About a month after our initial sojourn to Springfield in September, Noel and I drove there again for another mini escape from our Covid quarantine in Oak Park. We were able to tour the Vachel Lindsay house this time, but the highlight of this visit was the afternoon we spent in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. To say it exceeded our expectations is an understatement. The museum and its high-tech displays and holographic performances blew our minds.
There are two theaters with ongoing shows. The Union Theater presents Lincoln’s Eyes, an intriguing 17-minute presentation of the key moments in Lincoln’s life told from the point of view of an artist commissioned to do his portrait who is trying “to capture the sorrow, hope, vision, resolve, and forgiveness in Lincoln’s eyes.” The artist discovers that Lincoln had a sad side and a happy side to his face. The artist points out that if you draw a line down the middle of a photograph of the president you will see his sad side on the left with his mouth downturned a bit and his left eye turning upward and outward. On the right side his mouth turns upward and his right eye looks straight ahead. His right eye was the dominant eye and the one he saw with. Apparently, he suffered from a condition known as “diplopia” or double-vision. He had to ignore consciously what his left eye saw and force himself to use only his right eye.
This conscious and continuous effort on Lincoln’s part sometimes caused him severe eyestrain and mental fatigue as an adult. He had many nervous attacks characterized by headaches with nausea and eyestrain so bad that he would have to lie down with a cold cloth over his eyes. However, the artist narrating Lincoln’s Eyes speculates that the condition forced Lincoln mentally to see the “right” side, metaphorically the optimistic side, of situations. Interesting speculation.
The second theater is a holovision theater presenting The Ghosts of the Library. The purpose of the presentation is to connect the present with the past, to show in a very entertaining way the importance of preserving the past through its artifacts. An argument in defense of scholarship.
One pertinent fact new to me about Lincoln’s first election as president was that it was a four-way race and he won the electoral college vote.
I was particularly impressed by the life-size mannequins in “The White House Years” exhibit, especially those of Generals McClellan and Grant. They didn’t like each other very much and the figures reflect their mutual animosity.
The one aspect of Lincoln’s personality that we didn’t see explored was his great sense of humor, but the museum is always creating new exhibits in addition to the permanent ones, so maybe this will be coming in the future. The museum is free, but reservations are required during the pandemic.