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.

Other Countries A US President Has Never Visited


President Barack Obama will land in Myanmar (aka Burma) this week, a first-time visit for any President of the United States. Never mind that Myanmar is best known as a brutal dictatorship, not exactly in line with U.S. foreign policy. Disregard any political or geographically strategic reasons for befriending Myanmar. Today, this is all about the President being the first to visit Myanmar and the trip begs the question: “So are there other countries that no sitting U.S. President has ever visited?”

Out of the 190+ countries in the world, just 113 of them have been visited by a President of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian.

Countries not visited include close-by neighbor the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, St Kitts, St Lucia and assorted tiny island-nations. Understandable, we would probably view a visit to the harmless Seychelles as a taxpayer-paid vacation anyway.

On the continent of Africa, more nations have not been visited than have been by a U.S. President. Again, probably not a lot of strategic reasons to stop by.But some big-name countries we might think that some President, somewhere along the way, might have visited; not one has.

  • Monaco, the second smallest country/monarchy in the world and the most densely populated country in the world boasts the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino.
  • Algeria, in northern Africa, famous for its vast Sahara in the south..
  • Nepal- famous for eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains. No visit.

Armenia is a country one might think worthy of a trip by any standards. Bordered by Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the east, Georgia to the north and Iran to the south, Armenia does seem to have a strategic location. Still, no visit.

Presidential travel takes any given sitting head of the free world to countries all over the planet on visits of good will. Meeting face to face with world leaders, attending meetings and spreading good old American spirit around when they can, Presidents are a big ticket when they come to town, along with Air Force One and more as we see in this video

Oh, and that trip to Myanmar? While President Obama is the first U.S. President to visit, he’s not the first Obama. The president’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was a cook in World War II for a British army captain stationed in what was then called Burma.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user 0ystercatcher]

Visiting Ford’s Theatre, Where Lincoln Got Assassinated

Ford's Theatre
On April 14, 1865, a few days after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, John Wilkes Booth finally decided to do something for the Confederacy.

The famous actor had supported the South from the start, but he had spent the entire Civil War in the North, playing to packed theaters and making lots of money. Now that the war was winding down, he felt he needed to take a stand.

Booth and a small circle of conspirators had been planning to kidnap Lincoln but nothing much had come of it. On April 11, Booth attended a speech given by Lincoln in which the president said he supported giving blacks the right to vote. That was the last straw. Booth reportedly said, “That means n—– citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever give.”

On April 14, while Lincoln and his wife watched a popular comedy at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, Booth appeared with a knife and pistol. The bodyguard that was supposed to watch over the presidential box had gone off to a tavern, and Booth was able to walk right up behind Lincoln unnoticed. He shot him once in the head, stabbed an officer sitting nearby, leaped onto the stage, and made his getaway.

The nation was stunned. Booth was one of the most famous actors of his day. It would be like if Tom Cruise shot Obama. The nation plunged into mourning and even many Confederates expressed their shock.

%Gallery-155130%Despite having broken his leg while jumping onto the stage, Booth was able to elude a giant manhunt for 12 days before being cornered in a barn and fatally shot. His fellow conspirators were rounded up. One had attacked and wounded Secretary of State William Seward. Of the eight conspirators, all were found guilty. Four were hanged, including the first woman to be executed in the United States, and the rest received prison sentences.

You can see the site of America’s first presidential assassination. Ford’s Theatre is both a theatre and a functioning playhouse. Some of the tours include a one-act play. Across the street is the Petersen House, a private home where Lincoln was taken and clung to life for a few hours.

Unfortunately, much of what you see is not original. Ford’s Theatre was turned into offices and had to be completely reconstructed when it became a National Historic Site. The Petersen House also contains many replicas, such as the bed where he lay and much of the furniture in the room, which are at the Chicago History Museum. The reconstruction is well done, however, and the two buildings manage to take you into the past.

Included in the ticket is a visit to the Center for Education and Leadership, attached to the Petersen House. There are displays on Lincoln’s presidency and his legacy, including many interactive exhibits. This really seemed to engage visitors and the kids especially appeared absorbed. Lincoln is an American icon and everyone wanted to learn more about him. People passed through this museum much more slowly than usual.

As I was walking out, I saw a black woman taking a photo of a giant copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. I was tempted to take a photo of her face, which bore an unforgettable expression that was a combination of pride, joy, and another emotion I couldn’t quite identify because, well, I’m white.

The fact that Lincoln can still provoke such emotions almost 150 years after his death is a testament to his greatness. He wasn’t afraid to take unpopular positions on social issues and much of the public hated him for it. That didn’t stop him for doing what he felt was right, even if it meant losing his life.

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

Ronald Reagan retrospective at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

Ronald ReaganRonald Reagan is the subject of a retrospective at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The multimedia exhibition is called One Life: Ronald Reagan and marks the centenary of his birth.

Most of the material covers his time as president, including the attempted assassination in 1981, his handling of the waning years of the Cold War, and bombing Libya. Yes, Gaddafi has been causing trouble for that long. Visitors will see a variety of photographs and artifacts, including a portion of the Berlin Wall, a portrait by Andy Warhol, and video clips of the 40th president’s speeches.

Space is reserved for lesser-seen images of Reagan from his early years as a sports announcer, actor, and president of the Screen Actors Guild. Yes, Reagan was a union leader! The image above is from his 1938 film Cowboy from Brooklyn. This musical comedy, one of his many popular films, even has Ronny Rayguns singing.

Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan had a profound effect on the nation’s politics and culture. This show will teach you more about the man everyone has an opinion on.

One Life: Ronald Reagan runs from July 1 to May 28, 2012.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Freedom to relax: A luxury not afforded Obama

Nothing a president does goes unnoticed. Even the slightest decisions are parsed carefully in the hopes of gaining some insight into to the man, the office or the policy that comes from both. His recent trip to Panama City, Florida, 27 hours to show that you can chill in the Gulf Coast area following the oil spill, may have been a decent move, but Obama‘s other trips, not to mention those taken by his family, have caused him some agita.

Michelle Obama‘s vacation in Marbella, Spain brought some heat, as did the family’s vacations in Maine’s Acadia National Park and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. There are always people to laud and criticize, regardless of which party is in power. There’s always on group that seems to come out on top, however: the locals.

The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce said visits to it website surged 50 percent following Obama’s trip to Maine, though other factors may have contributed. Of course, the opportunity comes with a few risks. According to USA Today:

As for Panama City Beach, the Bay Point Marriott (where the First Family ate lunch and spent Saturday night) doesn’t highlight this weekend’s getaway on its website, and the convention and visitors bureau took down its Facebook post about Michelle Obama’s visit last month after a series of “personal attacks,” says CEO Dan Rowe.

[photo by transplanted mountaineer via Flickr]