Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Friday, February 6, 2009

Finding Lincoln At The United States Capitol

A little more than two months ago, a sparkling and impressive new Visitor Center opened at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Open to the public, the Visitor Center will offer various exhibitions pertaining to the history of the building and the people who have served as our elected officials through the centuries.

This being Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial year, the Capitol is joining in the celebrations. This past Monday, my wife and I toured the Visitor Center during my "Lincoln Weekend" I posted about earlier this week. I'm happy I did, because I had no idea that I was going to find wonderful Lincoln items there.

Various famous documents are displayed at the Visitor Center and one of the first I noticed was none other than the original 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned slavery forever within our nation. President Lincoln's signature is present on the document, signed for once with his entire name instead of just "A. Lincoln" as if for extra emphasis. It is noted on the display placard that Lincoln's signature was NOT required by the Constitution, but he chose to sign it anyway. Unfortunately, Lincoln did not live to see the 13th Amendment become ratified and put into law on December 6, 1865.

A far less important, but still interesting, document on display shows a petition signed by Lincoln and his fellow residents requesting that a post office be established, at New Salem, Illinois, I believe.

I was very surprised to see that the catafalque which held Lincoln's casket in the Capitol Rotunda is also on display. The catafalque was first used for Lincoln's laying-in-state and has been used for every such ceremony since, with a couple of exceptions. It was last used for Presidents Ford and Reagan's laying-in-state. The material on the catafalque is not original, but closely resembles the original fabric. It is fragile and is displayed inside the wall of the Center, behind glass.

The last item associated with Lincoln in the Visitor Center is the very table he used during his Second Inaugural Address. It was stunning for me to see the table, as I had no idea it still existed. You can easily see the table, which was specially built for the occasion, in the photo taken during his Address on March 4, 1865. The table is displayed under glass and is immediately across from the catafalque. To think that one was made for a such a happy occasion while the other was made just 6 weeks later after a national calamity was emotional for me.

There are of course many more artifacts and bits of information in the Capitol Visitor Center which have nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln. Displays explain how our government (supposedly) works, the history of the Capitol, stories about famous senators and representatives, and so on. But since this blog is about Lincoln, I don't want to go into depth about the other displays.

Sorry I can't include photos of the items I've described here, but photography of any type is not permitted in the exhibition part of the Visitor Center.

I'll be posting more about my "Lincoln Weekend" in Washington in the coming days. Please come back for exhibit reviews and a review of a special performance about Lincoln held at the Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts.

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