Lincoln Museum news roundup

The museum part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum had its grand opening this week and gathered considerable press. Some points of interest:

High-Tech History: Long-Awaited Abrahan Lincoln Museum to Open in Springfield, Ill. This was the workaday AP piece picked up by hundreds of newspapers.

Bush Tours Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Another AP story. "Bush was particularly amused by an exhibit showing mock campaign commercials of the 1860 presidential election."

Museum engages with showmanship. This is the Knight Ridder wire offering and it contains this bit: It is "a museum that moves visitors quickly from room to room." Hmmm, little time for reflection allowed: "'Everything is aimed at a 21st-century audience,' museum designer Bob Rogers said. 'For a generation tuned into TiVo and iPods, we had to pick up the pace, pick up the tempo. It's jazzed up without sacrificing scholarship.'" Without sacrificing scholarship - that's a good thing, Bob.

Bob Rogers shows up again in his own press release, BRC Imagination Arts Celebrates the Grand Opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, datelined Burbank! "Combining impeccable scholarship with brilliant showmanship, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum educates visitors of all ages of the life, times and historical importance of the 16th U.S. president."

Lincoln Museum a showplace. This was the UPI wire story. Note these items:

* "Smith said the gee-whiz special effects make Lincoln's history accessible to an audience outside the academy without dumbing anything down. [...] Smith said the museum successfully integrated showmanship and scholarship with an unapologetic and accurate presentation of tough subjects..."

* "Bob Rogers, chairman of BRC Imagination Arts, said the state-of-the-art displays developed for the museum over six years show what is possible when scholarship is combined with world-class storytelling and theme-park techniques aimed at keeping the attention..."

* "'We didn't whitewash him,' Rodgers said. 'For instance, we got right to the heart of darkness and show how the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one.'"

I don't want to get into an argument with impeccable scholarship, but scholar Allen Guelzo is currently out on the hustings flogging a book defending the proclamation. He gave a preview of some of its content in this lengthy article in 2002. If you present a controversy from only one point of view, Bob and Richard, you have sacrificed scholarship.

There's one more piece worth looking at and closing with. It's another AP filing, The people behind the new Lincoln Museum, in which we learn that the voice of Lincoln is supplied by "Bill Schallert, a veteran character actor most familiar as the father on 'The Patty Duke Show.' Whenever an exhibit features Lincoln 'speaking,' it's Schallert doing the talking."

Let me get trivial for a moment.

He has done a lot of acting, but everyone in my generation has been saturated - totally saturated - with Bill Schallert's commercial voice overs. He was insanely overexposed in the 1960s and 1970s. To hear that soap commercial voice oozing out of Lincoln's stiff, animatronic lips is going to be a killer. Never mind that Schallert at 83 was engaged to do the voice of a 56-year old (or younger) man. Realize that Schallert's rich, mellow timbre is on the edge of baritone. He didn't get all that soap commercial work by sounding "shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant" as Lincoln's law partner characterized the president's voice. And "a bystander described Lincoln’s voice at Gettysburg as 'sharp, unmusical, and treble.'"

So you're not even going to try to approximate the voice? You don't want to blast out a squeaky screech now and again? You're substituting a naturally beautiful, trained voice for Lincoln's ugly voice?
Schallert spent three days recording his lines. He went for a "light country" accent -- the sound of someone who grew up on the frontier but had moved up in the world.
He faked an accent. "You don't have any real model for Lincoln. You just have to guess."

Oh you impeccable scholars, you.