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Lincoln is still a commanding force in Springfield

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 11/1/2013, 5:29 p.m.
Life-size statues of the Lincoln family greet visitors in the grand foyer of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, one of the best presidential museums in the country. Photo by Lysa Allman-Badwin

Somehow, just about everything in Springfield, Ill., dovetails back to Abraham Lincoln. But the meandering historic pathways and distinctive cultural aspects that bring about this amalgamation of the past and the present here is what makes it a fascinating tourism destination.

“The great emancipator”

The piès de résistance of the Lincoln experience in Springfield is undoubtedly the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, with both entities located directly across the street from each other in the center of downtown.

The Presidential Library is primarily used by scholars, genealogists, students and other researchers interested in Lincoln as well as the history of the state of Illinois. It contains an astounding collection of manuscripts, audio-visual technology, newspapers, printed materials and the like, including a genealogy component, programs and exhibits.

The Presidential Museum—the construction of which, according to the entity, “took almost four times as long as the Civil War that defined his presidency”—is where visitors from all over the world come to learn more about the most written about president in our history.

I could have spent hours here exploring the over a dozen galleries and exhibit spaces, each depicting a different facet of his life, before his presidency, during his presidency and after his assassination, as well as that of Mary Todd Lincoln. The sundry temporary, permanent and interactive exhibits are out of this world, encompassing a wide array of personal, family and presidential artifacts, photos, artifacts and memorabilia, just to name a few.

Two of my favorite aspects were the distinctive grand theaters. The state-of-the-art Union Theater features captivating special effects on a layered digital-projection screen in “Lincoln’s Eyes,” while “Ghosts of the Library” delves into the significance of the Presidential Library through a totally unexpected Holavision holographic technology highlighted by impressive and magical special effects. Both are completely different from each other and really give visitors a broad perspective of the wealth and depth of the experience they will enjoy here.

The primary focus of the museum is divided into Lincoln’s life sojourns, “Journey One: The Pre-Presidential Years” and “Journey Two: The White House Years.” The first is composed of nine exhibits that share his life from his birth in Kentucky up through his stint in the White House. The second vividly details the historic yet often brutal realities of what he faced as a father who lost his son, the horrors of the Civil War, the outpouring of both admiration and downright hatred for his various political stances, and ultimately his assassination and the mourning of his death.

Each exhibit area is more fascinating than the last, but, in my opinion, the museum really outdid itself in “Lying in State,” which is a re-creation of the setting when Lincoln lain in state at the Old State Capitol. It is so poignant and gripping that you really feel as if you are walking past and through a mourning processional, complete with a recreation of his coffin, the draperies, lighting and so forth. I hear that people often break down in tears when they get to this exhibit, and I can completely see why.