Ok, I admire President Lincoln as much as the next guy, and even more so if the next guy hails from south of the Rapahonnock. He's one of those rare historical figures where the mythology undersells what he accomplished. His Memorial is a fitting counterweight to the Capitol on our National Mall. And certainly, no President better supports the Great Man theory of history.
But isn't it all getting to be a little much? Yeah, yeah, I know it's the bicentennial of his birth. I know there is more than a casual overlap between Lincoln's life story and our new President's. I'm sure those of us in the DC area have noticed the phenomenon; maybe our friends from Illinois can back us up here. Is it possible that we give the man who was arguably our greatest President too much attention?
It all started innocuously enough. Ford's Theater closed down a few years ago for a long awaited restoration, to reopen on the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin's fascinating look at Lincoln's political machinations during his Presidency, came out around that time. Then, the National Trust for Historic Preservation restored the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier's Home in NE DC. Ok, these seemed to be, and were, positive developments. The Cottage, in particular, is a welcome addition, very well done, and truly adds something to our awareness of President Lincoln.
But it all went off the rails at some point. For me, it was when I attended a meeting about the re-opening of Ford's Theater and saw that DC's greatest little museum was becoming our latest infotainment center; a 1865 version of the Spy Museum. I'll have more on that later, but for know it just kind of got me noticing what was going on around here. Every new museum exhibit, every new symposium, every new lecture was about Lincoln.
Some of these look cool. Certainly, the National Museum of American History is a natural venue for a retrospective of Lincoln's life. And the Library of Congress, continues it's track record of being, in my opinion, the best American History Museum in Washington with it's exhibit that includes the contents of Lincoln's pockets the night he was assassinated. And I was terribly moved to see the Gettysburg Address on display when the American History Museum re-opened. But Lincoln Stamp Collecting? Random Lincoln Art? And this one really takes the cake (for a look at some craziness near you check it out here). Nothing wrong with any of this individually, but in total it's a bit overwhelming. Even the Economist is noting the trend.
So, all in all, President Lincoln, I ask you not to leave us in peace, but in moderation. It's all just too much. Maybe you could nudge your wife to visit some curators, writers, and lecturers from beyond the grave and let them know that Lincoln has been done. On the off chance they find a new angle, it's going to be lost in the shuffle. And hey, we got some other history to look at here as well.