Sunday, May 15, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life

Where: National Museum of American History

When: through May 30, 2011

I can't say that I learned anything new about Abraham Lincoln by going to this exhibit, but it is nice to see all of the museum's Lincoln artifacts in one place. The exhibit is well organized, showing items from Lincoln's childhood through the mourning after his death, and the fates of those who conspired to assassinate him. Lincoln was truly one of the great figures of American history, and it is fitting that the museum has staged a show to bring a bit of that greatness home to visitors.

Speaking of visitors, there are LOTS of them here. Although the exhibit is on the 3rd floor, many people were milling about when I was there, so be prepared to share your experience with several hundred others if you go.

One of the artifacts on display is a piece of a "genuine rail" split by Lincoln himself. I could not help but think of the "pieces of the true cross." I'm going to rely on the museum's curators to have authenticated the piece, and not allow my natural skepticism to wonder if this could be some random piece of wood...

Several other pieces that attracted my attention included:

  • a picture of the 1860 Presidential candidates (which brought to mind Team of Rivals)
  • the casts of Lincoln's hands and face - there's something you don't see done anymore
  • campaign torches from 1860
  • a newspaper notice of the firing on Ft. Sumter with the notice, "the tea has been thrown overboard" - tea party references are hardly new
  • a Union Army draft wheel
  • a model of Lincoln's patent
Interestingly enough, the White House was in great need of refurbishment when the Lincolns moved in, much like the experience of the Trumans. I'm not entirely sure why we let the residence of the President of the United States fall into disrepair, but apparently we've been doing so for a long time.

Very effective was "The Conspirators" section of the exhibit, which comes at the end. There are busts for each one of those involved in the assassination plot, with hoods pulled over their faces - slightly creepy, but not overdone - just creepy enough, I guess.

Verdict: Go see this show, especially if you have an interest in Lincoln or the Civil War, but be prepared to jostle your way through many tourists to see it.

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