We take our shaky unity as a republic for granted, yet matters 145 years ago very nearly derailed the nation completely. But for the political genius and rock-ribbed fortitude of one president, we could today be residing in the United States of America, our cousins or friends in the Confederate States of America. It all makes this red-state/blue-state stuff look silly.
Abraham Lincoln was an enigma then, and he remains one. It's hard to imagine a man of his depressive mien, his gravitas, being elected now. We like our prez to bring the warm-fuzzies, to be a pretend-bud we could maybe grab a beer with. Lincoln -- though he had a ready talent for jokes and witticisms -- didn't play. And if each of us, in Whitman's famous formulation, contains multitudes, well, the sixteenth president seemed to contain yet more of them. So it's auspicious news that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (212 North Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois; 217-558-8844 or www.alincoln-library.com) is ready to receive visitors. On Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17, the brand-new facility hosts an advance look at its wonders. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, you can tour the museum (for $3.50 to $7.50) and its interactive displays, such as the computerized "Ask Lincoln" theater; also enjoy the free outdoor Looking for Lincoln Block Party, where costumed re-enactors, choirs, theater groups and folk dancers re-create the days of yore. At 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, an actor performs Lincoln's farewell address, and lasers and fireworks then light up the night (not very Lincoln, but sure to be inspiring). The museum officially opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, with a dedication by Governor Rod Blagojevich and a performance by the 312th Band.
The Lincoln Library and Museum is a huge complex, as befits a man of Lincoln's stature. It will beckon visitors from around the world, but for us it's an easy drive through beautiful Illinois scenery and we're there, to honor this man who navigated the nation through hell and back -- and kept it one country, flawed and ragged but indivisible.