Lincoln’s Tomb, Facing Tough Times, Buoyed by Association

The resting place of Abraham Lincoln, located in Illinois, may be the victim of budget cuts in coming years, but a volunteer association that helps manage the facility could help remove some of the burden.

The situation was already tough for some of Lincoln’s closest watchers. The National Geographic diss didn’t make things any easier.

With this week marking the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Lincoln Monument Association (LMA) is putting attention on a dire funding situation for historical projects in Illinois—one that endangers Lincoln’s tomb, which the association promotes.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, facing a state financial crisis, has proposed eliminating the state’s Historic Preservation Agency, which offers funding and maintenance for the tomb. The weak points of the setup—from the declining hours of operation to the declining paid staff—are starting to show.

“We’re all scared to death,” LMA’s Pam VanAlstine, a volunteer tour guide for the memorial, told The Associated Press. “We don’t know how things are going to be run.”

A High-Profile Raspberry

And, frustratingly for those who put the hard work into maintaining the memorial, the tomb is fielding some negative reviews in the press.

Civil War historian Adam Goodheart, writing in National Geographic, took issue with the tomb, which hasn’t seen a full renovation in decades.

“The tomb, I find, is a disappointment,” Goodheart wrote in his piece for the magazine’s latest issue. “Twice reconstructed since 1865—most recently, in the 1930s, in incongruous Art Deco style—its current incarnation has all the historic character of an office lobby.”

The jabs didn’t get any softer from there.

“It’s strange to think that there is a place where Lincoln still physically exists in the world, let alone that it’s a place like this,” Goodheart later added.

Goodheart’s role as the author of one of the most popular Civil War books in recent memory—2011’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening—makes the barbs particularly painful.

Those close to the tomb, which has seen millions of dollars in renovations over the years, debate Goodheart’s critical take on the memorial.

“The author of the piece is certainly entitled to feel underwhelmed by the tomb’s interior, but I think it’s safe to say he’s in the minority,” Illinois Historic Preservation Agency spokesman Chris Wills told the AP.

A Volunteer Backbone

While the design of the tomb may be up for debate and its funding source up in the air, one thing that isn’t in question is the tomb’s association backing.

Which makes sense: The original tomb was paid for with the help of the National Lincoln Monument Association, which launched soon after Lincoln’s assassination.

VanAlstine, who helped revive the original group as LMA, has helped to lead volunteers in organizing a series of events and programs for the memorial tomb, giving the agency a wider reach at a time when budgets are already slim.

“Without the Lincoln Monument Association and the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to have a lot of the special events we’ve been able to put on the last several years,” Site Superintendent Candy Knox told The State Journal-Register last year. “They’re a wonderful group of people and have the same vision I do about the tomb.”

The next question: Will the association have to do more as budgets get even thinner?

(Katherine Johnson/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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