By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
CARTHAGE, Ill. -- A casket turned into a catalyst for the Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum to honor Abraham Lincoln.
But the replica Lincoln casket, passed on to the Kibbe by the now-shuttered Illinois Funeral Customs Museum, is just one item featured in Lincoln: The Making of a Man exhibit.
Volunteers pulled together pieces from the museum's holdings and from the funeral museum to trace the 16th president's life and times along with his ties to Hancock County.
"We wanted to try to not just memorialize Lincoln but memorialize the way of life," Kibbe Board President Tim Tomlinson said. "It awakens how interesting that history is."
Visitors enter the exhibit through the front door of a log cabin, learning about pioneer life typical to both the county and to Lincoln's childhood with weaving, spinning and agricultural tools.
The exhibit traces Lincoln's move into the law, highlighting his friendship with local attorneys Hiram Ferris and Bryant Scofield along with the murder case he tried and lost in Hancock County, then moves into the Civil War years.
Tomlinson's favorite part of the exhibit highlights the county's Civil War veterans with research work by a summer intern from Western Illinois University.
"They were people, real people, and they came home," Tomlinson said. "We tried to find out where they lived, what happened to them after the war."
Photos of the soldiers, some heartbreakingly young, hang on one wall, and Tomlinson said when school groups visit, it's common for youngsters to recognize a photo as a great-great-grandfather or other relative.
"There's still many personal ties," Tomlinson said.
Just as there are to Lincoln.
"Really for the times, he got around the area," Tomlinson said. "A lot of people can say they have something historical that relates to Lincoln."
The county featured groups of Wide Awakes, who backed Lincoln and tried to provide security for him during political rallies. An original banner from the LaHarpe Wide Awakes is on display in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield.
Lincoln's death and customs surrounding death form a large part of the museum's exhibit. The display featuring the casket and catafalque, the structure holding a coffin during a state funeral, mirrors the scene when Lincoln lay in state in the East Room of the White House.
The simple coffin, with nailhead detailing, is "not all that impressive a casket, but for the times, I guess it was," Tomlinson said.
Nearby displays feature mourning dress and customs.
"Embalming became an invention during the Civil War, a necessity to get bodies home for burial," Tomlinson said. "Because of the war, a lot of funeral customs were developed. Jewelry, dress came in vogue."