Traveling Abraham Lincoln exhibit in Castine

Posted Nov. 07, 2009, at 7:43 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:54 a.m.

CASTINE, Maine — Abe Lincoln has come to Maine.

A travelling exhibition, “Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America,” featuring reproductions of Lincoln artifacts, opened in Castine last week at the historical society buildings amid a background of local displays filled with Lincoln-era memorabilia collected from the surrounding area.

The exhibit, which marks the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 1809, is sponsored by The Wilson Museum and the Castine Historical Society. Castine is the only site in Maine to host the exhibit and one of just 40 sites nationwide.

“We were looking for traveling exhibits and found this online,” said Patty Hutchins, the director of the Wilson Museum. “I think the real reason we were able to get the exhibition is our connection with Noah Brooks.”

Brooks was a Castine native, born just a few doors away from the Abbott House, the home of the Castine Historical Society, where the exhibit is located. He became friends with Lincoln while he was still in Springfield, Ill., before he entered politics. Brooks was a newspaper reporter, editor and author who worked in Washington, D.C., and he and Lincoln renewed their friendship after Lincoln became president. He was one of the last people to see the president on April 14, 1865.

Brooks was a welcome visitor to the White House, according to the display at the historical society, and the two met at Lincoln’s office on the afternoon of April 14 to discuss the possibility of Brooks becoming private secretary to the president. There is some indication that, if not for a bad cold, Brooks might have been with Lincoln at the Ford Theater later that night.

Although he lived in California for a time, Brooks lived much of his later life in Castine at a home on Main Street. He died in 1903 in California and is buried in the Castine Cemetery next to his wife.

The museum and the historical society, working from photographs of Brooks’ library in his Main Street home, recreated that library in the historical society annex, including special details such as the stenciling around the top of the wall. The space includes books that Brooks had owned which were collected from various sites around town, including the Witherle Library, where many of those books are now housed.

Other local displays depict the Lincoln era as it was experienced in Castine and the surrounding area. They include photographs of local soldiers who served during the Civil War, war memorabilia, letters, coins and currency from Lincoln’s time.

“We decided to try to augment the travelling exhibit with the local displays to give a sense of what was happening in Castine and in the Bagaduce area during the Civil War,” said Barbara Griffiths, treasurer of the historical society.

Many of the artifacts in the local exhibit came from area residents who became involved in the preparations.

“It made it a lot more fun working in collaboration, and it created a lot of public interest,” Hutchins said. “A lot of community members joined in the process.”

The traveling exhibit includes six kiosks containing reproductions of artifacts in the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. It covers episodes from his life, and includes items such as a favorite childhood book, “Aesop’s Fables,” his marriage certificate, his trademark stovepipe hat, in which he used to keep legal papers and notes for speeches, the bloody gloves from the night at the Ford Theater and two life masks of Lincoln, one done in 1860, the other in 1865.

The exhibit will run through Nov. 24. and will conclude with several presentations by storyteller Jim Weiss on Nov. 23-24. The exhibit is open from 1-4 p.m. daily or by appointment.

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