Exhibits Indiana History Train Touring Southern Indiana and Louisville Through Oct. 23 Returns to Indy in 2005 About 2,500 people visited the History Train Oct. 1-3. What’s the Abraham Lincoln image that flashes in your mind at the mention of his name? A specially refurbished three-car history train is tracing the images of Lincoln created by the new art of photography and the older traditions of pen and ink cartoon characterization and printmaking. The train will remain stationary at each temporary “depot” and will also feature activity tents for hands-on participation. Included are live performances by a Lincoln interpreter and the specially commissioned video Young Lincoln. History Train will tour Indiana during the next four years on a schedule arranged by The Indiana Railroad Company.
Photography and railroads came of age during Lincoln’s lifetime. Both shaped his career, presidency and historical legacy. The exhibit, designed around the Indiana Historical Society’s recently acquired collections of Lincoln images, asks visitors to consider how image building sways public opinion.
Car One, registered as 1809, Lincoln’s birth year, highlights the development of photography from the 1841 Daguerreotype to the 1860s. A brief video presents an introduction and overview of the exhibit. Car Two, registered as 1816, the year Lincoln’s family moved from northern Kentucky to southern Indiana, shows how Lincoln’s image was manipulated. Lincoln had to be made to look presidential. Thus, the Alexander Hesler photograph lost out to the Matthew Brady image — the one with the beard and high collar.
It’s Car Three, registered as 1865, Lincoln’s death year, that runs into design problems. The signature image of the Lincoln funeral procession in New York City on April 25, 1865, is fuzzy and the explanatory text superimposed on it is so small, it prompted one visitor to exclaim, “This is not user friendly,” and another to admit, “I can’t read this.” It stopped the flow.
All in all, however, the Indiana History Train is a finely delineated presentation for a quick pass-through. It’s the activity tents where the experience is broadened. At the Oct. 2 stop in Indianapolis, Fritz Klein of Springfield, Ill., delivered an engrossing rendition of the elder Lincoln speaking about the influences of his childhood that led to his basic belief that “everybody starts out equal and has equal opportunity to rise with his or her own initiative and hard work.” The documentary produced by WFYI in cooperation with IHS features what is known about the young Lincoln. Historians add interpretations of how enduring the frontier and absorbing his father’s hatred of slavery shaped Lincoln. For more info, call 1-800-447-1830 or visit www.indianahistory.org/historytrain.