speaking of museums...
It's been a frustrating morning. I've been up since 4:30, plagued with the usual insomnia, and then I had to go in for a subject at 8:00 a.m. Then I find out that the scanner is down and I have to send her home. So, kind of pointless.
And what's worse, this morning I wrote a nice blog entry and then I lost my internet connection and somehow that made me lose it. So, here's another go.
We were talking about the Walker. There's also this new Lincoln Presidential Library open now in Springfield, Illinois. (Click here to read about it) I was talking to my mother about this and proceeded to initiate an incomprehensible rant on the Great Lincoln Obsession of downstate Illinois.
Central Illinois is just about like any other Midwestern agricultural region. Every town needs to stake out its claim to fame. Maybe this emerges from a sociological principle: Any coherently-banded group of people desires to create a symbol worthy of outsiders' pilgrimage. Or, maybe it arises from the belief
(possibly irrational) that surely any municipality has the capacity to rake in tourist revenue, somehow. We've all heard of giant balls of twine. But more commonly, small nameless towns try to resucitate the past. For my hometown, that past was Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln. Not that that was a particularly original idea. Lincoln served as state legislator in Vandalia, but he served all sorts of offices elsewhere, and those towns celebrate him equally, as well as probably any Illinois town where he bought a newspaper or drank a cup of coffee. O the Abe Icons of my childhood, how could I ever count them all! I remember some fairly good Lincoln impersonators, and there's a nice Lincoln statuette in the garden that was built in a vacant lot of the Wal-Mart-ravaged downtown. I remember hundreds of people, some women, dressed as Lincoln and jumping through a mock window frame, supposedly re-creating a legend of Abe leaping from a burning state capitol building. And so on.
But it's not just my hometown. It's the entire state. Note that this is the first state-funded Presidential Library, and likely the first with animatronic eighteenth-century characters (creepy, if you ask me).
Why does the Lincoln Obsession bother me? I don't deny the meaningfulness of his presidency; it deserves careful study. The Civil War period presents as many complex and worthwhile issues as any other. The person of Lincoln himself is often poorly understood. Note that in the article I linked, only Barack Obama mentions that Lincoln's opinions on racial equality leave something to be desired. So, both the man and his time leave open some interesting historical questions.
So what could possibly be wrong with the Lincoln Obsession? First, the excessive focus on this one historical figure overdoses us on the same stories which have surely been stripped of meaning by now. How many times do public school kids learn about the Civil War? They could tell you the standard line like they recite the alphabet (The South was Bad, Aren't you glad you aren't from the South, because the rest of the U.S. is A-O.K. and perpetually defends freedom and liberty.) When I was in history class, serious instruction generally stopped after the mid-1800's. Sometime when you get close to graduation, some instructor mentions that Vietnam happened ("It had something to do with Communism. I don't know, just write that in your notes.") Likewise, the Lincoln frenzy comes at an expense to discussion of other times and other places.
Second, the Lincoln Obsession does nothing to remove downstate Illinois from its stagnation and provincialism; alas, it probably helps fuel these ailments. Why not spend that Lincoln library money on investing in your schools, in instilling your workforce with real skills (rather than blaming China), or cultivating the arts, or new green spaces, or build libraries where people actually go for the books instead of RoboAbe? Why not turn your interest towards what's happening in the world, and to the political leaders of this century, and engaging with the modern divisions that need to be resolved in our nation, and even within those little farm communities, rather than repeating the same tale of the Blue and the Grey? Expand your imagination a little bit. We can't live off of these icons forever.
As always, dissenting opinion is welcomed. Have a good day.