New movie and exhibit in Springfield make it Lincoln’s summer
Benjamin Walker, as a young vampire-hunting Abe Lincoln. | Stephen Vaughan ~ 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Loading up on Lincoln
Adult admission, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Springfield: $12
Adult admission, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (3D) at a theater near you: $14.50
Updated: July 23, 2012 9:45AM
One look at the yellowed pamphlet in the display case and you think, “This can’t be a coincidence.”
Near the end of “To Kill and to Heal,” The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum’s big new temporary exhibit — about how Civil War soldiers were slaughtered, sickened or stitched up — is an 1839 annual report from a Kentucky medical school.
The booklet’s name? The Transylvania Journal of Medicine.
Search all you want for a link to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” the Tim Burton flick that opened at the end of June, about a month after the exhibit did.
You won’t find one, said Glenna Schroeder-Lein, the exhibit’s curator.
She just used what she could get.
“With many of the medical schools of the time, there are no artifacts — there is nothing that has survived,” she said.
The report survived because Transylvania University survived. Though the med school is long gone, the institution founded as Transylvania Seminary (it means “across the woods,” they say) in 1780 is still in Lexington, teaching liberal arts.
To living human beings, presumedly.
Schroeder-Lein, a manuscript librarian, doesn’t care about the film.
“I rarely go to the movies,” she said.
She is missing something, in this case.
The movie is the perfect tonic for anyone steeped in all things Lincoln — and in Springfield, that’s everybody.
The state capital is home to the Lincoln Home, the Lincoln Depot, the Lincoln Pew, The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, the Lincoln Tomb and the Lincoln Ghost Tour.
All summer long, Springfield welcomes Lincoln impersonators. You can have lunch with the Great Emancipator at Robbie’s restaurant, lemonade with him at Edwards Place, and ice cream with Abe at the Vachel Lindsay Home.
In the museum, he’s present in statue, diorama, video, digital and holographic form.
Spend a week seeing Lincoln around every corner, 147 years after his assassination, and it’s really not such a stretch to see him in a movie about the undead.
No questions, axed
It’s not a funny movie. It’s a fun movie. And it shouldn’t demean our 16th president’s memory.
Vampire-stalking Abe Lincoln is cool.
He plots revenge against the bloodsucking bunch who killed his mother, eschewing guns for a long axe.
“I am a rail-splitter,” he explains, with Lincolnesque straight-talking.
He spins the axe stylishly as he relieves vampires of their noggins.
It is entertaining to watch the undead die.
They’re more like vampires used to be, before “Twilight.” For one thing, they don’t date much.
And he does kill a lot of them. It’s easy to take; the fight scenes are sepia-toned, so the vampire blood is black. Less icky.
It is actually easier to handle than the — understandable — preoccupation with death in the museum.
One exhibit, The Civil War in Four Minutes, runs through the battles on a huge screen while a rolling counter adds up casualties, spinning horribly to over 1.3 million.
A short war film is shown in a theater in which the chairs shake with the roars of the cannon, and the smell of burning buildings assaults the nostrils.
And Schroeder-Lein’s exhibit — continuing through November, 2013 — is alive with death.
Cases are packed with mini-balls, Enfield muskets, canister bombs and other imaginative deviltries, meticulously labeled for their people-killing efficiency.
The other half of the exhibit explains what killed about two-thirds of the soldiers — disease.
A million or so Union soldiers contracted dysentery, for instance, and were told to drink nothing. Today, we know to drink clear liquids to flush the system.
About 29 percent died.
Fun fact: governors of Wisconsin, Arkansas and Louisiana were all first elected after losing an arm in battle.
Perhaps voters wanted leaders capable of taking bribes only half as fast.
The museum has exhibits meant for children, but it’s not a kid’s show. Not when it recreates the typhoid fever death of Willie Lincoln, 11.
The museum does take it somewhat easy on his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, who, after his passing, her own head injury, and her husband’s assassination, drove her wagon all the way to Crazytown.
The movie, however, rehabilitates her entirely.
On film, she’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead, ranked #10 on Maxim’s “Hottest Women of Horror Movies” list.
She yells at Abe (played by Benjamin Walker, who’s also a lot prettier than the real thing), but only because he lies about what he does at night.
Willie’s death is blamed on the bloodsuckers, not typhoid. And when Mom gets a chance at revenge, she is very cool as she takes her shot.
The funny papers
The museum recognizes that today, it’s astounding that such a terrible war was allowed to continue so long.
The entire coalition fighting the Iraq war lost fewer soldiers to enemy fire than the Union lost to measles.
So a lot of space is given to plots and protests against the Civil War — and to personal attacks on Lincoln himself.
Two long walls are dedicated entirely to cartoons of Lincoln, which make today’s editorial art look like love letters.
Lincoln’s drawn as Nero, Herod, an ogre, various animals — and a vampire.
Lincoln, of course, was not a vampire.
He hunted them.
Given the option of accepting a bite, to fight forever as an undercover vampire, he turned it down. He laughed and joined Mary Todd on a date to the theater.
He left the axe at home.