Although the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was born in the state of Kentucky, Illinois is commonly called the “Land of Lincoln.” In fact, even the Illinois license plate has this phrase on it, as well as a depiction of Lincoln’s head. This is because Lincoln lived in Illinois longer than he did in any other state.
In 2005, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in Illinois’ state capital of Springfield. Originally, it was the Illinois State Historical Library, which first began collecting materials regarding the history of Illinois in 1889. Since this library had a large Abraham Lincoln collection, people and the state eventually raised enough funds to transform it into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. However, despite its new name, it continues to collect non-Lincoln materials from Illinois history as well.
In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to donate his materials to the Federal Government specifically to create a presidential library. Soon after that, it became mandatory for U.S. Presidents to do so. Today, the U.S. National Archives runs the presidential libraries of Roosevelt, his predecessor Hoover, and every U.S. president after them. A handful of earlier U.S. Presidents have their own presidential libraries, but these are all independently run by different groups, not the federal government. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is run by the state of Illinois.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum provides visitors with an interactive experience that makes the visit enjoyable to people who do not typically like museums. For example, it includes a variety of lifelike dioramas from Lincoln’s life displayed throughout the Museum. There is also a neat hologram movie that visitors can watch about Lincoln. The Museum begins with Lincoln’s early years, continues through his careers as a clerk and lawyer, and eventually leads into his involvement with Illinois politics. The second half of the Museum describes Lincoln’s presidential years, involvement in the U.S. Civil War, and eventual assassination. Among the noteworthy items on display at the Museum are an original copy of the Gettysburg address, the quill pen Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and the bloody gloves Lincoln wore at the time of his assassination.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is a separate building across the street from the Museum. As previously mentioned, it includes documents about Abraham Lincoln, but also has materials about the history of Illinois, including an oral history collection and useful resources for Illinois genealogists. Additionally, the climate-controlled library building functions as the archives for the Museum, meaning that it also houses museum objects.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum recently joined the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). Since I used to work for another CARLI library member, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending two librarian events at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. While there, I had a tour of their conservation lab, where they work on repairing documents, books, maps, etc. The staff demonstrated how to wrap and carefully submerge stiff, rolled documents into water, in order to soften them up enough to eventually unroll them. The staff also showed us the Museum’s archives, where we saw a few interesting items. It fascinated me how they treated a jersey worn by a Chicago Blackhawks hockey player during a recent Stanley Cup win with the same amount of caution and precision as they did a handmade Civil War violin from 1863.
If you have enough time in Springfield, you should also visit a few other Abraham Lincoln spots in the area. The home that Lincoln lived in prior to his presidency is not far from the Museum. It is owned by the National Park Service, which provides free 20-25 minute tours of the home daily (except during COVID-19, so take a virtual tour). Also nearby is Lincoln’s large tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Finally, about thirty minutes away is New Salem. New Salem is a reconstruction of the small town that Lincoln lived in prior to living in Springfield. It is now a living history museum, so you can walk inside the reconstructed log buildings while learning more about life in the town from the staff, who are dressed in nineteenth-century garb. Interestingly, New Salem was reconstructed in the 1930s and early 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a governmental program that provided unemployed young men with jobs during the Great Depression.
Sources and Further Reading
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. https://www2.illinois.gov/alplm/Pages/default.aspx (accessed October 3, 2020).
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. http://lincolnlibraryandmuseum.com/index.htm (accessed October 3, 2020).
“Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.” Visit Springfield Illinois. https://www.visitspringfieldillinois.com/LocationDetails/?id=Abraham-Lincoln-Presidential-Museum (accessed October 3, 2020).
“History.” Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. https://www2.illinois.gov/alplm/library/aboutus/Pages/History.aspx (accessed October 3, 2020).
“Lincoln Home.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm (accessed October 3, 2020).
“Lincoln Home National Historic Site, National Park Service.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/u/0/partner/lincoln-home-national-historic-site (accessed October 3, 2020).
“Lincoln Tomb.” Visit Springfield Illinois. https://www.visitspringfieldillinois.com/LocationDetails/?id=Lincoln-Tomb (accessed October 3, 2020).
“Lincoln’s New Salem.” Historic Preservation Division. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. https://www2.illinois.gov/dnrhistoric/experience/sites/central/pages/new-salem.aspx (accessed October 3, 2020).
Perlman, Seth. “New Museum Brings All Sides of Abraham Lincoln to Life.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 17, 2005. https://www.post-gazette.com/life/travel/2005/04/18/New-museum-brings-all-sides-of-Abraham-Lincoln-to-life/stories/200504180116 (accessed October 3, 2020).
“Presidential Library History.” National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/about/history.html (accessed October 3, 2020).“Virtual Tour.” Lincoln’s New Salem. https://www.lincolnsnewsalem.com/ (accessed October 3, 2020).