How do we remember our Presidents? Lincoln at the Reagan Library.

It’s been fifteen years since we made the trip to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas. At that time we were offered a heightened experience with audio headsets providing “you were there”  goosebumps.

Now this week, with so much focus on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I’ve been recalling personal school-aged impressions of that November 22, 1963 day as well as the audio-visual experience from that museum many years later.

So many libraries and museums, public and private, bring significant historical events and the sometimes larger-than-life stories of world and national figures right to our doorsteps.

What is our attitude?  I think we often move fluidly between deeply interested to mildly curious. We choose whether we want to think about social and historical contexts, perhaps learning something relevant from the past for today.  Sometimes we choose to observe more casually, with a little detachment–maybe wearing our “consumer” hats a bit too boldly.

I was thinking these thoughts after visiting a recent exhibit, “A. Lincoln: From Railsplitter to Rushmore,” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

This was a really interesting exhibit and our experience at the Library was extraordinary.

Although I long for private, behind-the-scenes and away from the crowds museum experiences, Los Angeles is synonymous with overcrowding.  But this time, with each of several rooms full to maximum capacity, the crowd was somber and respectful. I wasn’t aware of others in the typical fashion.

At times people moved through in silence, with a hushed reverence that still surprises me.  148 years after his assassination and people were moved to tears.

Abraham Lincoln

Perhaps the easy emotion was encouraged by the contribution of Oscar-winning sets and costumes from Spielberg’s “Lincoln” as well as the ambience of soft period music and low mood lighting, but people exhibited an emotional connection to the President’s iconic stovepipe hat, Mary’s Bible and intimate family photos.

Stovepipe Hat

The original movie sets provided a sense of reality to the President’s office, Mary‘s bedroom set, and elements depicting the Petersen boarding house vignette where Lincoln died, including the actual final pillow on-loan from the boarding house museum.

With rapt attention we were much more than mere consumers.

It was a large exhibit with a big crowd, but people moved through each display slowly and with care, taking time to read each small placard, and in the rare instance I heard any conversation at all, it was hushed and low.

I live in the land of short attention spans…I couldn’t help but notice this unifying moment when hundreds of people, of all ages, were paying respect to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.

If you’ve had a similar experience or would like to visit a library or museum you believe would hold strong emotional connection for you, I’d love to hear about it.

And someday I simply must get to Springfield.

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