While visiting my parents in Illinois, my father strongly urged that I visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which is on Route 66 in Springfield. Because Dad isn’t easily impressed, I thought I’d better get there.
Dad was right. It is the best Lincoln tourist attraction out of many in that city. It has been open less than a year, and it’s already drawn 500,000 visitors. It’s a visual and aural feast, and it’s educational to boot. Having grown up about an hour from Springfield, I considered myself to be an Honest Abe buff. But even I learned a few things about our greatest president.
The attractions the museum contains are numerous, but I thought I’d mention a few:
— You think George W. Bush has it bad from the critics and the press? It’s nothing compared to what Lincoln faced. The Whispering Gallery displays editorial cartoons and writings that are breathtakingly vile and vicious against Honest Abe. Not only do you read them, you hear them — from actors reading the actual text. Dank lighting adds to the unsettling effect.
— The War Gallery has an interactive scrapbook of photographs from the Civil War. But the most impressive feature is “The Civil War in Four Minutes,” also known as the Electronic Map. Condensing one week of the war into one second, you see the Confederacy’s territory undulate like a giant amoeba from attacks, counterattacks and retreats. In a corner of the map, you see the number of casualties skyrocket until it reaches a total of more than 1.3 million by Appomattox. It’s a sobering experience.
— The most amazing segment is the “Ghosts of the Library,” shown above. It explains how researchers use historical items to gain a more complete picture of Lincoln’s era. Ghostly holograms that look like something from the climax from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” add to the effect. The best effect is saved for last, but I won’t reveal it — I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
I’ve heard Michael Wallis talk about having many interactive displays in a proposed Route 66 Interpretive Center in Tulsa. After seeing the Lincoln Museum and how well it’s gone over, I understand more what he might have in mind.