LINCOLN, Ill. — With a new director and a new exhibit that’s part of Illinois’ bicentennial celebration, the Lincoln Heritage Museum at Lincoln College is emphasizing the importance of citizenship and responsibility.
The new exhibit, “Let Us Do Our Duty: Abraham Lincoln and Citizenship,” opened Feb. 12 on Lincoln’s birthday, and will remain open through December.
It displays ways Lincoln demonstrated his citizenship by volunteering to join the Illinois militia, surveying portions of Sangamon County and advocating for the rights of citizens in his debates with Stephen Douglas. There’s even a pay voucher from his time in the Legislature.
“We encourage Illinois citizens to stand up . and play an active role, whether that is volunteering, voting or helping a neighbor,” said Anne Moseley, who became museum director in January.
The museum focuses on various Lincoln character traits to help inspire others to follow his example.
Citizenship was chosen this year because it “fits with the time we’re living in,” said Moseley. “Instead of complaining about something, do something. . We can’t sit on the sidelines.”
She noted that, throughout his life, “Lincoln found a need and he addressed it.”
The Lincoln Heritage Museum emphasizes Lincoln’s time in Illinois.
“The Illinois years are vital in the Lincoln story,” said Moseley. “He grew as a person. He grew into the president we know and love today.”
Bloomington attorney Guy Fraker, author of several books about Lincoln riding the legal circuit in Illinois, said the museum at Lincoln College does a good job of presenting Lincoln’s years in Illinois. He particularly likes the interactive exhibits on the second floor and the recreation of the courtroom in the old Postville Courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law.
“You walk through kind of in the company of Lincoln,” he said, adding the museum is “beautifully designed. There’s a warmth to it.”
While the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield emphasizes Lincoln’s presidential years, Fraker said the museum at Lincoln College “fills the gap to see the whole picture.”
He likes to call the museum in Lincoln “the little cousin of the presidential museum in Springfield,” and recommends combining a trip to both.
Moseley said joining the staff of the Lincoln Heritage Museum in 2011 and helping to design the new museum has been a dream come true. The museum began in one room at the college in 1942. It opened at its current location at 1115 Nicholson Road in 2015.
Moseley is a certified interpretive trainer, “but my niche is living history.” She is known for portraying historical figures, including Mary Todd Lincoln.
She particularly likes working with children and helps teach fifth-graders in Lincoln how to do living history interpretation. This is the fourth year that fifth-graders from several Lincoln schools have come to the museum to present their living history projects.
“I think of all these kids who think history is boring and I try to make it come alive in some way,” said Moseley. She considers getting children excited about history as “the greatest accomplishment of my career.”
Rather than put him on a pedestal, as often happens with the presidential years, Moseley wants young people to see Lincoln as someone who was like them but “made different choices.”
“That’s the Lincoln that made mistakes. That’s the Lincoln who felt comfortable sitting down and telling stories,” she said. “It’s the earlier stories that really defined who he was.”