The life of Abraham Lincoln now on display in Omaha


January 18th, 2011

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By Robyn Wisch, KVNO News

Omaha, NE – The Library of Congress’ exhibit on the life of Abraham Lincoln is now on display at Omaha’s Durham Museum.

A beardless Abraham Lincoln, pictured in 1860, two weeks after his nomination (Photo courtesy Charles Sumner Young, Wikimedia)

The exhibit, With Malice Toward None, features a selection of rarely seen letters, personal items, photographs documenting Abraham Lincoln’s life, charting his early years as a lawyer and student to his first introduction on the political scene. And later, the challenges he faced in the Presidential office – overcoming war, battling slavery, as the nation struggled to find its earliest identity.

Dr. James Billington is the Librarian of Congress, and oversaw the exhibit. He stopped by Omaha last week to mark its opening at the Durham. Standing by a series of photographs of Lincoln, illuminated and tall behind glass frames, Billington pointed to the toll bearing the burden of the presidential office had taken on the man.  The images show the progression of a youthful, beardless Lincoln when he first took office, and later, a bearded man, his face lined and eyes stern. Billington said the exhibit shows a comprehensive view of a mysterious president.

“So many things have been written about Lincoln,” he said, “so many books, many of them are highly speculative, because he’s somewhat of a mystery. No president, for instance… had the capacity to speak in almost Biblical terms about great and even horrific events that were transpiring… So i think the question is not, is it saying something new, but does it give you a comprehensive, human picture? I think it does in a variety of ways.”

Billington said the artifacts in the exhibit were selected out of 20,000 stored at the Library of Congress. They include the Bible on which Lincoln took his oath of office in 1861 – the same bible President Barack Obama was sworn in on – a draft of the Gettysburg Address, a rare lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s Farewell Address, written in pencil as he boarded a train to Washington, and the personal contents of his pockets the night he was assassinated.

A bearded, stern-faced Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, two weeks before delivering the Gettysburg Address (Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Wikimedia)

Billington said there’s a distinction between those who influence people, and those who affect people. “Influence is like footprints in the sand,” he said, “the tide comes in and washes them out. It’s very powerful … when they’re there, but they don’t necessarily last very long. But there are other people who affect people.”

And one thing this exhibit can do, he said, is affect people. “Because the man behind it kind of shines out no matter how imperfectly we recreate his career, but this is clearly a man who had the ability to affect people, and still does.”

With Malice Toward None now at the Durham Museum (Photo Courtesy Durham Museum)

With Malice Toward None will continue at the Durham Museum in downtown Omaha through March 20th. For more pictures from the exhibit, click here.

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