Largest Lincoln Exhibit Ever Opens In California

Kevin Trotman, Flickr

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library just debuted a new exhibit on the most famous Republican. A. Lincoln: From Railsplitter to Rushmore opened Saturday and will run through September 31. With 250 items culled from major collectors, it’s the largest assemblage of the Lincoln family’s personal effects ever displayed.

But other museums have examples of this exhibit’s highlights, such as his stovepipe hats, Lincoln-signed 13th Amendments and his gold pocket watches. There are plenty of blood-stained fabrics from the night of his assassination (curiously, none have been used to yield a sample of Lincoln’s DNA – that doesn’t exist). What makes this exhibit in Simi Valley, California, stand out is the inclusion of sets and costumes from Lincoln, the recent movie by DreamWorks Studios.

If you saw the movie, you’ll recognize the office where Daniel Day-Lewis gave his entrancing soliloquies, Mary Todd Lincoln’s dresses and parts of Peterson’s Boarding House, the building where Lincoln died.

The exhibit, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, plays into the current fascination with Lincoln’s personal life. For decades he was widely perceived as a caricature – Honest Abe, who freed the slaves – and now Lincoln mania is drawing attention to the real man behind the stovepipe hat, his family and his political genius. Who would guess that 40 years ago, there wasn’t vast interest in Lincoln at all? According to James Cornelius, an Abe expert from Lincoln’s presidential library in Springfield, Ill., the 16th president enjoyed a big moment during the Civil War’s centennial in 1965, but then the fever died down until Ken Burns revived pop culture’s interest with his blockbuster Civil War documentary in 1990.

We’re pretty sure A. Lincoln won’t be the last homage for a while, though it will likely remain the largest.