I couldn’t help but laugh. Seriously, I was allowed to watch this at work? My office mate and I huddled around my computer with the volume cranked. Playing was an ad for Diet Mountain Dew that I found on YouTube. Soon, we were in hysterics. As the actor posing as Abraham Lincoln ripped off his shirt and began pummeling bystanders with nearby chairs, I couldn’t help but wonder amidst the chuckles…what about Lincoln makes us ponder him in so many different ways? Why do we sometimes reverently regard him as the savior of the nation but other times we use him to sell a soft drink?
When I received the task of planning the final Lincoln lecture in our series of six, I was ecstatic. Thinking about my favorite person from history every day and getting paid to do it? Of course! I dived into popular culture to get a feel for what people say and think about Lincoln.
I found that conventional outlets such as scholarly books, museum exhibitions, and documentary films discuss every facet of Lincoln’s life, leadership, and legacy. And I already knew that his top hat in our exhibition, Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life, fascinates millions of visitors every year. But he also remains a popular figure in art, literature, and culture. Some are serious contemplations of his influence on America but others skew towards lighthearted portrayals. Lincoln’s image has even starred in late night comedy sketches, popular kids movies, and guerilla art.
I look forward to hearing what our panelists have to say about this galvanizing figure in American history at our upcoming event, From Man to Myth: Abraham Lincoln Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. What will David Selby say about how it feels to become the 16th president through acting? And what will Harry Rubenstein have to say about what it takes to curate Abraham Lincoln for the nation? And, of course, I’m so glad we will have renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer present to help put it all into perspective. To top it all off, I can’t wait for our moderator, presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, to really get us thinking about Lincoln. Why don’t you join us? The discussion begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, and will also be webcast on the museum Web site. The first 25 visitors will receive a FREE copy of Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life.
Johanna Mutz is a floor manager at the National Museum of American History. She enjoys thinking about how history influences everyday life.