Smithsonian Plans 10 Exhibits to Mark Obama's Inauguration

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

To celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama, the Smithsonian Institution yesterday announced 10 exhibits at its museums -- five that are brand new and five that center on Abraham Lincoln.

Those five shows play into the Lincoln-Obama connections that popped up during the election, and also give the Smithsonian a little jump on the events surrounding next year's bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

"Part of it is that Lincoln is an enduring personality. Lincoln is in our national DNA, and because of that you can always go back to Lincoln," said Harry R. Rubenstein, the chairman of the division of politics and reform at the National Museum of American History, explaining the exhibit choice. "He is always relevant, especially at this point where we are marking historic changes."

Curators at five museums have organized the presidential-themed exhibits tied to the inauguration on Jan. 20.

"Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life," a new show pulled from the collections at the American History Museum, opens Jan. 16. This exhibition features 60 items the Lincolns used, owned or acquired. "It is not just the White House china, but the last cup he drank from before he left to go to Ford's Theatre. It's his watch, his hat," Rubenstein said. The iconic top hat Lincoln was wearing the night of his assassination will be moved to this new exhibit. A second Lincoln show opening the same day at the museum will focus on rare documents from the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Ill.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is commemorating Lincoln's second inaugural ball, which took place in its building, the old U.S. Patent Office at Eighth and F streets NW. More than 4,000 guests danced on the third floor the night of March 6, 1865.

The National Portrait Gallery is showing images of Lincoln from its vast collection, and opening a new show, "Presidents in Waiting," a look at the 14 vice presidents who became president. It goes on view Jan. 20 and includes interviews with recent vice presidents. The Portrait Gallery has an ongoing show on "America's Presidents" with multiple images of the 43 presidents.

The National Postal Museum has recently opened an exhibition of plate proofs for stamps that have honored Lincoln.

The very popular "First Ladies at the Smithsonian" exhibit will return to the American History Museum Dec. 19. A reorganization of the familiar parade of gowns, it includes 14 dresses, information about the spouses' role and how this collection grew from Helen Taft's gift in 1909. "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden," a huge show with more than 900 objects about all the occupants of the White House, continues at American History.

Another show examines President Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 inaugural parade with a special look at the six Native American chiefs who participated and petitioned Roosevelt about their concerns. It opens at the National Museum of the American Indian Jan. 14.

Smithsonian officials are in talks with the U.S. Secret Service and the National Park Service about logistics for the presidential inauguration. Currently the museums plan to keep their regular hours from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Renwick Gallery will be closed the day of the inauguration because of its proximity to the White House and the inaugural parade grandstand.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company