By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008
The items he had in his pockets the night he was assassinated. The bullet that killed him. The pearl jewelry his wife wore.
The kind of oysters he liked to eat. His speeches, sayings, health, clothing. The 60 books about him set to be published in the next 18 months.
Abraham Lincoln, who carried a penknife, wore a patched vest and mended his eyeglasses with string, would have been mortified at the fuss.
But starting next week, the District will kick off its part of the year-long global celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth on Feb. 12, 1809.
No aspect of his existence, it seems, will go unexplored.
Yesterday, tourism, museum and government officials previewed some of the 80 exhibits, lectures, tours and programs that will be part of the city's celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial, "Living the Legacy: Lincoln in Washington DC."
The preview, at the Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, was attended by two Lincoln impersonators, who noted that 50 "top hats" from their Association of Lincoln Presenters will be coming to town for their annual convention in April.
"It would be nice to have him back," impersonator Jim Rubin, a retired psychologist from Prosperity, W.Va., said of the 16th president. Despite his whiskers, Rubin looked as much like Franklin D. Roosevelt as he did like Lincoln.
Washington has a vast trove of Lincoln artifacts and much of it is being pulled from archives, to be scrutinized, bathed and readied for what is likely to be a focal point of the bicentennial.
The Library of Congress, for example, has the Lincoln presidential papers. It has a set of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln's pearl and gold jewelry. It has the penknife, mended eyeglasses, wallet and Confederate bill that Lincoln had in his pockets the night he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865.
The library also has a copy of the Gettysburg Address as well as the short but moving speech Lincoln gave as president-elect when he left his home in Springfield, Ill., for Washington.
These, as well as historic letters from Lincoln to his Civil War generals, will be part of a huge library exhibit opening Feb. 12.
Conservators have started studying the items for display, many of which have grown fragile over the years.
On Wednesday, senior paper conservator Mary Elizabeth Haude displayed a draft of the May 23, 1860, letter Lincoln penned accepting the Republican Party's presidential nomination. Haude noted that the three-paragraph letter was written with iron gall ink, which over time corrodes paper. And in places where Lincoln crossed out a word, the excess ink has eaten tiny gashes in the paper.
Haude said the document would probably be bathed to remove any residual iron and perhaps patched with delicate long-fibered paper.
The National Museum of American History, which reopens next month after an $85 million renovation, will display the White House copy of the Gettysburg Address, followed in January by two major Lincoln exhibitions.
Next Friday, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery will unveil "One Life: The Mask of Lincoln," which will feature the haunting, rarely seen original Alexander Gardner photograph of a care-worn Lincoln taken a few months before he was assassinated.
Easter Sunday, April 12, will see a reenactment of opera singer Marian Anderson's 1939 performance on Easter at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring mezzo soprano and Washington native Denyce Graves.
And the Lincoln Memorial will be rededicated on Memorial Day.
Ford's Theatre, where the assassination took place, will reopen in February after a $50 million renovation, although its refurbished museum, containing the clothing Lincoln wore the night of his death, won't reopen until spring.
The National Museum of Health & Medicine, which has the bullet that killed the president, plans an exhibit on his death. The Lincoln Cottage, on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, which Lincoln used as a getaway, will unveil an exhibit on Lincoln collections in February.
And the Smithsonian American Art Museum, on Jan. 31, will re-create Lincoln's famous second inaugural ball, which was held in the museum building March 6, 1865.
There are an estimated 60 books being published about Lincoln in the next 18 months, according to the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Symposiums are planned in France, England and India.
Even Lincoln's food tastes will be celebrated. William A. Hanbury, president of Destination DC, said yesterday that local restaurants plan to serve a Lincoln favorite: scalloped oysters.