Abraham Lincoln is still scoring big at the box office, thanks to Steven Spielberg. And even the vampire-slayer version several months ago brought forth a new appreciation of our 16th president, lifting Lincoln off the page and the penny and into modern consciousness.

Now the Walnut Creek Library will continue this momentum of presidential popularity, serving as one of 250 libraries and community centers across the country -- and the first in the Bay Area -- to host the four-year traveling exhibit "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War."

The traveling exhibit, "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War," will open at the Walnut Creek Library Dec. 14. (Courtesy of the National
The traveling exhibit, "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War," will open at the Walnut Creek Library Dec. 14. (Courtesy of the National Constitution Center)

Developed by the National Constitution Center in collaboration with the American Library Association, the display opens in Walnut Creek on Dec. 14 and runs through Feb. 8, commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It illuminates Lincoln's struggles with a polarized Congress, not unlike those of today, and explores his leadership during some of our country's most turbulent years.

The exhibit "looks at how Lincoln used the Constitution to confront three intertwined crises of the war -- the secession of Southern states, slavery and wartime civil liberties," said Melissa Carruth, the NCC's senior exhibits manager. "His struggle to save the Union really created the nation we have today, and this gives the visitor that context. It also asks the question: Was he a calculating politician or the great emancipator? And it really lets the viewer decide."


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The original exhibit, which opened at the NCC in Philadelphia in 2005, was so successful it was revamped and condensed into the several versions now simultaneously traveling the country -- colorful panels with text and images of original photographs and documents, including a draft of Lincoln's first inaugural speech, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

It all arrived in 16 crates at the Walnut Creek Library on Thursday, where about 10 library workers and volunteers spent a couple of hours setting up framing and unrolling the panels, which were split into 9-foot-long sections.

"We're really excited to be hosting this," said Kristin Anderson, executive director of the Walnut Creek Library Foundation. "With the Spielberg movie recently out, this is perfect timing for us -- people are talking about Lincoln, learning more about the Constitution. He pushed the envelope, which made a lot of people unhappy at the time. This kind of thing still happens to our presidents today, so it's very relevant."

The traveling exhibit, "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War," will open at the Walnut Creek Library Dec. 14. (Courtesy of the National
The traveling exhibit, "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War," will open at the Walnut Creek Library Dec. 14. (Courtesy of the National Constitution Center)

For two months the exhibit will take over the library's expansive second-floor teen section and the adjoining Fireside Room, transforming it into a mini museum -- not only with the exhibit, but also six display cases from the Walnut Creek Historical Society with clothing, books and artifacts from the period, such as a framed copy of a U.S. flag used in the 1864 presidential election.

A free opening-night celebration will feature music, a reading of the Gettysburg Address and even a Lincoln impersonator, bringing the display to life. And several special library programs are lined up for the run of the exhibit, including a talk in January by California historian Kevin Starr.

The Lincoln exhibit will return to the Bay Area twice during its tour, once at the Museum on Main in Pleasanton starting on June 12 and again at the Museum of San Ramon Valley in Danville in March 2015. The tour is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com, read her Sunday Give 'Em Hill column, or follow her on Twitter @giveemhill.

Lincoln Events
The traveling exhibit "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War" will be on display at the downtown branch of the Walnut Creek Library from Dec. 14 to Feb. 8.
Location: 1644 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek
Cost: Free
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday
Info: wclibrary.org; 925-935-5395

Special Events
All will be held at the downtown Walnut Creek Library and are free unless otherwise noted.
Dec. 14: Opening night festivities, with Civil War-era artifacts on display, music from the period, the reading of the Gettysburg Address and an appearance by a Lincoln impersonator. 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 7: "California & the Civil War: From Frontier to Province," a talk by Kevin Starr, historian and USC associate dean of libraries. 7:30 p.m., Lesher Center for the Arts. Tickets $25; 925-943-SHOW.
Jan. 14: "The True Story of Glory Continues," a 45-minute documentary about the first black fighting unit of the Civil War, narrated by Morgan Freeman. 7 p.m.
Jan. 17: "Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln," Lincoln historian Arnold Kunst presents Lincoln's humorous side. 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 23: "The Songs & Poetry of the Civil War," 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 29: "A Nation Divided," a talk by UC Davis constitutional law professor Vikram Amar. 7 p.m.