The Indiana State Museum is opening its second Lincoln exhibition, highlighting one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Lincoln artifacts, the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, gifted to the State of Indiana in 2008. The realities of Lincoln’s life are far more complex and interesting that most folklore about him reveal.
This exhibition of more than 150 objects explores the lives of Abraham Lincoln’s kin from his mother’s and father’s struggle in early 19th century Kentucky through the death of his last direct descendent. Priceless objects on loan from several of America’s leading historical institutions will help provide context for this rich and compelling family story from Feb. 9 through Aug. 4.
“The personal nature of our collection allows the museum to explore the extended Lincoln family, and to focus on Abraham as a son, husband and father,” observed Dale Ogden, senior curator for Cultural History. “The catalog that we are publishing with this exhibition will give even more depth for people who really enjoy learning about this great man.”
Highlights of the exhibition include:
• Sum Book:
The pages of Lincoln’s “sum book” have long been separated, but many were gathered to exhibit together in the largest-ever collective showing. This was the book Lincoln himself put together as he “home-schooled” himself.
n Land Grant, March 4, 1780:
President Lincoln’s grandfather, Abraham (1744-1786), was born in Pennsylvania and settled in Virginia, where he served in the militia during the Revolution. Captain Lincoln and his wife Bathsheba moved their family to a large farm near Louisville, Ky., in 1781. In 1786, Lincoln was killed by Indians while working in his fields with his three sons. The eldest boy, Mordecai, shot and killed one of the raiders, thereby saving the youngest child, Thomas.
• Meissen porcelain figurine belonging to Mary Todd, circa 1835:
As a young woman of substance, Mary Todd was a prolific collector of Meissen porcelain figurines. The production of fine porcelain in Meissen, Germany, began in 1710 and soon attracted many of Europe’s most talented artists. Evolving from practical uses such as tea sets to decorative figurines, exclusive Meissen porcelain was avidly collected by the elites of Europe throughout the 19th century.
• Desk set from the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, Springfield, Ill., circa 1850: Wooden inkwell, walnut pen holder, blotter shaker and porcelain ink jar
Lincoln eventually joined William Herndon in a highly successful legal practice in the state capital. Frontier lawyers often spent up to six months a year traveling from town to town to find work. Such a schedule, combined with a burning political ambition, later moved Lincoln’s eldest son Robert to recall, “During my childhood and early youth he was almost constantly away from home, attending courts or making political speeches.”
• Robert Todd Lincoln to Edgar Welles, May 28, 1870, handwritten letter:
Robert’s closest friends included Edwin Stanton Jr., the son of President Lincoln’s Secretary of War, and Edgar Welles, the son of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy. Robert reveals their easy camaraderie in this letter, which reads in part, “I . . . can’t for the life of [me] make out whether you are really on the downward path to matrimony or not — Did you really mean that you are taken in and done for?”
The Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment will remain on exhibit at the museum until March 2, marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s signing and issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Indiana State Museum is in White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-232-1637 or visit www.indianamuseum.org.