Visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum for the First Time

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

Have you ever explored a Presidential Library and Museum? I haven’t until I spent some time visiting Springfield. After buying a ticket, I explored the most visited presidential museum among the 14 Presidential Libraries/Museums. By far, Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president, and as a voracious reader, I have read many books on him. Even after all these years, he is a fascinating person, and I continue to learn something new about him all the time. And the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum provides a phenomenal amount of material that you might not know about or see in a new light. Here is everything you need to know about the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library Information

A young Abraham Lincoln

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is laid out quite nicely. You can follow Lincoln’s journey through his early years’ humble beginnings to key events that led him to get involved in politics. There are life-sized dioramas that showcase his life and give a glimpse into what shaped his beliefs, along with artifacts and memorabilia—plan on spending 2 to 2.5 hours exploring the entire museum.

Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation

The second part of the museum takes you through Lincoln’s time in the White House as the 16th President. During this journey, you will experience the significant events in Abe’s Life, from the death of Willie to the dissolution of the Union and the effects of the Civil War that shaped Lincoln’s Presidency. You will need to schedule your time in the Museum in advance and buy your tickets online. Tickets are $15/adult. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Make sure to check open hours before your visit.

“I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.”

Abraham Lincoln

Presidential Museum Theaters

Ghosts of the Library Theater in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

There are two theaters for you to experience, and I highly recommend doing both of them. If you time it right, you can watch the Ghosts of the Library and then head straight over to watch Lincoln’s Eyes.

Union Theater at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

The Ghosts of the Library lasts around nine minutes, and Lincoln’s Eyes lasts seventeen minutes. I really enjoyed both of these presentations. The Ghosts of the Library was an interesting show. I watched intently with my engineering background, trying to figure out how they did certain things, and I thought I had figured it out. I was so sure how it was produced all the way up until the finale, then they threw me for a loop, and I have no idea anymore. Lincoln’s Eyes was straightforward without any surprises. Although be warned, there are strobe light and in-seat effects throughout the performance. Both are educational and highly entertaining!

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s Early Years

Replica of Lincoln's log cabin family home in Indiana

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum does a wonderful job detailing Lincoln’s early years as a child and young adult. His early years in Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana, were rough. He lost his mom when he was only eight years old. Even with working over sixteen hours a day with his father, Abe found a way to teach himself how to read and write. Abe would often be found by the fire reading a book while everyone was already asleep in the one-room log cabin.

Abe Lincoln reading by the fire

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”

Abraham Lincoln

As he grew up, his father sends him out in the world to work for hire. Abe ends up earning his first dollar ferrying passengers across the Ohio River. On a trip down the Mississippi River, a nineteen old Abraham Lincoln probably got his first glimpse into slavery. He would have witnessed the emotional heartbreak of families being torn apart on slave auction blocks. This had a profound effect on him and stayed with him afterward.

When I was going through this portion of the museum, I got a little choked up at the emotion the Slave Auction Block brings up, and rightfully so. During the time frame of the United States’ development, slavery was an important topic. The states in the North wanted to either keep it confined to the South or have it done away with entirely. At the same time, the Southern States felt that slavery should be free to spread to new territories. Slavery became a political division between the North and the South. And with the legislation of the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Civil War was inevitable.

The emotions at the Slave Auction Block

With Abe being an adult, he took up residence in New Salem and began to work to be apart of the community. He worked in the Berry-Lincoln Store as a storekeeper, worked as a postmaster, did a stint as a surveyor. He also participated as a captain in the militia during the Black Hawk Indian War. It was in New Salem that Lincoln started to study Law.

