Although the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial era is now drawing to a close, there are still major exhibitions about him going on throughout the country for at least another year. At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. , one can visit Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life into 2011. I went to see it last year. You may read a review I wrote last winter about it here. It is definitely worth seeing.
As superb as that exhibit is, though, it is exceeded by the official national Lincoln bicentennial exhibition put together by the Library Of Congress. This nationally touring exhibition, With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition, features unique and priceless artifacts representing Lincoln’s life, including his childhood, family life as an adult, his career including the presidency, the Civil War, and his assassination. Some of the artifacts on display in this exhibition are:
- Lincoln’s original grammar book he used as a student
- The Lincoln family Bible
- Lincoln’s original notes he used for his debates with Stephen A. Douglas in 1858
- The Bible used by Lincoln during his first inauguration (and which President Obama used in his own inauguration last year)
- Original notes for Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address
- The contents of Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated (pictured above, including a Confederate $5 note)
- An original “Wanted” poster offering rewards for the capture of Booth and accomplices
- An original rocking chair from Lincoln and Herndon’s Law Office in Springfield.
- Numerous rare photos of Lincoln and his family
As the Library Of Congress website for this exhibit states: “The exhibit will reveal Lincoln the man, whose thoughts, words, and actions were deeply affected by personal experiences and pivotal historic events. By placing Lincoln’s words in a historical context, the exhibition will give visitors a deeper understanding of how remarkable Lincoln’s decisions were for their time and why his words continue to resonate today.”
The exhibition curator(s) have succeeded brilliantly in achieving the goals for this exhibit. With Malice Toward None is informative and fascinating. For me personally, the highlight was seeing the small, worn Bible which Lincoln used during his first inauguration. I also was deeply moved to see the items which Lincoln had in his pockets at the time of his murder. I’ve seen many Lincoln exhibits over the years. This one is simply the best.
This exhibition is currently at the Indiana State Museum in downtown Indianapolis, but only through the end of this weekend, April 11. However, the exhibit will next travel to Atlanta, at the Atlanta History Center from September 4 through November 6, 2010. The final stop on the tour will be next year in Nebraska.
If you cannot visit the exhibition in either of the two remaining cities, the Library Of Congress has published an official companion book titled In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts With Commentary by Distinguished Americans. The book contains photos of many of the objects featured in the exhibition, along with analysis by Lincoln scholars, famous authors, and former U.S. presidents.
Finally, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that this exhibition has been made possible through the support of Union Pacific Corporation, the nation’s largest railroad company. UP is the sole underwriter for the exhibit, and provided objects (the law office rocking chair and assassination artifacts) from its own collection of Lincoln items. In case you didn’t know, Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation which called for a transcontinental railroad, which in turn led to the creation of Union Pacific. While Lincoln didn’t live to see the completion of the railroad, it was his knowledge and understanding which spurred its beginnings. One could argue that Abraham Lincoln is the “father” of Union Pacific, a fact the company notes on the link I provided.