Land of Lincoln, by Andrew Ferguson
Atlantic Monthly Press, 279 pages, $24.
Eventually, Chicago’s tributes yielded pride of place to those of Springfield, the state capital. (Lincoln is buried there, in Oak Ridge Cemetery.) In 2005, the city opened a $150 million Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. Disney “imagineers” advised the founders on installing “virtual” exhibitions like those to be found at Disneyland. Planners were briefly taken with the idea of a Lincoln roller-coaster to illustrate his mood swings. Said one adviser: “He was bipolar, right?” (The idea was abandoned.) The museum decided against showing any guns — not even the derringer used by assassin John Wilkes Booth. It went to great lengths to include more female figures than history seemingly justified. “That’s why we show the White House kitchen,” Mr. Ferguson was told. When the complex opened, President Bush was the principal speaker. One visitor dubbed the event the “Second Coming of the Lord.”
Mr. Ferguson tells the story of an elderly man from Czechoslovakia who came alone to Springfield, Ill., to see where Lincoln was laid to rest. In broken English he told a Hilton Hotel manager that, years ago, in his concentration-camp cell, Lincoln had come to him in a dream and said: “You never forget: All men are created equal.” He then vowed to visit Lincoln’s tomb. A local man took him to the mausoleum. He walked inside, tears welling up in his eyes, and laid three flowers on the tomb. “Now it’s over,” he sobbed. “I can go back to Czechoslovakia and live in peace.”