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In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the Smithsonian is having a yearlong celebration, featuring exhibitions and events that will offer visitors a chance to explore the life and times of the nation’s 16th president. All events listed are free to the public, unless otherwise noted. For more information about the celebration, visit www.gosmithsonian.com/lincoln.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
“The Honor of Your Company Is Requested: President Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball” celebrates the president’s second inaugural ball, held March 6, 1865, in what is now the museum’s historic home. The ball took place as Lincoln’s second term began, with the Civil War in its final stages, and only six weeks before Lincoln was assassinated at nearby Ford’s Theatre. The exhibition, which relates the ball to the building and its history, features ephemera from the inaugural ball, including the invitation and menu, as well as engravings illustrating the night’s events and other artifacts. The exhibition is on view through Jan. 18, 2010.
On Jan. 31, 2009, the museum will re-create Lincoln’s inaugural ball—one of the most memorable historic events to take place in the museum’s landmark building. Dressed in period costumes and trained in the prevailing social traditions of the day, the nationally acclaimed Victorian Dance Ensemble will take visitors back in time to a period marked by grace and elegance with demonstrations at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. For information, call (202) 633-8490 or visit www.americanart.si.edu.
National Portrait Gallery
“One Life: The Mask of Lincoln,” which opens to the public Nov. 7, examines Lincoln’s use of the era’s new art of photography to convey his image to Americans. The exhibition, which draws on the museum’s extensive collection of Lincoln portraits—an archive that charts Lincoln’s passage from a fresh-faced Illinois congressman to his grizzled presidential visage—will allow visitors to ponder the many dimensions of the 16th president. The exhibition also offers a rare opportunity to view the original cracked-plate portrait of Lincoln by photographer Alexander Gardner. The exhibition is on view through July 5, 2009.
National Museum of American History
When it reopens Nov. 21, the National Museum of American History will display the rarely exhibited White House copy, also known as the Bliss version, of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s most famous speech. The exhibition commemorates the 145th anniversary of this short address, one of the most famous and eloquent speeches in American history, which was given at Gettysburg, Pa., Nov. 19, 1863.
The Bliss version is one of five drafts of the speech, and the last to have been written in Lincoln’s hand. Penned in March 1864 for an anthology to raise funds for the Union, it was kept by one of the book’s publishers, Bliss, and was auctioned in 1949. Oscar Cintas, a former Cuban ambassador, purchased it and on his death in 1957, he asked that it be placed in the White House collection. With the generous support of Laura Bush, the White House is loaning this copy for a limited public viewing through Jan. 4, 2009.
“Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” will showcase more than 60 historical treasures associated with Lincoln’s life, from an iron wedge he used to split wood in the early 1830s in New Salem, Ill., to his iconic top hat he wore the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Each highlighted object will be augmented with personal stories told by Lincoln and the people who knew him best. The exhibition, on view from Jan. 16, 2009, through January 2011, will tell a new and very intimate story of the nation’s 16th president.
“America’s New Birth of Freedom: Documents from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum” features 10 rare and important documents on loan from the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Ill. These documents have become the cornerstone of current thinking on Lincoln and his legacy and will include a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Also on view will be letters expressing Lincoln’s views on emancipation and the conclusion of the Civil War, including his letter to James C. Conkling in which he makes his forceful defense of the Emancipation Proclamation, and his letter to Francis Blair on his unwavering demands for peace. The exhibition will be on view from Jan. 16 through March 22, 2009.
National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum’s Philatelic Gallery will feature an exhibition of 11 certified plate proofs for postage stamps honoring Abraham Lincoln. Certified plate proofs are the last printed proof of the plate before printing the stamps. These plate proofs are each unique, with the approval signatures and date. The stamps, issued from 1894 to 1959, feature a variety of Lincoln portraits. The plate proofs will be on display November 2008 to October 2010.
On Feb. 7, 2009, at 1 p.m., author Tom Wheeler will tell tales from his book “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War.” The first leader in history to possess such a powerful tool, Lincoln taught himself to use electronic communication to win the first modern war. While adults enjoy the lecture, children ages 7-13 are invited to enjoy story time featuring “Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers,” the story of how 11-year-old Grace Bedell influenced Lincoln’s presidential campaign through the power of correspondence. Kids can write a letter to the president, design a presidential stamp and enjoy other fun activities. The event is free, but reservations are required and can be made by calling (202) 633-5533 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philatelist Eliot Landau’s award-winning exhibition “Lincoln, Slavery and the Civil War” will be on display at the museum March 6-8, 2009. The exhibition combines philately, ephemera and artifacts in an engaging exploration of Lincoln’s presidency, the Civil War and Black History. A lecture by Landau will take place March 7, 2009, at 1 p.m.
Abraham Lincoln, a postmaster turned president, saw big changes in stamps and mail during his lifetime. Communication innovations connected the country as the Civil War tore it apart. At the “Lincoln Bicentennial Family Festival,” discover in a variety of hands-on family activities how the Civil War challenged the postal system. Take a ride on the Pony Express, sort mail in a Railway Post Office train car, explore stamps commemorating Lincoln and learn about Confederate postage stamps. The festival takes place July 11, 2009, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Smithsonian Associates
Throughout the Smithsonian’s celebration of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, The Smithsonian Associates will offer a series of lectures, tours and other events. A complete list can be found by visiting www.smithsonianassociates.org. All events require tickets, which can be purchased online or by calling (202) 633-3030.
On Jan. 28, 2009, Harold Holzer, co-chairman of the U.S. Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and author of more than 30 books on Lincoln and the Civil War, will discuss the four-month period between Lincoln’s election and inauguration when he made the decision that no compromise would be made on slavery or secession of slaveholding states—even at the cost of an inevitable Civil War. Holzer’s new book, “Lincoln, President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-61,” will be available for signing after the program. The lecture will take place at 6:45 p.m.
On March 6, 2009, at 6:30 p.m., “President Lincoln Invites You to His Second Inaugural Dinner!” The event will feature selections from Lincoln’s second inaugural dinner menu, re-created in celebration of that event, which was held March 6, 1865. The Willard InterContinental Hotel, where Lincoln stayed before his first inauguration, hosts the dinner and Lincoln re-enactor James Getty provides after-dinner remarks in his portrayal of the incumbent president.
Join renowned Civil War historian Ed Bearss for this full-day Smithsonian Associates Study tour to visit sites at Harpers Ferry and Antietam as seen by President Lincoln during the first week of October 1862. Travel in Lincoln’s footsteps and enjoy Bearss’ entertaining and informative lectures at the two sites. Lunch, transportation and all admissions are all included. The tour will take place March 8, 2009.
About the Smithsonian
Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. All except two of the museums are located in Washington metropolitan area: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian are located in New York City. There are 6,000 Smithsonian employees, including approximately 500 scientists. There are more than 5,000 volunteers. More than 24 million people from around the world visited the museums and the National Zoo in 2007. The total number of objects, works of art and specimens at the Smithsonian is estimated at nearly 137 million, including more than 126 million specimens and artifacts at the National Museum of Natural History.
The Smithsonian museums in Washington are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and admission is free. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, known collectively as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, are open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Anacostia Community Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Smithsonian museums are closed Dec. 25. The Arts and Industries Building and the National Museum of American History are currently closed for renovation; the American History Museum is scheduled to reopen Nov. 21.
More information about the Smithsonian can be found by visiting www.smithsonian.org.
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