Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Lincoln Museum Celebrates Anniversary

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield celebrated its first birthday today. Some 600,000 visitors have toured the exhibits since opening. For comparison the Bill Clinton Presidential Library only attracted 500,000 visitors its first year.

I was up in Springfield last week. Although I was supposed to be researching I decided I really didn't want to and walked on over to the museum. It was my first time touring.

The "Ghosts in the Library" multi-media event is fabulous. Even though I thought I recognized the technology before it started, I actually became more confused as the presentation ended. If you haven't noticed, I was paying more attention to how everything worked rather than the content.

Still, the content in that theatre should serve as an excellent opener to students to what historic letters and documents can reveal.

Compared with the "Ghosts" the "Eyes of Lincoln" presentation isn't as technologically impressive. I would strongly encourage anyone to see that one first.

Although the history is presented in such a way to be entertaining and engaging, I understand the flak the library's received for its disdain for facts if they don't fit the decor (in the case of the rug in the Emancipation Proclamation room or the fake generic regimental flag in the "Ghosts" presentation). For that, the flak is deserving.

However the Disney-fication of history complaint is a bit too harsh. None of the displays are real. It's a brand-new building, so fake and entertaining are OK if it works to convey the message.

The real problem is the poor condition of the historic sites across Illinois controlled by the state. Here's where history really took place.

For these sites, lack of staff has kept more than half the sites shuttered and mothballed for years, and those sites lucky enough to be open have limped along with hours only for five days a week. A recent announcement for part-time seasonal hires at some of the sites will help, but not if they are filled with political hacks and not persons enthralled by history.

The state does not have a long-term plan to open and staff the sites it owns. That needs to change, or all the efforts made so far to preserve history will be just that — history — with nothing left to show for it.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Jon,

Glad you made it up to Springfield to see the museum. I know the secrets to the Ghosts exhibit because I've been backstage. I think they have over a million dollars in that production alone.

Steve