Grant Papers editor John Y. Simon commented on the Lincoln Museum in December on Civil War Talk Radio and I missed it ... fortunately the talk is archived (click on the third segment, if you go to the page linked above).
Simon spoke to host Gerald Prokopowicz and his insights struck me as important. Direct quotes are marked in quotations; headings are mine; emphasis is mine; and the points appear in broadcast order. Except where noted, paraphrases and quotes are Simon's, not Prokopowicz's.
Visitors and museum builders
People visiting Springfield now want to see the places Lincoln lived and the objects he touched. What they are getting is a museum "designed by people of the Disney culture." "They won't leave him alone." Instead of arranging Lincoln objects and papers, we are given "the life of Lincoln as told in rubber."
An outworn museum concept
The new museum is obsolete. "It's like the old wax museum that thrived in Lincoln's day, a substitute for more modern museums or more authentic museums, except that in our day it's done with rubber instead of wax."
"When it comes to vulgarity, I say let's drop it."
"It's not unlike the vision that's created Las Vegas, with its theme hotels..." Unlike Vegas, "in Springfield all you get is historical vulgarity..." "The only way to redeem the Lincoln Museum, I think, is to install slot machines."
This is "really a preposterous expenditure of more than $50 million of taxpayer money."
[Simon notes that in an Indiana Lincoln site, with which Prokopowicz was once affiliated, there were vulgar touches.] [However] "In Springfield vulgarity reigns. It's the starting point. It's the absolute essence of that institution."
Lincoln is not for children
[Simon rejects] "the idea that people are hungry for the story of Lincoln told in rubber..." The kids who might be impressed by this would be those who have not yet seen movies, TV or computers.
"The wax museum is not a new concept and I don't see it offering this novelty that Springfield needs. Furthermore, somewhere along the line, they decided that this museum is for children. Well, no it isn't. Lincoln is not for children."
A museum "is directed towards adults [and contains] things that children can appreciate." Great museums "begin with the education of adults..."
[Prokopowicz comments that children can tell when they are being patronized. Simon answers:] "I don't know what kind of backwoods idiots are expected in that Lincoln museum."
I do love that kind of talk.
[On a personal note, Gerald Prokopowicz has invited me to be on his program on October 21. We'll discuss McClellan, ACW publishing, and the effects of the Internet on history writing.]