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New Education Center Honors Abraham Lincoln

  • Deborah Block

Ford's Theater in Washington has opened a new Center for Education and Leadership. Its focus is President Abraham Lincoln, who led the United States during the civil war in the 1860s and died by an assassin while attending a performance at Ford's Theater.

About 750,000 people visit Ford's Theater each year to see the box where President Lincoln was shot. Now they can go across the street to the house where he died and then to the center next door to it.

A 10 meter-high tower of 7,000 books on Abraham Lincoln shows his enduring appeal. Curator Tracey Avant says there are more books about Lincoln than any other American.

"He's just continued to be fascinating, and people throughout every generation seem to redefine who Abraham Lincoln is to them," said Avant.

The center has some artifacts, like a handle from the president’s casket and tassels used to decorate it. Other exhibits are re-creations of the train that carried his coffin and a barn where John Wilkes Booth, the president’s assassin, was shot and killed.

There are also interactive exhibits, which impressed Charlie Doer. "I think it's pretty cool, pretty high tech for Abraham Lincoln," said Doer.

Tracey Avant says one reason the center was opened was to answer visitors' questions about the president.

"He's still very relevant to us today, so we want people to walk away having a better understanding of what it was about Abraham Lincoln that makes him relevant today and has made him such a popular president," added Avant.

The civil war began after 11 southern states, known as the Confederacy, split from the north over the rights of states, including slavery. In 1863, Lincoln announced that slavery would end. Two years later, the south surrendered and the United States was preserved.

Avant say even though President Lincoln was controversial, he was admired.

"It has a lot to do with his leadership style, his personality and the things that he championed," Avant noted. "The fact that he could relate to the common person because he had come from humble roots himself."

The center also shows American presidents and world leaders who have quoted President Lincoln on topics like courage, equality and tolerance.

"His writing encompassed really big ideas, championed important issues, but he wrote in an elegant but very simple style which was not really the tradition at the time," Avant added.

Visitor Wendy Taylor found the center remarkable. “I love the way that it encourages people... to think about some of the values that Lincoln stood for to make the world they live in a better place," said Taylor.

To make that point, the center has created a video of average Americans today quoting the principles President Lincoln stood for.