Lincoln Home National Historic Site (NHS) now has a new exhibit targeted at the many students who visit each year. This is the first youth-oriented exhibit within the Lincoln Home NHS and the first new exhibit in 20 years. "Lincoln's Springfield" is the result of a partnership with the Lincoln Presidential Foundation and a gift from the M.G. Nelson Family Foundation. Located in the Corneau House, diagonally across the street from the Lincoln Home, the exhibit explores the diverse life stories of six members of Abraham Lincoln's community. It is designed for students ages 10-14, while appealing to all ages. "Lincoln's Springfield" is currently open to the public free of charge. (See sidebar p. 11.) A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for Feb. 16, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
For more than 20 years, the Lincoln Presidential Foundation, previously known as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, was the exclusive partner of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. That relationship ended in April 2021. Since then, the Lincoln Presidential Foundation broadened its mission. Instead of a single focus, the Foundation is now multidimensional and works locally and nationally to highlight the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. The foundation's annual budget is typically $1.5 million-$2 million. In fiscal 2022 the foundation received over $1.58 million in contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations and over $300,000 in grants.
Partnership with Lincoln Home
A significant example of the foundation's new mission is its partnership with Lincoln Home NHS and more broadly with the National Park Service (NPS) and National Park Foundation. "It is gratifying to see the range of things we've been able to accomplish as a partner," said Erin Carlson Mast, president and CEO of the Lincoln Presidential Foundation. Timothy Good, Lincoln Home NHS superintendent, says the site has never before had a friends' group in its 51-year history, and it is remarkable what's been accomplished in two years partnering with the foundation.
Good highlights the long history of the NPS working with a nonprofit partner at the national level as a testament to the value of public/private partnerships. The National Park Foundation, chartered by Congress in 1967 to provide a mechanism for private citizens to contribute to national parks, is the official nonprofit partner of the NPS.
The foundation and Lincoln Home NHS entered into two formal agreements which create opportunities to apply for grants from the National Park Foundation. That has already generated results. The Lincoln Presidential Foundation was included in the first cohort of "Inclusive Storytelling" grants awarded by the National Park Foundation in 2023. Ensuring that national parks present a more diverse and comprehensive story of American history is a priority of the NPS. The National Park Foundation launched the "Inclusive Storytelling" grant program to fund projects that feature communities and individuals whose voices and contributions have not been fully recognized.
The Lincoln Presidential Foundation is collaborating with Lincoln Home NHS and others to tell the story of Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish American businessman and philanthropist who provided education to thousands of African Americans throughout the segregated South. His boyhood home is in the Lincoln Home NHS. The Jewish Federation of Springfield and the Jewish United Fund in Chicago are enthusiastic supporters of this initiative. (see sidebar p. 13.)
Other results of the partnership between Lincoln Home NHS and the foundation include improved landscape conservation and beautification projects throughout the 12-acre NHS site in Springfield, due to a Union Pacific Community Spaces grant. And, a selection of artifacts from the foundation's Taper collection has been on display in the visitor center. "Akin to Lincoln" features items from daily life, such as silver, ink bottles and scales, that represent friends, family and colleagues who surrounded the Lincolns in Springfield. (The Taper collection, which includes over 1,500 items related to Lincoln, is being professionally maintained and stored while the foundation addresses remaining debt.)
In 2023 the foundation moved its headquarters to the historic Henson Robinson house within the Lincoln Home NHS. The foundation recently hired its sixth staff member; Mast and one other staff member are based in the Chicago area. Mast says the foundation is an active participant in projects, and not simply an organization that raises funds. Good says the partnership's success is a result of mutual trust, great personalities who work well together and a commitment to getting things done and not focusing on who gets credit.
Both Good and Mast bring their extensive professional backgrounds and experiences to their roles in collaborating to share the story of Abraham Lincoln's life and legacy. Good is a 34-year veteran of the NPS, having begun his career in Washington, D.C. He has served at over a dozen NPS sites, including Ford's Theater NHS. He also worked in the NPS Washington Office and Midwest Regional Office. Mast came to the Lincon Presidential Foundation in 2021 from President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington, D.C., where she was CEO and executive director after serving as curator and site administrator. Mast has over 20 years of experience with cultural nonprofits and higher education, including the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Building Museum, Institutional History Division of the Smithsonian Institution, George Washington University and Ohio University.
Leading collaboration at the national level
The foundation also received a grant from the National Park Foundation to conduct a nationwide study to determine how the foundation can most effectively broaden its impact with partners across the nation. The NPS administers dozens of sites across the country connected to Abraham Lincoln and his legacy. There are many other organizations and individuals with a related mission. This provides an opportunity for the foundation to lead collaboration and innovation and generate funding related to sharing the story of Lincoln's leadership and its importance today.
