The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum (A.L.P.M.) was dedicated on April 19, 2005, in a ceremony attended by President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, future president and then U.S. Senator Barack H. Obama, Jr. and about 25,000 guests from around the world who crowded Springfield’s downtown for the occasion. The public responded enthusiastically to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, quickly making it the most visited presidential library and museum in the United States.
Attendance reached 1,000,000 visitors on January 6, 2007, and 2,000,000 less than two years later on July 4, 2009. No presidential library and museum in the United States had attracted its two-millionth visitor more quickly. The three-millionth visitor passed through the A.L.P.M.’s doors on August 21, 2012.
The A.L.P.M. features many exhibits on Lincoln’s life, but many visitors are awed by the Museum’s Treasures Gallery. It features a rotating exhibit of the most precious of artifacts related to Abraham Lincoln. Many of the exhibited items are from the Taper Collection, which was the largest privately held collection of Lincolniana in the world before its purchase by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in 2007.
In addition to permanent exhibits, temporary exhibits make other collections related to Lincoln’s life and times available to the public. The first of many short-term exhibits opened in the Museum’s Illinois Gallery in April 28, 2007. Mary Todd Lincoln: First Lady of Controversy displayed dozens of artifacts and archival documents, including clothing, jewelry, photos, and letters that related to Mary Todd Lincoln’s marriage, her role as First Lady of the United States (although that informal title was not used back then), and the emotional and mental distress she experienced over her husband’s assassination, the death of her son Willie, and her estrangement from her eldest son, Robert.
The A.L.P.M. has won a number of awards. These include the Thea Award for achievement in the creation of compelling places and experiences (2007) from the Themed Entertainment Association; EXPY Award, Top Visitor Experience of the Year (2008); National Award of Achievement, The Lincoln Group of New York (2006); and the Engineering Achievement Award (2007) from the Illinois Engineering Council. It also earned awards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers in 2006 and the American Council of Engineering Companies in 2007.
The Union Station rehabilitation as the Visitor Center/Union Station also won awards. These were the Palladio International Award for Outstanding Work in Traditional Design for Best Public Architecture: Restoration and Renovation (2007); the National Preservation Award, The Victorian Society in America (2007); the Louis Sullivan Honor Award, American Institute of Architects Illinois (2007); the Midwest Construction Magazine’s Best of 2007, Renovation/ Rehabilitation Project of the Year; the American Institute of Architects Southern Illinois Chapter, Jurors’ Award (2007); the American Institute of Architects Southern Illinois Chapter, Design Award (2007); the Honor Award, National Trust for Historic Preservation (2008); and the Landmarks Illinois, Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award (2008).
One large room in the A.L.P.M. is the Holavision ® theater Ghosts of the Library, presented by AT&T. Before one enters the Ghosts of the Library theater proper, one begins in a smaller antechamber watching a video that welcomes viewers to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, gives viewers a visual tour of the facility, and shows select artifacts.
Then the doors to the theater open. The theater is described this way on the Web site.
Ghosts of the Library is a dramatic and magical special effects presentation that uses Holavision® to capture the exciting sense of discovery that scholars and curators feel as they approach a great research collection. Holavision® is a proprietary BRC Imagination Arts-owned technology that allows the storyteller to appear to control history around him. In addition, Holavision® permits the magical "fade away" or disappearance of the on-stage actor, with astonishing impact to audiences of all ages. The ghosts of Lincoln and his contemporaries momentarily appear and disappear, their transparent images drifting through the "Library." A quill rises from a library table and begins to write in the air, in Lincoln's handwriting.
The seating area provides the view (through a large high-security window) into the "Library," as you hear about the activities, the detective work, and the discoveries waiting to be made in a great presidential archive.
In a mysterious way, these original objects connect us to the people and events of history and make them real. It is almost as if we can momentarily see their world, as though they were here.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is not part of the presidential library system overseen by the National Archives & Records Administration’s Office of Presidential Libraries. The first such presidential library was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On the advice of historians, F.D.R. determined he would found a public repository for his administration’s papers.
In 1939, he donated personal and private papers to the U.S. Government and reserved room on his Springwood estate in Hyde Park, New York to house a repository. Some of his friends founded a non-profit corporation to raise funds to build the facility, and he handed over its operation of facility to the National Archives. In 1950, Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman decided he would privately raise money for a presidential library of his own.
In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act. It authorized the private construction of presidential libraries to be operated by the National Archives.
Before the passage of the Presidential Act of 1978, presidents of the United States of America, lawyers, historians and other scholars from George Washington onward believed that the records kept by a presidents and his staff members were his personal property and remained as such when he left office. The underlying principal for the creation of the first few presidential libraries was that the president could take these records home with him when he vacated the executive mansion, and N.A.R.A. could persuade presidents to donate those documents to the U.S. Government to house in a presidential library built with privately-raised funds and managed by N.A.R.A.
With the Presidential Records Act of 1978 Congress stipulated that the records generated by a presidential administration which document that president’s duties as head and chief of state (constitutional, statutory, and ceremonial) are the property of the United States Government, and as such after he leaves office, the Archivist of the United States assumes custody of those documents. This law allowed for the previous policy of privately-built-and-publicly-managed presidential libraries as repositories of individual presidents to continue. The Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 required that each presidential library come with a private endowment to help offset the cost of N.A.R.A.’s administration of the facility.
Please note that much of this text previously appeared in an older version of this article, “From Illinois Historical Library to Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library,” which I posted on October 5, 2012. To reflect new research, I have substantially revised that article and reorganized it as “From Illinois State Historical Library to Lincoln Presidential Library,” Parts I-III.