Friday, May 20, 2011

If Only...

"No Photographs, unless you're standing on marble."

Seeing that directive leads to frustration, because (1) I must rely on my memory alone to relive an experience, (2) I do not have photos to accompany a write-up of the experience, and (3) I am unable to come up with words to describe a "you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it" event.

One of these such events was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. Cousin Dora had this at the top of her list of "Must Do's" while we were visiting, and cousins Barbara and Karen had each e-mailed a similarly strong recommendation to see this museum.

So, when we entered the Plaza, which has a marble floor, we could photograph these figures portraying the Lincoln family in 1861. Many people took the opportunity to either join the figures or photograph those who did (photo below).

To one side of the columns on the south portico of the White House are the figures of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass and on the other side are those of Generals McClellan and Grant(photos below).

Entering the White House, we found Mary Lincoln in a ball gown (photo below). Around the room were reproductions of the ball gowns of Mary's social rivals, who all seem to be younger, richer, thinner and more popular than Mary. Each of these women has something cruel to say about Mary.

To the left of the White House, there was a tall forest surrounding the cabin (photo below) that represents Lincoln's early years. Near the edge of the forest is a figure of a 9-year-old Lincoln, sitting on a stump with a book.

But in one area where no camera could go, i.e., where there were no marble floors, we attended the Union Theater's "Lincoln's Eyes." In this presentation, an artist explains that while he was painting Lincoln’s portrait, he struggled to understand all the things he saw in Lincoln's eyes: sorrow, resolve, hope, vision, forgiveness, and more.

The state-of-the-art theater itself puts on quite a show. I will say no more.

"The Whispering Gallery is a twisted, nightmarish hallway where you will hear brutally unkind things said about Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln during their early months in Washington. On the walls are cruel caricatures and barbed political cartoons that attack the Lincolns" (Museum web page). This was both disturbing and yet similar to the attacks and negative portrayals of political figures today.

"The Emancipation Proclamation places you in a special effects 'Illusion Corridor' with a gauntlet of dream-like images of people yelling at you, as if you were Lincoln. Everyone is telling you what you should do about the emancipation controversy. The mix of very different, sometimes racist opinions reminds you that, even in the North, Lincoln was leading a deeply divided, mostly racist nation" (Museum web page).

Learning that Lincoln had been elected over three other candidates with only 39% of the vote and that seven states had seceded from the Union between his election in November and taking office in March of 1861, we had a greater realization of the immense challenge to save the Union that confronted President Lincoln.

"The War Gallery presents a number of displays and interactive exhibits that help describe the human tragedy and sacrifice of the war. The widely acclaimed show 'The Civil War in Four Minutes,' rolls nonstop moving battle lines that depict the changing progress of the war. Here, each week of the war has been condensed to one second. In the corner of the map, a casualty counter tracks the mounting human cost--an odometer of the wounded or dead" (Museum web page). The number of casualties was staggering.

In "Ghosts of the Library," the ghosts of Lincoln and his contemporaries momentarily appear and disappear, their transparent images drifting through the "Library." A quill rises from a library table and begins to write in the air, in Lincoln's handwriting. The presentation uses Holavision®, a magical special effects presentation, which permits the magical "fade away" or disappearance of the on-stage actor, with astonishing impact to audiences of all ages (Museum web page).

Kate had figured out some of this means of producing this effect and persuaded one of the tour guides to reveal another major portion. But she's not talking.

The displays in this Museum are powerful--both in content and in presentation.


We faced the same "no-photos" policy on our visit to the Executive Mansion, home to the Governor of Illinois. Carefully restored in 1971, the Mansion has few period pieces. Each governor had to furnish the home when they moved in, and each took the furniture with them when they left office.

One piece of furniture that I would have liked to photograph was a spectacular table presented to President Lincoln which contains more than 20,000 pieces of inlaid wood.

A full-time staff of eight, including two chefs, one landscaper, one person who cleans the Mansion weekly, and a manager provide tours, arrange for meetings, and handle preparations (along with part-time servers and kitchen staff) for over 250 lunches and dinners annually.

If only we could have taken photographs.

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