200th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln
New Exhibit Provides Intimate Glance Of Lincoln at NY Historical Society
By Steven Frank
More than any president in memory, Barack Obama has evoked the name of Abraham Lincoln. Not only did he announce his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln once served as a legislator, but he also quoted and referred to Lincoln throughout the presidential campaign.
Once elected, Obama traveled to Washington on a train that followed Lincoln’s route to his own first inaugural and used the Lincoln Memorial as a centerpiece for pre-inaugural celebrations. President Obama also took the oath of office with his hand resting upon Lincoln’s Bible and,in his inaugural address, acknowledged Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom”at Gettysburg.
If that weren’t enough, the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth happened to fall in the early days of the Obama administration. And some of the nation’s biggest celebrations of Lincoln’s 200th birthday are underway right here at the New-York Historical Society.
The city’s oldest museum and research library launched Lincoln Year last November with a Lincoln Thanksgiving celebration. The series of public programs and special events will culminate with Lincoln and New York, the first in-depth exploration of the intertwined careers of America’s 16th President and its greatest city, opening October 2.
“Nothing less than a year-long celebration would be appropriate for Abraham Lincoln, and nothing less would accommodate what the New-York Historical Society can offer this national observance,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO.
Amid a spectacular 50-foot high ceiling, stained glass windows, and towering columns, reporters and other dignitaries gathered at The New-York Historical Society Library to learn about the next Lincoln Year exhibit.
Abraham Lincoln In His Own Words opened on the actual bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, February 12, and will remain on view through July 12. In partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, it features rare and important letters, papers, and official documents in Lincoln’s own hand. It is augmented by other period pieces such as photographs, prints, testimonies, and sculptures, including a cast of Lincoln’s face made in 1860 by Leonard Volk.
Among the most interesting artifacts: a draft of the “House Divided” speech, notes for an address against slavery, a telegram encouraging General Ulysses S. Grant at a turning point in the Civil War, and the resolution for the Thirteenth Amendment bearing Lincoln’s signature.
“As Lincoln begins his third century in American memory, we hope these documents will help illuminate his unique contribution to our country’s history,” said James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Also on display is the last surviving letter Lincoln wrote to his wife, Mary, on April 2, 1865. Reading more like a military dispatch, Lincoln updated the First Lady on the advances of the Army of the Potomac and forecasted the fall of the Confederacy.
The timing could not be better for Ric Burns, the famous documentary filmmaker and writer who assisted his brother, Ken, on the masterpiece series for PBS, The Civil War.
“History is the first thing we appeal to during times of distress,” Burns said at the press luncheon, referring to our current troubled times. “Passion for the truth transcends ideology.”
The New-York Historical Society’s passion for the truth has never been stronger. It plans to renovate its landmark building on Central Park West at 77th Street in Manhattan. The three-year, $55 million renovation is expected to be completed by the autumn of 2011.
The public is invited to visit the Historical Society’s website at nyhistory.org. #