The Potrero Group conducted the feasibility study which recommended the foundation focus on two or three key projects that establish the organization as national in scope and open to a broad range of partnerships. The goal is to chart a path that unites a national audience around critical themes of principled leadership, empathy and moral courage, and that supports the protection of democracy at home and abroad.
Following the study, the foundation secured over $300,000 for new initiatives. One key project already underway is planning for the Rosenwald House exhibits, which will be nationally significant within the NPS. A new initiative is to lead planning for multisite projects and programs to coincide with the America 250th anniversary in 2026. Mast also chairs the American Association for State and Local History's Making History Matter campaign for the 250th anniversary celebrations.
Award-winning educational initiatives
Independent from its collaboration with the NPS, the foundation created award-winning educational offerings designed for a national audience. During the pandemic, the foundation launched the Four Score Speaker Series via Zoom, initially designed for members who reside in Springfield and beyond. These programs involve conversational interviews with prominent authors and leaders. Feedback from participants helped to identify topics people wanted to better understand. One of these is the period leading up to the Civil War, which Mast says is a fascinating period of history.
In response, the foundation created a four-part documentary series, Warning Signs: Lincoln's Response to Rising Tensions in the 1850s, which won a Mid-America Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The succinct films, which collectively total less than 30 minutes, explore national events in the pre-Civil War period, 1849-1860, and how Lincoln debated and addressed these events publicly and privately. Springfield-based Storyteller Studios and actor Fritz Klein are among the talented people the Foundation engaged for the project, sponsored by Iron Mountain. Some of the scenes were filmed in the Lincoln Home.
According to the foundation, the overarching theme of Warning Signs is the ongoing and challenging evolution of our nation's journey toward an ever-elusive "more perfect union." The series also received Gold and Silver Telly Awards and an Award of Distinction from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts in New York. In addition, live webinars featured conversations with experts on the history and politics of the time period. Companion lesson plans were developed for students in 4th grade through high school.
The second film series is a three-part documentary, "Fortifying our Democracy: Lincoln's Lyceum Address." Lincoln was only 28 when he presented this address to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield on Jan. 27, 1838, about "the perpetuation of our political institutions." This short documentary series explores the events that motivated Lincoln to deliver this speech, the timeless argument for investing in civic education and the dangers of taking political institutions for granted. The three parts are titled The Danger of Mob Violence, The Problem of Decaying Trust and The Risk of the Tyrants.
Both film series and associated materials can be viewed here: www.lincolnpresidential.org/lincoln-resources/digital/.
Honoring Lincoln's legacy
Since 2006, the foundation has presented the Lincoln Leadership Prize annually to recognize notable individuals for a lifetime of exceptional service in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. The 2024 recipient is Jon Meacham in recognition of his exceptional contributions and public understanding of American democracy. Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and The Rogers Chair for the American Presidency at Vanderbilt University. The award will be presented May 21 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. More information is at www.lincolnpresidential.org/giving/lincoln-leadership-prize/.
Periodically the foundation also presents the "With Charity for All" award, inspired by Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address calling on citizens to work together to build a future "with malice toward none; with charity for all." The first award was presented in 2017 and in 2022 was renamed for the late Wayne Whalen in honor of his generosity and spirit of public service. Whalen, who died in June 2022, was the foundation's chairman emeritus who was an influential attorney and delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention. He served on the foundation board for 17 years including six as chair.
Judy Woodruff received the first With Charity for All Wayne Whalen Memorial Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 11. Woodruff is senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she previously served as anchor and managing editor for 11 years. In 2023, she launched "America at a Crossroads," a two-year reporting project to understand America's political divide.
Community benefits from partnership
Good points out that most of the visitors at many of the 428 sites in the National Park System are from outside their local communities. Yet, these sites tell important stories directly connected to their communities. Good hopes the new exhibits resulting from the partnership with the foundation will attract local citizens to visit the Lincoln Home NHS and learn about local people, in addition to Lincoln, who had a lasting impact. Last year members and community leaders were invited to a showing of the Warning Signs documentary and to an event at the Lincoln Home visitor center revealing plans for the Rosenwald House. Good says these events, along with the documentary films and other projects the foundation carries out on its own, help to raise awareness of the Lincoln Home NHS and the life and legacy of Lincoln locally, nationally and globally.
"The Lincoln Presidential Foundation's focus is now different and broader since our association with the NPS and National Park Foundation, and it is good for the city of Springfield," said Sergio "Satch" Pecori, foundation board chair. "The new youth-oriented exhibit and upcoming Rosenwald exhibits at Lincoln Home NHS would not have happened without the foundation. As a national foundation, we have broad opportunities to help Lincoln-minded sites nationwide."
For more information about the Lincoln Presidential Foundation programs and operations, go to www.lincolnpresidential.org/.
Karen Ackerman Witter is a former associate director of the Illinois State Museum where she had the opportunity to work with staff from museums and historic sites throughout Springfield. She has a passion for national parks and is a member of the National Park Foundation. She is also a member of the Lincoln Presidential Foundation.