Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Lincoln Museum Pictures

Yesterday, Springfield's new Lincoln Museum was dedicated, and President Bush visited. A couple of photographs struck me as interesting.

This one, showing some Lincoln-look-alikes walking near secret service members is sort of a twist, given that Lincoln was shot when his own security guard was drinking in a bar next door to Ford's Theatre!

And I don't know about this museum display that places the Lincoln Family in front of the White House as John Wilkes Booth leans jauntily against a column. I understand that we often interpret the Lincoln Presidency in light of his death: We hear about his macabre and prescient dreams, we imagine a less acrimonious Reconstruction, and envision a different future for the country had he served the remainder of his term. In fact, so dark and shadowed was his figure that I can't help but think about his death whenever I see a picture of him.

But, as much as I am drawn to these thoughts, looking at the display, I can't help but think that Booth is just a minor, short-lived, one-line, two-bit character in a much larger and grander production of Lincoln's life and presidency. Sure Lincoln died because of this man's bullet, but the important part of his death is the flip-of-the-coin emphasis we simultaneously place on the years he lived and the savvy and skill with which he operated; when we think about Lincoln's death, we don't think about some silly, Latin-quoting, fool who ended-up dead in a barn.

No, Lincoln's life can't and shouldn't be reduced to a scene with Booth, devilishly and omnisciently standing in the background, looking forwards, towards his future quarry.


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