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Community coming together for Lincoln

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By Ron Benningfield

The Lincoln Museum on the square in Hodgenville, in operation for 26 years and counting, is a prime example of what can be accomplished when a community comes together for a common cause.

“The idea of having a museum centered on Lincoln had been around for many years, but things were not quite right for it until several events happened in short order in 1988,” recalled Iris LaRue, longtime museum director who was serving as LaRue County Chamber of Commerce executive director in 1988.

At that time, LaRue learned that Elizabeth Burton wanted to sell a collection of 20 wax figures of Lincoln and other historical figures from a museum she had inherited from her father in Springfield, Illinois.

“That spurred conversations among local citizens here who expressed an interest in purchasing them,” she said. “We needed $20,000 for the collection and at a town meeting where about 50 people showed up, the group decided that if we could raise the $20,000 we would proceed.”

Within two weeks the money was collected, according to LaRue, mainly from museum charter members signing up at $100 per person.

With the figures bought, the question arose as to where to find a home for them.

“The timing couldn’t have been better, for the Middleton and Marcum building on the square came up for sale,” she noted. “The banking community— Ron Sanders A.G. Back, and Bill Ark--took an active role in what we were doing, leading fundraising efforts so the building could be purchased.”

Volunteers

With the figures and a place for them now in hand, droves of volunteers answered the call for help in creating 12 dioramas depicting important events in the 16th President’s life.

Some of the people volunteered to be in charge of researching and creating each scene so that it would be a true representation of history.

“They spent hours in libraries and in travels to historic sites, carefully studying each scene to replicate it here,” she noted.

Edlin and a crew dismantled a log cabin built in the 1800’s and reset it in “The Cabin Years” scene.

Wimsett, in the Gettysburg scene, localized the faces in the crowd by drawing likenesses of local people.

“Most of the volunteers came to the museum after putting in a full day’s work, then spent every night working until 10 or 11 p.m.,” recalled LaRue.

Though most of them lived in LaRue or neighboring counties, some came from as far away as Louisville in their endeavors to make the museum authentic and attractive.

Within one year of the purchases and preparation, the museum held its grand opening on April 1, 1989. In 2001, it expanded into the part of the block that once housed a Dollar Store.

Today, in addition to the main exhibits, the second level of the museum features rare newspaper clippings, campaign posters, and Lincoln memorabilia.

“Many people have donated or loaned period collections to the museum,” noted LaRue.

She mentioned Mrs. and Mrs. Paul Bruce of Oklahoma who, after a visit to the museum, donated a panel exhibit about the Civil War that had hung in the Pentagon on 911.

After reading about the museum, a lady from Atlanta who was a Lincoln-era collector donated her collection to the museum. The president of Henry Arms donated a period lever-action Henry repeating rifle.

A Lincoln art gallery on the second floor is filled with paintings, drawings, and other artworks related to the Lincoln era. A gift shop, located on the first floor, offers items from local artists, authors, craftsmen, and musicians.

Board of Trustees

“Our 25-member board of trustees, all volunteers, have attended to seeing that the museum survives, prospers, and brings recognition to the community,” said LaRue. “They really put their heart and soul into what goes on here.”

The museum averages 25,000 visitors each year. Though some have come from every state in the Union plus many foreign countries, LaRue said most stateside visitors come from Michigan, Illinois, and Texas, respectively.

The $3 adult admission price has not increased since the museum first opened. Admission is $2.50 for seniors, $1.50 children 4-11, free for children under four years of age and complimentary for active military.

As an added bonus, the museum, open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12:30-4:30 p.m. on Sundays, offers a free week of tours during LaRue County Schools’ spring break each year.