toward the Sunken Road.  Using the Irish Brigade as an example, they were deployed from left to right across this scene.  The ground leveled off as I approached the #4 tour stop, but still the lane is not visible in front (though it is to the left, toward the tower).  However, unfurled colors and bayonets would have been plainly visible to the men in the lane.

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Continuing  on I descended into the lane (stop #5), where I could view the Confederate positions left (southeast) and right (northwest).

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At this point I took a detour from the tour, which leads northwest toward the Roulette Farm lane, to take a walk up the tower.  Unfortunately I’ve been having knee problems more severe than usual, and only made it up 21 steps.  So deciding discretion was the better part of valor, I descended (not as easy as it sounds) and proceeded back to where the trail joined the lane.  Here you get a good idea of the terrain, not just in front of the lane…

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…but behind it…

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…and in it.  Note that the Sunken Lane descends toward the Roulette Farm Lane, then ascends sharply towards where the trail turns right (north) off the Sunken Lane.

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It was in this area (stop #6), left and right of the Roulette Farm lane, that French’s division – the brigades of Weber, Morris, and Kimball – took their heavy casualties before Richardson’s division and the Irish Brigade even reached the field.  It’s true: you can look it up.

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From there it was a nice walk back up and across the Mumma Lane to Tompkins’s Battery and the visitor center.

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You can check out the experiences of other bloggers with the Bloody Lane trail, from around the same time,  here and here.

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Fredonia’s Cushings & Westfield’s Lincoln-Bedell Statues

22 07 2009

I spent a week-long vacation with my family at Van Buren Point, outside Fredonia, New York, on Lake Erie.  Next door to my in-laws’ cottage is a lot that until a couple of years ago was home to “Cushing Cottage”, once owned by the Fredonia family that included Gettysburg martyr Alonzo and naval hero William B. Cushing.  In fact, we have an old photo of William’s daughters Marie and Katharine frolicking in the surf in their mid-calf length bathing suits right there off my wife’s family’s beach – though somewhat eroded, it is unmistakable.  Click the thumb for a larger image.

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About 15 miles from Van Buren Point and pretty much on our way home is Westfield, home to Welch’s of grape juice and jelly fame – this area of western NY is known for grapes.  Westfield was the home of Grace Bedell, the little girl who encouraged then presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln to grow whiskers.  Lincoln stopped in Westfield on his roundabout journey to his inauguration and met Grace.  The moment has been commemorated by the town.  Here are some photos of the statues, an accompanying plaque, and an interpretive marker.  I used my cell phone, so excuse the quality.  Click on the thumbs for larger images.

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Craig Swain’s Manassas Weekend

21 07 2009

Fellow blogger and battlefield stomper Craig Swain paid a visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park for the anniversary weekend a few days ago, and has posted this nice photo essay.  I particularly like the image below, a view of Henry House Hill from the second floor of the Stone House:

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