By ERIN ALLEN
On the heels of the media frenzy over the use of Lincoln’s Bible for the swearing-in of President Barack Obama (see Information Bulletin, January/February 2009), news of the opening of the Library’s Lincoln bicentennial exhibition was also widely publicized.
With more than 1,000 stories written or broadcast about it and more than 1 billion audience impressions, the Library’s Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial exhibition, “With Malice Toward None,” has been popular with the press since its Feb. 12 opening. (See story on page 35.)
Despite many competing Lincoln exhibitions to mark this milestone, the Library’s display garnered words of praise from several top-tier news outlets.
“Certainly the most impressive in the current round of Lincoln displays,” said Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post. “It’s refreshing to walk through the exhibition and feel no particular compulsion to get close to Lincoln on a personal level. This is not an exhibition about emotions, or the flesh-and-blood Lincoln, or Lincoln the Family Man. It is an exhibition about words.”
Kennicott went on to note “sacred” objects on display such as Lincoln’s first grammar book; “curious surprises and arcana” such as a “blind memorandum” written in 1864 when it appeared possible Lincoln would lose reelection; and “curiosities” like a newspaper written on wallpaper announcing the fall of Vicksburg.
Dana Milbank, also of The Washington Post, wrote, “The Library of Congress has topped all others.” He went on to applaud the myriad events the Library was hosting in honor of the bicentennial, including gallery talks given by curator Clark Evans.
“Wearing spectacles, a sweater vest and his library ID on a shoelace around his neck, Evans was a font of Lincoln trivia,” said Milbank. “The curator had given a full measure of devotion to the Lincoln cause.”
“Few museums can compete with the exhibit culled from the Library of Congress’ collection of 20,000 Lincoln objects” wrote John Hanc of The New York Times.
CBS Sunday Morning was given a behind-the-scenes look at the items on display for its Feb. 8 feature story “Looking for Lincoln: The Man, The Symbol.” CBS correspondent Martha Teichner was invited by John Sellers, the Library’s Lincoln curator, to view such “top treasures” as the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address and his famous second inaugural address.
Joining them was historian Harold Holzer, co-chairman of the U.S. Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, who exclaimed, “This is what Indiana Jones would feel like if he found the Holy Grail—this is the Holy Grail.”
Roll Call reporter Tricia Miller focused on a rather obscure item in the exhibition—a letter written by 11-year-old Grace Bedell in 1860, advising Lincoln to grow a beard since “all the ladies like whiskers, and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” (See story on page 39.)
Other outlets running news of the exhibition and Lincoln programming included Good Morning America, C-SPAN, History, CNN, Army Magazine, Associated Press, the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun, websites salem-news.com, courier-journal.com, stltoday.com, xinuanet.com, salon.com, UPI.com, slate.com, about.com, dcist.com, and blogs We Love DC and Talk Radio News.
Newspaper outlets in California, Seattle, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oregon, Nevada, Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Hawaii and Texas covered the exhibition.
“With Malice Toward None” wasn’t the only thing the Library unveiled in honor of the 16th president. Added to its Flickr photostream were a range of newly scanned, high-resolution photographs documenting Lincoln’s changing appearance from 1846 to 1865.
“In the eyes of the Flickr community, even Lincoln, when shown in photographs spanning much of his adult life, is often judged by his changing hairstyles,” said The New York Times’ Lede Blog. “Flickr users [have] helpfully tagged both ‘punk’ and ‘emo’ among other keywords.
“Flickr users have also started to tag a photograph of the 16th president’s son Robert. He’s been added to the ‘great mustaches of the LOC’ category, joining a set with 56 photographs in it, so far.”
In addition, the Library, in association with Bantam Dell Publishing Group, selected 40 manuscripts to feature in a new book titled “In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts With Commentary by Distinguished Americans.”
Edited by Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk, the book is the official publication of the Lincoln bicentennial exhibition. (See story on page 48.)
The book was reviewed by The New York Times, Newsday, the San Antonio Express-News, the Detroit Free Press and the Tulsa World.
“Even in this age of electronic communications, manuscripts exert an unusual fascination,” said James D. Watts of the Tulsa World. They remind us that literature, regardless of what form it might take, is something that is made by hand, that is crafted carefully. To see the changes a writer makes add the sensation of watching another person’s mind work. That is the idea behind ‘In Lincoln’s Hand.’”
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.