Two Men from Illinois

Today when Barack Obama swore in to be the 44th President of the United States, he used the very same bible that Abraham Lincoln used 148 years before him. Throughout his campaign for president Obama has drawn inspiration from Lincoln, who like Obama, was a tall thin man from humble beginnings who was a relative newcomber to Washington, and who sought to unify the nation at a time of crisis. The theme for today’s inauguration was taken from a line in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “A New Birth of Freedom.” In the excerpt below, Dominic Degrazier describes his trip to Abe’s hometown and the Illinois state capital of Springfield:

We stopped at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum that was recently opened in April 2005. This museum enchants the visitor with an onslaught of history and the prevailing times of the Civil War.

To give perspective here: I do not enjoy most museums and find myself doing whatever I can after 20 minutes to entertain myself in most of them. On this particular day I spent two hours with Lincoln in his museum, which seemed like only 20 minutes! Never have I been presented with so much information in a dazzling feast of visuals, movies, hologram presentations, wax models, and my favorite display, a time-lined and evolving Union/Confederate territory map during the entire Civil War.

My museum experience began with the 20-minute movie called “Lincoln’s Eyes.” This movie not only scared me with the daunting sound system through war scenes, but also exposed me to the various angles of the slave times — especially when listening to the sentiments of Frederick Douglass and his opinion of Lincoln. This era was not so cut and dried as I had been taught.

After the short movie, we were drawn into an odd-shaped hall with multiple angled caricature pictures framed on the walls. These showed news clips of popular sentiment at the time concerning Lincoln and his actions. Abe Lincoln clearly did not have an easy term. It was abundantly obvious he was getting heat and criticism from all sides.

Sliding through this, past some wax figures and voices of the times giving their respective takes, we returned to the common area of the museum just in time to see “Ghost of the Library.” This presentation is a baffler — at least it was to me. An actor, or what I thought was an actor, was behind a slanted window glass on a stage reciting stories of Abe and the war. He was in a library and repeatedly opens books and narrating tales.

Holograms formed out of the books and explicitly showed what the actor was describing. Such impressive technology! Then, to top things off, something happened at the end (I don’t want to ruin the surprise!) that made me question what was real, and what was technically engineered — an amazing showcase used to describe an amazing era of our history.

The thought put into these presentations and displays was mind boggling. I can understand why the museum took three years to be completed. If you want to learn — or re-learn — about Lincoln and the times surrounding his presidency should visit this museum.

The reflection of Springfield now provokes thoughts of my nation’s history. It is where I first understood how close the United States came to becoming two nations, and how the vision and guidance of a Springfield, Illinois, citizen prevented this.

Lincoln and Springfield showed me a humble America, rooted in history.