“Lincoln was such a simple man yet had such a big impact,” reflected museum visitor David Goodman. “It just goes to show you don’t have to be born into wealth and privilege to change the world.”
The museum, along with Ford’s Theatre and President Lincoln’s Cottage, is commemorating the extraordinary life of Abraham Lincoln on the anniversary of his assassination with special activities across the Web and around D.C. Yesterday, museum staff surprised Goodman and his two sons, Aaron and Jonah, who were visiting Washington from California with a behind-the-scenes visit to the museum’s terrace and a copy of the book, Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life. This special commemoration will run between April 14 (the day Lincoln was shot in 1865) through April 26 (the day conspirator John Wilkes Booth was caught).
The Goodmans on the museum terrace with a fabulous view of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
“I’m studying the Civil War in school,” said Aaron, who is a junior at Redwood High School in Greenbrae, California. “Lincoln was so fundamentally important to the Civil War in keeping the Union together. He said, ‘A house divided cannot stand.’”
The group was picked while viewing Lincoln’s top hat in the exhibition Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life. The top hat continues to be a draw for museum visitors because it was worn by the President when he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. “It’s the outfit he always wore,” said Jonah, a sixth grade student from Kent Middle School.
“He was such a big guy already yet he chose to wear the top hat”, said David. “The beard and the top hat is what made Lincoln distinct—that was his brand.”
At six feet four inches tall, Lincoln towered over most of his contemporaries. He chose to stand out even more by wearing high top hats. In many ways it defined his appearance. “I wear collar shirts; they define me and they are comfortable,” said Aaron. “I think Lincoln wore the top hat to show he was a common man.”
Jonah summed up his thoughts on Lincoln with a simple word: hero. “Lincoln said you can’t own other people. He helped win the Civil War.”
Could you be the next museum visitor we surprise? It could be if we find you in the “Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” exhibition within the next week!
We also invite you to share your thoughts about Lincoln in the comments section below. How do you remember Lincoln? Or join us for a free discussion on April 24, From Man to Myth: Abraham Lincoln Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
Kyle McKinnish Bridges is an intern in the Department of Public Programs at the National Museum of American History. He is particularly interested in military and social history of the American South during the Civil War.