WALNUT CREEK -- The Civil War is coming to downtown Walnut Creek.

Riding on the groundswell of interest generated by Steven Spielberg's recently released film, "Lincoln," Walnut Creek Library Foundation Executive Director Kristin Anderson is pumped for the Dec. 14 exhibition opening of "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War."

"We expect the exhibit to draw people from throughout the Bay Area and hopefully introduce new faces to not only the library but also, to our fine city," she said proudly.

Landing the first Bay Area opening of the national traveling exhibit was a coup. Anderson said the reason the library was selected was a mystery, then speculated, "It took about nine months to learn that we got the exhibit and I don't know why they chose us. Perhaps because we're a new library and located in a well-populated area?"

Former Librarian Cindy Brittain, who retired in June, was instrumental in proposing themed programs and activities in conjunction with the exhibit. She and Anderson were thrilled by the opportunity and exhibition plans are robust.

Civil war re-enactor Debbie Grace is equally enthused. Grace, aka "Knight Ranger," is an Oakland resident and cannoneer with a number of re-enactment organizations; she signed up to serve as a docent because she has been a Civil War buff since childhood.

"I got hooked through movies," she admitted. "It was 'Journey to Shiloh' and Disney's 'The Great Locomotive Chase' that did it. And the effect the war had on America, how whole families could react differently to the same situation, is fascinating."


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The exhibit concentrates on Lincoln's greatest constitutional tangles -- a tightly twisted trio of secession, slavery and civil liberties. He fought the first two with as much furor as the soldiers on the battlefields and strove to protect the wartime rights much as landowners sought to preserve their homelands.

Like the exhibit itself, the Dec. 14 open house kickoff is entirely free.

Costumed docents will welcome and direct visitors through the exhibit and related activities. "Abraham Lincoln" will make an appearance; dispensing wise words while two brothers from opposite sides of the war struggle to reunite in the library's Fireside Room.

The presentation of artifacts, memorabilia, displays and Civil War civilian life will be staged in the second floor teen center, accompanied by a strolling banjo player with a 150-year old playlist of anthems and Civil War era songs.

The horror of a war that not only pitted family members against each other, but resulted in stunning casualty totals will be captured by a counter, tracking the mounting numbers lost to disease, capture, disfigurement and death as "The Civil War in Four Minutes" video presents the four-year war in miniature.

Glory, if it is to be found in the devastation, arrives with the Gettysburg Address, to be read by a special mystery guest during the open house.

After the party's over, "Lincoln" will run concurrent with library hours. Interactive elements allow visitors to stand with Lincoln as he is sworn in as president, play an 1862 board game called "The Secession Game," or go home and go digital, with "Abraham Lincoln's Crossroads," an online game in which an animated Lincoln asks for advice. Players solve the issues, then learn how closely their solutions matched Lincoln's actions.

And just in case that's not enough, Anderson and her staff have a allowed their propensity for planning to run wild.

Librarian Sarah Spindle has been marshaling the docents and volunteers who will staff the exhibit and related events.

"One of the requirements for getting this prestigious traveling exhibit at our branch was that it be monitored during all our open hours," Spindle explained. "There's just no way our staff (could) focus their attention on the exhibit to the degree demanded by the (two sponsoring entities), the National Constitution Center and the American Library Association."

Docents attended an early November training session and at press time, volunteer opportunities were still available.

Extended activities include a "California & the Civil War: From Frontier to Province" presentation by Kevin Starr, Associate Dean of Libraries, USC, California State Librarian Emeritus, at the Lesher Center for the Arts on Jan. 7.

Documentary screenings, song and storytelling hours and an examination of the Civil War's lessons and how they apply to the modern era by UC Davis Constitutional Law Professor Vikram Amar will fill out the exhibitions run through Feb. 8, 2013.

After that, it will be a year's wait for a repeat, when Anderson says the exhibit will return to Danville and Livermore in 2014 and 2015.

"Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War."
The exhibit will be open Dec. 14-Feb. 8 at the Walnut Creek Library, 1644 N. Broadway (Open House Dec. 14)
The library foundation will need volunteers to help with the exhibit. Interested parties can contact the foundation at info@wclibrary.org
For more information about the "Lincoln" exhibit, associated programs and events, and the Walnut Creek Library Foundation, visit www.WCLibrary.org, or call 925.935-5395.