Governor opens Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library     Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 15, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- Yesterday Gov. Rod Blagojevich opened the long-awaited Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in downtown Springfield -- the first completed building in a complex being constructed to honor the 16th president.

"Today, we throw open the doors to this library. It is a modest ceremony, a chance to say thanks to the architects, construction crews, artists and artisans who brought us to this point. It is a public ceremony because this is very much a public building, built with public funds and consecrated to public education," Gov. Blagojevich said.

"Beginning today, the Illinois State Historical Library has a new home and name, a new culture, and a new commitment to public history -- a commitment that will enhance its national profile. I'm sure many of you have heard about the miles of shelving and the millions of documents and about the rooms of microfilm and manuscripts and the artifacts tracing the history of our state and its most famous son. But history is more than just numbers.

"Beyond the statistics, are the stories and countless personal dramas of long-distant homesteaders, bending their backs to break the rich black earth of Illinois. Here in this library, you will be introduced to all sorts of pioneers: to the urban reformers led by Jane Addams; to the friends of labor like Debs, Altgeld and Lewis; to the abolitionists of the 19th century and the heroes of the 20th-century civil rights movement. Here you will meet the poets and the politicians, the architects who build in stone and glass, and the writers who raise cathedrals with their words. Their stories are all here, and so are the dreams and trials, the aspirations and achievements of millions of other Illinoisans."

Just before officially opening the library to the public, the governor dedicated the library's General Reading Room to the late Steve Neal, the Chicago Sun-Times writer whose frequent columns about the library kept the project in the public's eye. Neal authored 10 books on U.S. history, including the recently published "Happy Days Are Here Again," about the 1932 Democratic Convention.

"Steve Neal made sure this library would be a fitting tribute to America's greatest president," said Gov. Blagojevich. "I think Steve would be very proud to have his name in this building."

"In size, scope and imagination this library and museum complex will dwarf all other presidential libraries," said Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Director Richard Norton Smith, who has overseen the libraries built for Presidents Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. "The museum in particular will be truly world-class."

The public ceremony Thursday was paid for by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Foundation, a private support organization that will underwrite temporary exhibits, conferences, educational and other public programs, as well as such scholarly efforts as "The Papers of Abraham Lincoln." It marks the first time the building has been open for use by the public.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is the new home of the former Illinois State Historical Library, which since 1889 has been the world's foremost institution for research about all aspects of Illinois history. The library's 47,000-item Abraham Lincoln Collection is the largest assemblage of pre-presidential Lincoln material in the world and is used for virtually every publication, broadcast program or film about Lincoln or the Civil War. The new building replaces the one constructed underneath the Old State Capitol State Historic Site in 1968.

Contained within the library is a treasure trove of 12 million documents and artifacts relating to all eras of Illinois history. These include more than 10.5 million manuscripts, 175,000 books, 90,000 reels of Illinois newspapers on microfilm, 6,000 maps and broadsides, and 200,000 prints and photographs.

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The library's Lincoln Collection features 1,500 original manuscripts written by Abraham Lincoln; 400 of the 600 letters written by Mary Todd Lincoln that are known to exist; 1,200 prints and photographs, including the only photo showing Lincoln lying in state; more than 200 paintings and sculptures, including six original life portraits of President and Mrs. Lincoln; 12,000 books and pamphlets; more than 230 personal and family items; 800 broadsides, including invitations to Lincoln's first and second inaugural balls; and political campaign material, including pieces of rail allegedly split by Lincoln and sold to raise money for the 1860 presidential campaign.

The library is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will be closed on Sundays and major state holidays. There is no admission fee, and anyone is welcome to visit the library to perform research or simply tour the new building.

It bears noting that the museum, set to open in the spring of 2005, will be the major tourist attraction in Springfield's galaxy of Lincoln sites.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum will feature nearly 50,000 square feet of exhibits, special-effects theaters and displays of original artifacts that will plunge visitors into Lincoln's life and times. When it opens next spring, hundred of thousands of visitors each year will be immersed in the Lincoln story through two state-of-the-art exhibit "journeys" depicting Lincoln's early years, home life, legal and political careers, and presidency. The museum's Treasures Gallery will showcase select original items from the state's Lincoln Collection, such as the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's presidential briefcase. The Union Theatre will present "Lincoln's Eyes," a 17-minute show that uses special effects and three screens to surround the audience with the tragedies and triumphs of Lincoln's life. The "Ghosts of the Library" theater will amaze audiences as live actors interact with ghosts onstage to make yesterday and today come together.

The museum will also feature a children's area, restaurant, gift shop and a 4,500-square-foot plaza, sure to be one of the most popular gathering places in Illinois. The complex will include a welcome center in the restored 1890 Union Station and a parking garage for visitors; both are currently under construction.

"Nearly 140 years after his death, Abraham Lincoln, the man from Springfield, still inspires people in every land who yearn for the 'new birth of freedom' he proclaimed at Gettysburg," said Gov. Blagojevich. "Lincoln's work must be our work, and in the dawn of this young century, and for as long as mankind seeks higher ground. At a turning point in the struggle to realize promises older than the republic itself, Lincoln said, 'The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.' Here is the Lincoln challenge -- to see possibilities where others see only problems, and to extend the blessings of liberty to every hearth and home."

The total cost for the four-building complex consisting of the library, museum, Union Station and parking garage is approximately $150 million, paid for with a combination of state, federal and city of Springfield funds.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, a cabinet-level agency of state government. Construction of the complex is being overseen by the Illinois Capital Development Board, which manages all state construction projects. The buildings were designed by Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum of St. Louis. Siciliano Inc. of Springfield is the general contractor.

[News release from the governor's office]

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