Newberry Library celebrates Lincoln

By mlekovic

Originals of Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural speeches, the glasses he wore, portraits of him and many more invaluable artifacts can be found at the Newberry Library’s two exhibits which commemorate his birthday.

The 16th president’s life and death will be celebrated through two exhibits, “With Malice Toward None,” and “Honest Abe of the West.” These new exhibits opened to the public on Oct. 10, and will run through Dec. 19 and Feb.15, respectfully.

The exhibition is rare because many of the artifacts were donated by the Library of Congress and this is the first time some of them have been on display anywhere. The exhibition will run until Dec. 19, when it will travel to Indianapolis, Ind. as part of the tour.

Even though the two exhibits are about Lincoln, they show two very different points in his life. “Honest Abe of the West” focuses on Lincoln’s life before he became president. It chronicles his early years in Illinois—his career as an attorney in Springfield and as a dedicated leader of the former Whig Party.

“We’re trying to tell a more local story so people don’t miss the fact that Chicago was the West in 1860,” said Daniel Greene, director of the Scholl Center for American History and Culture.

Some of the highlights of this “Honest Abe of the West” exhibit include a copy of the Republican Pocket Pistol—a collection of facts, opinions and arguments for freedom—that has Lincoln’s signature counterfeited on the cover,  and a rare 1859 photograph of the president . There’s also a ribbon from the 1860 presidential campaign depicting the Republican Standard Bearers—Abraham Lincoln and Vice Presidential candidate Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. Along with this is a pamphlet from the final debate between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.

Rachael Bohlmann, director of Public Programs at the Newberry Library, said they thought it would be great to highlight their own collections in conjunction with the artifacts donated by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

“This one ‘With Malice Toward None’ will be gone, but people of Chicago and the Chicago area can always come back and look at [our artifacts],” Bohlmann said.

“With Malice Toward None” portrays Lincoln’s growth from prairie lawyer to pre-eminent statesman. It addresses the immense and controversial issues he faced during his presidency such as slavery, the Civil War and the preservation of the Union.

“With Malice Toward None” contains a plethora of original artifacts from Lincoln. The Bible on which he took his oath of office on March 4, 1861 stands out among the rest of the exhibit.  President Barack Obama was sworn in with the same Bible earlier this year. Accompanying the Bible are two life masks—masks of Lincoln’s face and arms.

One mask was made at the beginning of his presidency and the other was made four years later.  Stress lines are clear on the second life mask.

Many believe that one of the life masks was made after his assassination, but this assumption is a myth, according to John R. Sellers, Civil War specialist at the Library of Congress and curator of the exhibit.

“If you compare the two, you can see the strain of office on the features,” Sellers said. “It’s a life mask, not a death mask, there is no death mask.”

These artifacts bring Lincoln to life and personalize him. Now, people not only know him as president, but a regular Joe.

The exhibition ends at the time of Lincoln’s assassination and funeral. A hands-on, interactive display allows patrons to follow Lincoln’s casket as it traveled from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ill. where he was buried. At each stop in the interactive exhibit, there is information that explains why the particular train stop was important to the expedition.