A new museum is set to open this month in the midwest U.S. city of Springfield, Illinois. It commemorates the life and legacy of that city's most famous former resident, a man who was America's 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
A recent national poll ranks Lincoln third in popularity among American presidents, right after Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. VOA's George Dwyer went to Springfield to learn why Abraham Lincoln is still so highly regarded 140 years after his death.
America's 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, is a towering figure in the nation's history. But his legacy is larger than that alone, says Illinois State Historian Tom Schwartz.
"You find that the ideals that Lincoln tried to articulate, and what he was fighting for then still remain vital and important to us today, and it's that timeless character of Lincoln which really puts him in the rank of a figure of world history and not merely of our national history," says Mr. Schwartz.
The great crisis in American history was also the great crisis of Lincoln's presidency -- the insurrection known to history as the American Civil War. At issue was the integrity of America's constitutional union, and freedom for enslaved African Americans. But Lincoln also saw it as a battle for the survival of democracy itself.
"Lincoln felt that this was a critical moment, when this American experiment in democratic government was under siege, and it might not survive. Therefore what Lincoln was fighting for was not merely the survival of the union, but it was the larger ideal of what America meant for the world," added Mr. Schwartz.
Mr. Schwartz is a scholar in residence at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois -- a facility that is about to expand with the addition of a new multi-million dollar Presidential Museum
"What we try to do in the museum is to give people an overview of the Lincoln story and then we're constantly directing them outward to explore the Lincoln landscape," he says.
To help people do that, Lincoln Library research historian Bryon Andreason developed a series of plaques all around town labeled "Looking for Lincoln."
"The concept of 'Looking for Lincoln' is to provide a way for visitors to come and try to imagine what the landscape would have looked like when Abraham Lincoln was here," says Bryon Andreason.
"Fortunately in 1858-59 there was a photographer that took a picture from the perspective of each of the four corners here around the old state capitol, so we've duplicated those from the same on each of the four corners. This one shows you what Washington Street on the north side of the old state capitol would have looked like two years before Lincoln was elected president," continued Mr. Andreason.
"Looking for Lincoln" sites include the president's former home, and the Old State House: "This became the center place for politics and also for culture. They had dances and lectures," says Bryon Andreason.
"Sadly, after Lincoln was killed and they brought his body back to Springfield to be buried, it was here at the Old State Capitol in the very room that he gave his important speeches that they had his body lay in state," says Mr. Andreason.
Lincoln's speeches and writings, many housed at the Library in Springfield, were so profoundly eloquent, say historians, they have left their mark on world culture as well.
"Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist, felt that Lincoln was a Christ in miniature; Mahatma Gandhi saw Lincoln to be a great statesman; Margaret Thatcher was also a great fan of Abraham Lincoln," says Tom Schwartz.
"The very fact that if you go to places like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan and they have contests where schoolchildren recite the Gettysburg Address in English -- I think underscores the power of Lincoln's words and eloquence," adds Tom Schwartz.
When Lincoln died from an assassin's bullet in 1865, a friend expressed the nation's grief at its loss, saying: "Now he belongs to the ages." Certainly in this age it is still true.