One thing kids can count on each February is a day off to celebrate those who have led our nation.
Both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have birthdays in February and that means students usually have a school holiday in honor of President’s Day. To recognize the 43 men who have been sworn into office, the Chicago History Museum has special events aimed at educating families about their contributions in a fun way on President’s Day.
The day of programming (which is free for Illinois residents) includes storytelling, face painting, music, re-enactors and more. In addition to the day’s special activities, visitors can learn more presidential history in two permanent exhibits, “Abraham Lincoln” and “Lincoln’s Chicago.” An exhibit titled “The Secret Lives of Objects” also includes the table from Appomattox Court House in Virginia on which General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War.
“I think one of the really special things is the Lincoln re-enactor,” said Ani Schmidt, public programs coordinator in the education department at the Chicago History Museum. “People like to be able to take a photo with him or be in a gallery space together.”
Two musical performances will take place on President’s Day. One is a performance by the Chicago Brass Band, which Schmidt describes as “a specially crafted Civil War era program focused on Lincoln, done by a vintage brass ensemble.” Set in the Chicago Room, she said it was “more formal, with an epic feel to it.”
The other program, Songs of Freedom, scheduled as two 30-minute sets is more casual. The folk music presentation will include some patriotic pieces and is performed by two musicians; one on acoustic guitar and one on drums.
“The day caps off with the program called ‘Meeting the Lincolns,” said Schmidt. Costumed interpreters play the parts of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. “They’ll learn about the life and political legacy of Abraham Lincoln.”
Schmidt said craft projects are designed for different ages. “It’s important to give families tools to learn together,” she said. “It’s not just about learning facts, but about relating to figures in history and experiencing the presidents as people.”
For more information, visit chicagohistory.org.
The Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library in Springfield has been an extremely popular attraction since opening nearly eleven years ago. Most years attendance has exceeded that of the country’s other presidential museums and libraries.
At the Abraham Lincoln Museum, you can be photographed with Lincoln every day as well as his wife and sons in front of a facade of the White House in the plaza. The story of Lincoln’s life is presented through a variety of exhibits and state-of-the-art movies within the facilities theaters.
“The most important thing I think people should be aware of is that the stories are told in a lot of different ways to reach different audiences,” said museum spokesperson Chris Wills. “The shows with special effects draw the attention of the more casual visitors. There are documents and artifacts more for the hard core history buffs.”
The museum is divided into two “journey” exhibits. The first covers his childhood up to the presidential campaign in 1860. The second is about his years in the White House and his death. “They’re visually appealing and you walk through scenes of his life. You see him debating Stephen Douglas and attending a play at Ford’s Theatre,” said Wills. “At the museum,
virtually every visitor who comes tells us how interesting they find it. The exhibits grab your attention.”
Special temporary exhibits bring forth fresh material, so even if you’ve visited once there are always new things to see. While the separate library building is used primarily for research, the “Art in the Atrium” display features artwork by Illinois artists. The museum is offering free admission on Lincoln’s birthday on Friday, February 12. For more information, visit alplm.org.
Some other presidents spots to visit:
Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
1230 North Delaware St.
(You can also visit Harrison’s gravesite in Indianapolis at Crown Hill Cemetery.)
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
3027 E. South Street
Lincoln City, Ind.
Lincoln Heritage Museum
Located in Lincoln Center on the north side of the Lincoln College campus
300 Keokuk St.
For more information visit the website at museum.lincolncollege.edu.
Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home and Visitors Center
816 S. Hennepin Ave.
Ulysses S. Grant Home
500 Bouthillier St.