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Lincoln exhibit brings history to life

2/9/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

An oversized portrait of President Abraham Lincoln's grizzled and creased face greets visitors as they enter the Hays Public Library's new exhibit, "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War."

The 16th president's stern expression hints at what visitors can learn about his experience in the nation's top office. War, a nation on the brink of anarchy and radical cultural change defined his administration.

The exhibit's grand opening honored the president's legacy.

A Lincoln look-alike posed for photographs as a five-piece brass instrument band played Civil War-era tunes. The actor shared facts about the president and delivered his iconic Gettysburg Address. The 1863 speech commemorated one of the bloodiest Civil War battles.

"We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground," recited impersonator Steve Burns of Russell. "The brave men, living and dead, who fought and died here have consecrated it far above our poor and powerless means."

The panels surrounding him told the real Lincoln's story. From South Carolina's secession from the Union before he even took office to his controversial decision to suspend citizens' right to face a court, the president was confronted with many unprecedented problems during the Civil War.

Lucia Bain, Kansas Room librarian, said he is a timeless symbol.

"I think Americans love Lincoln. They love what he was able to do during a time of national crisis," Bain said. "I think that particularly during times of harsh division or mistrust in government, Lincoln is a person we can all look to, to find hope in our country."

There will be supplemental programs for young adults and children.

Burns said he has played Lincoln for almost six years, and he has attended approximately 40 events.

"I study on his life constantly, trying to absorb more information about him," Burns said.

Lincoln is associated with Illinois, but he was born in Hodgenville, Ky.

"I just think it's interesting that the Gettysburg Address, for such a short speech, is one of the greatest speeches of all time, and it lasted, what, a minute, maybe," said John Leiker of Ellis, who was among those in attendance for the event.

Cheryl Hofstetter Duffy, an English professor at Fort Hays State University, said she read the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Research reveals Lincoln's motivation behind ending slavery was rooted in preserving the nation.

"He was never truly an abolitionist," Duffy said. "That was one radical branch of the Republican party, and there was another branch that was much more conservative and was not interested in abolishing slavery. He was somewhere in the middle."

"Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War" will be open until March 21.