Mobile exhibit shows life of 16th president
Kathy Cramer, center, of Emington, was among those who visited the “A. Lincoln: Self-Made in America” traveling exhibit that was in Dwight over the weekend. Portraying Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln Saturday afternoon were Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller.
Photo and Story by John Faddoul
Pontiac Daily Leader
Mon Oct 13, 2008
Dwight, Ill. - Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train passed through Dwight in 1865, and over Columbus Day weekend 2008 hundreds of people passed through a truck-pulled trailer, parked in downtown Dwight, that is touring the nation to mark the bicentennial of the birth of the 16th president.
Lincoln was born in 1809, and the trailer is a “one-of-a-kind mobile exhibit” of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, the destination of that funeral train, which passed through hundreds of American towns, including Buffalo, N.Y., Pontiac and Chenoa in 1865, as the assassinated president’s body was taken from the nation’s capital to the Illinois capital he had left for the last time in February 1861.
That farewell address in Springfield, in which Lincoln speculated “when or ever” he would return to it, is recreated in one of the sections of the 53-foot long, double expandable trailer that contains the "Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America" Bicentennial Tour.
On Saturday, from noon to 4, a living Lincoln, in the person of Michael Krebs, was at the trailer, sitting at the entry or talking with people outside the trailer, and posing for photos with people visiting the exhibit.
One of he visitors was Kathy Cramer, who has headed Emington’s Third of July celebration, which celebrates the Independence Day that Lincoln alluded to in his Gettysburg Address.
Cramer said she wanted to “take advantage of the opportunity and come to see this” trailer-sized version of the Springfield museum. “It’s amazing, it’s just like the mini Springfield, only on wheels, I think everybody needs to know about Lincoln,” she told a reporter. “He was a very smart man, self-educated” and an “all-round a good guy,” who freed the slaves, as the Emancipation Proclamation section of the air-conditioned trailer tells.
Cramer, like other visitors, watched the "The Civil War in Four Minutes" video that is shown on a monitor toward the end of the trailer tour that people take in a counterclockwise route.
The video — a minute for each year the Civil War lasted, one second representing each week of that war — shows the casualty toll of the war for both the Union and the Confederacy, the numbers at the bottom right of the screen changing rapidly, as battles are shown on a map that takes up most of the screen, while the music of the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" plays.
Three others who visited the exhibit while Krebs, who is 6-feet-4 and has portrayed Lincoln throughout the United States since 1992, and Debra Ann Miller, portraying Mary Todd Lincoln, were there on Saturday were the Rev. Daniel Ognoskie, his wife, Judy, and their daughter Katie, a freshman at Black Hawk College in Kewanee and who has visited the Springfield museum.
“It’s just smaller, more compact,” she said of the tour, which is also a Traveling Exhibition Service of the Smithsonian Institution.
Her father is a student of Lincoln.
Describing the mobile exhibit as “really great,” the Rev. Ognoskie, pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dwight, said “I’ve always enjoyed the history of Lincoln and read a lot of books (about him) when I was in school, always did my reports on Lincoln, and enjoyed visiting his house, and his home place in Kentucky, and then also in Salem.
“This is really good, he said of the exhibit, and he’s hoping to get to the museum his daughter already has visited.
“I think he was more of a statesman than a political person,” he said about his view of Lincoln. “He stood up for principles; I think we should have that more today,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed reading about Gettysburg and his speech there, so concise but very profound,” he said, and he’s also read about Lincoln’s assassination, one of the final sections of the mobile exhibit.
One of those who helped bring it to Dwight is Tony Thorsen, with Dwight’s tourism group, which sponsored the visit to Dwight. His grandson Nate Wettsetein, age 7 1⁄2, attends Lincoln Grade School in Washington, Ill. Both know their presidents.
Who were the presidents before and after Lincoln, a reporter asked Nate. Buchanan and Andrew Johnson were the immediate answers.
His grandfather said he thought it was “great” that Dwight was able to get on the exhibit’s schedule.
“I think this is one of the best traveling museums,” Thorsen said. “It’s a miniature of the Springfield museum.” On Thursday and Friday, 810 adults and children went through it, he noted, and some more than once.
“They thoroughly enjoyed it, they learned stuff about Lincoln, and some of them, the kids who were here during the daytime, came back with their parents in the evening. We had a lot of them from the 4th grade class, and then junior high classes were up here and we saw them come back again with their parents. It’s really been good.
“I’m a student of Lincoln,” he said about his role in getting the exhibit to Dwight. Having his grandson see it in Dwight only added to his enjoying having the trailer in the village.
Krebs, whose Web site is abrahamlincolnperformance.com, said one quality of Lincoln that he admires was his “ability to reach any man, every man, by using his power of language and his analogies, just being able to reach anyone.”
Producer of With Lincoln Productions, an artists’ ensemble, Krebs was about 34 years old when other artists in the Chicago area “just kept trying to push me into doing a program” about Lincoln, he said of how he began portraying the 16th president.
“We work together about half the time,” he said of Miller as Mary Todd Lincoln, and always when they do programs at schools.
Miller, carrying a parasol and wearing gloves and a dress that touches the ground, speaks as Mrs. Lincoln with a Southern accent.
“I had four full brothers and three half brothers and I lost two full brothers, a half brother and a brother in law, all on the confederate side,” in the war, she says. “My brothers, especially my half brothers … they felt that their loyalty (was with) the confederacy.”
Her sister Emily “traveled to visit me in the executive mansion” during the war, she said. “She refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Union and Mr. Lincoln responded, ‘Bring her to me,’ and she was allowed to come, but it was a terrible ordeal with the press, they accused me constantly of being a spy for the confederate side. And they accused my sisters, my half sisters, of being spies for the Union side, so it was rather difficult on the whole family.”
What would she want 21st century Americans to know about her husband?
“He was a good man,” she said, “and his heart was as big as his arms were wide, and he did what he thought was right. And if time brings him out wrong, then a thousand angels saying he was right won’t make any difference, but I think that time will bring him out that he was right.”