LOU'S VIEWS: Lincoln exhibit highlights presidential precedents

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

Where does greatness come from? What is its legacy? And if I someday change the world, what stuff of mine will end up in a museum 150 years from now?

ae-lincoln03-sum-book-15col.jpg Abraham Lincoln’s sum book

Those are the kinds of questions you may find yourself pondering after a visit to “The Lincolns: 5 Generations of an American Family” (through Aug. 4 at the Indiana State Museum). With a wide range of artifacts culled from the museum’s Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection and more loaned from elsewhere, the show looks both backward and forward from Lincoln’s life. It looks at his contemporaries, and his immediate family, of course.
It’s the best-known part of his legacy that is likely to feel the most familiar to those rooting for Abe and company to take home this year’s Best Picture Oscar. But it’s the fringes, where those of us not steeped in Lincoln lore, might find the freshest material. That’s where I encountered Abe’s Uncle Mordecai, who was married to Mary Mudd. Is that last name familiar? That’s because she was a distant relative of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was arrested as part of Lincoln’s assassination.

ae-lincoln07-grandchildren-1col.jpg Abraham Lincoln’s grandchildren, c. 1883. Cabinet card.

When he was younger, Mordecai witnessed the murder of his father and shot and killed one of the Native American assailants. In the process, he very well may have saved his brother, Thomas, Abe’s father. Fans of alternate-history fiction can go ahead and write a novel about how the world would be different if Mordecai hadn’t acted.

Mary Todd Lincoln gets a fair share of exhibit space, all of which seems shadowed by a sad portrait of her painted years after her death. Letters mak


e reference to her deteriorating mental state after her husband’s assassination and the death of her children. It’s difficult not to empathize with the notoriously difficult surviving son, Robert, who had to make the difficult decision about what to do with his mother.

The show doesn’t try to replay everything about Abe Lincoln’s life, but some interesting details come through about the man. We see a letter in which he granted his father’s request for $20 to help pay off a debt while another denies his stepbrother $80. There’s an electoral ballot Abe cast for William Henry Harrison and a charming whimsical note scrawled when he was young: “Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]/And with my pen I wrote the same/I wrote in both hast and speed/And left it here for fools to read.” (For the record, I prefer young Abe’s more compact “Abraham Lincoln/his hand and pen/he will be good but/god knows When”).
aeinfo The last piece of the exhibition struck me, at first, as one of its oddest: a blown-up and framed Oakland Tribune quote about Lincoln’s last undisputed de

scendant that seems hardly worth the trouble of printing: “Robert T. L. Beckwith inherited the short stature of his mother…His favorite spirits are bo

ating and golf. Mr. Beckwith is very genial in disposition.”

But perhaps it’s in the context of such trivialities that greatness shines brightest. Abraham Lincoln becomes even more impressive not only when we see his humble beginnings and his ability to still make a difference after life’s deepest sorrow, but also when we see the mark (or lack thereof) that the rest of his family—and most of us—make on history. •


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?