Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, A Man for All Time

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about history. The subject never fascinated me in school. And, as I grew older, it just seemed like a chore to have to learn about it.

When the Central Library decided to hold an exhibit on Abraham Lincoln in the Collins Gallery, I figured it was a good place as any to start educating myself- even if only a little- about some aspect of American history. I was also intrigued because the brochure claimed "more books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other American."

My knowledge of Lincoln was limited to the very basic of facts and the legend, the myth, surrounding the man, which may or may not all be accurate. He was the sixteenth president. He was a tall man who wore a stove-pipe hat and earned the nickname "Honest Abe". He delivered the famous Gettysburg Address. He helped free the slaves and got assassinated while watching a play. He was famous enough to get his image carved into stone and put on our currency, among other accomplishments.

The "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, A Man for All Time" traveling exhibition coincided with the bicentennial anniversary of his birth. On display were old photos, portraits, and reproduction pages of campaign posters. There was one of four marble busts created by Avard T. Fairbanks depicting Lincoln during various stages of his life. Of course, the exhibit also provided background information and examples of how his legacy still lives on today. I didn’t realize that in 2000, Congress created the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Act and in each state a committee was formed to oversee the celebrations and events. One of the many things they did that I liked was create a local connection with “Abraham Lincoln’s Friends in Oregon” and a list of geographical names in honor of and associated with him. They even had an official magazine which they were giving out for free.

I was there for the opening reception. As I walked around to look at everything, “Illinois” Doug Tracy” was warming up on his banjo, in which he would later play a few songs from the 1860's. A trivia contest was held and I was glad there were actually people there, not only for the free food, but genuinely interested and knowledgeable about everything Lincoln. Up for grabs were some 1909 pennies and an original 1864 New York Times copy. It was amusing when Lincoln made an appearance and gave a brief presentation. I liked the fact that despite all the work of re-creating that period of time, he stepped out of an elevator before giving his speech.

Throughout the whole thing, I was taking notes and I happened to run across a lady who asked me why I was doing such a thing. I told her it was for my blog. It turned out she was the wife of the actor portraying Lincoln. Afterwards, she introduced me to him and I got to interview him a little. Steve Holgate didn’t know much about Lincoln but the more he studied about him, the more he became fascinated. After retiring and wanting to perform, he ended up bringing his act all over the world. I complimented him on how he stayed in character throughout his performance, especially during the audience Q&A.

This proved to be an educational yet entertaining event. I ate a lot. I learned a lot. I even got to talk to Lincoln himself. All in all, I had a great time.

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