The Berry-Lincoln store in New Salem

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves”

Abraham Lincoln

Political Road to the White House

The Lincoln-Douglas Senatorial Debates at Knox College

Amazingly, Lincoln never stopped trying to succeed in politics, even with so many defeats. He ran for state legislature in 1832 and lost. He tried again and won in 1834. Lost a bid for Congress in 1843 but won in 1846. And lost a bid for a U.S. Senate seat in 1855. Lincoln re-entered politics again in 1858. He was motivated by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, permitting slavery to expand into the free territories. In addition to that, the previous ruling of the Dred Scott case, saying that Negroes were mere property and without rights as human beings under the Constitution, deeply concerned Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen A. Douglas, the author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, for his Senate seat. Lincoln was an exceptional debater but lost the senate race. But in participating in these national debates, Lincoln became a contender for the presidency in 1860.

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum does a great job detailing the Campaign of 1860. The late Tim Russert gives televised news updates of the 1860 election process. Although some scholars don’t appreciate the updated technology added to explain the history, I think it is a fabulous way to educate people with technology. Abraham Lincoln’s journey while in the White House is not an easy one. I think we can say this is true for any president. He had to deal with the Southern States’ immediate secession, the beginning and long campaign of the Civil War, his son’s death, and constant negative media and criticism directed toward him on how he was handling the war. At the same time, Mary dealt with the social pressure of being First Lady, dealing with social rivals, and then mourning her beloved son. All this drama had to put pressure on Abraham Lincoln.

“Whatever you are, be a good one.”

Abraham Lincoln

The Unknown Humor of Lincoln

I was surprised to find that the media was extremely critical of being negatively harsh to Lincoln. The caricatures that the news frequently printed on Abraham Lincoln were horrible. What I’m not surprised with is how little has changed in the media today. When the politics don’t align with the news agenda, they attack, and in over 160 years, nothing has changed. I’m sure these had to demoralize the president somewhat with the constant negative attacks. What was nice to find out is that even with the constant attacks, Abe Lincoln kept his sense of humor.

“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.”

Abraham Lincoln

“It’s not me who can’t keep a secret. It’s the people I tell that can’t.”

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s Legacy

Abraham Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet

Abraham Lincoln received heated and numerous conflicting advice from his cabinet on how to address slavery. However, the end decision was his, and Lincoln was adamant about what would be in the Emancipation Proclamation. When Lincoln issued the Proclamation, it failed to free a single slave since it only applied to slaves in enemy territories. What the Proclamation did was bring hope and the idea that freedom would happen if the North won the war. In signing the Proclamation, Lincoln authorized the Army and Navy to move south to officially free slaves. And they did every day after January 1, 1863.

Abraham Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation draft copy at the Lincoln Museum

The other area that Abraham Lincoln left his mark is with his words after Gettysburg’s battle. His short 272-word speech gave the country a different way of looking back at what had just happened at Gettysburg. He emphasized that the living can honor the dead by fighting for the ideas they gave their lives for…freedom and equality for all. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum does a fantastic job detailing what happened during the Civil War by introducing you to real soldiers and by watching how the battle lines changed during the Civil War in a four-minute presentation. Truly moving!

Painting of Gettysburg

Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy is profound and long-lasting. Although some would say, he did not do enough while others would say he did too much. The reflections on his Presidency are mixed depending on where you fall on how much impact the Emancipation Proclamation had.

The Slave Auction Block

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Abraham Lincoln

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Booth entering Lincoln's box at the Ford Theater

Lincoln celebrates the Union defeating the Confederates in Richmond, Virginia,, by taking his wife Mary to see “Our American Cousin” at the Ford’s Theatre. It was also the same night that John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators wanted to disrupt the government to help the Confederacy by killing the President, Vice President, and the Secretary of State. Booth fatally shot Lincoln behind the left ear at point-blank range. All the negative press vanished and Abraham Lincoln became an icon in an instant. The museum details the aftermath of the President’s death from the immediate reactions, the funeral train, and the somber recreation of the lying in state.

Summary

Abraham Lincoln is a well-known historical figure, but there is a lot more to him than we knew. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum does an amazing job showing the human side of the icon we know. If you are a fan of Abe Lincoln, the Civil War, or history in general, then I know you will have a fantastic time exploring this museum. If you have been here before, let me know in the comments what you thought and what was your favorite part.

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Illinois for a visit, check out these posts for extra travel inspiration:

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