A Lincoln Legacy

Refurbished Museum Shines

Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:42pm

What was once a museum that focused on the last days of Abraham Lincoln’s life in the basement of Ford’s Theatre is today something totally new: an interactive showcase of his transformation during the four years he was in the White House.

“The new Ford’s Theatre Museum is designed to engage and educate visitors about Abraham Lincoln’s time in Washington —from his arrival by train to the night of his tragic assassination at Ford’s Theatre,— said Paul Tetreault, director of the Ford’s Theatre Society. “Our hope is that by visiting the museum and theater, visitors will uncover the extraordinary legacy that makes Lincoln a leader for the ages.—

The nearly 7,000-square-foot museum below the historic theater opened Wednesday after being closed for renovations for 20 months. The theater itself opened in February. Renovations to the space include a new lobby, a renovated elevator and restrooms, and an overhaul to many of the exhibits.

New exhibits include Lincoln’s arrival in Washington, life in the Lincoln White House and Civil War milestones. Video features in the museum show the 16th president’s role as an emancipator and discuss his skills as a speaker. In one such exhibit, past presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, are shown on a video screen reciting the Gettysburg Address. There are also statues of the conspirators as well as job-seekers who frequented the Lincoln White House.

The museum “is the one place in Washington where you can come and immerse yourself in those four years as Lincoln saw them,— said Richard Norton Smith, consulting presidential historian for Split Rock Studios, which designed the museum. “He transformed the country, but he transformed himself in the process.—

The museum is also home to artifacts from the assassination. The derringer that John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate Lincoln is on display in a glass case in front of a wall covered in an illustration of the attack. The knife Booth wielded on April 14, 1865, is also on display, as are the boots and clothing worn by the president on that fateful evening.

“We are telling a story here,— Smith said. “What we’ve done is take those artifacts and insert them like jewels in a crown.—

Construction will begin next year on a new Center for Education and Leadership that will be located across the street from the museum. Here, visitors will be able to learn about the life and legacy of the Great Emancipator.

The museum’s opening was feted by the Ford’s Theatre Society on Tuesday night. For $500 a ticket, those in attendance were treated to cocktails and a Champagne buffet on the theater’s stage. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) attended the event, which benefits the Ford’s Theatre Annual Fund.