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Artifacts come to life in new 3D collection at Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield

A music box belonging to Mary Todd Lincoln is now a 3D image in the collections of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
A music box belonging to Mary Todd Lincoln is now a 3D image in the collections of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, has some 13 million items in its collection. Now, 100 of them are featured in an online gallery of 3D images that can be enlarged, turned upside down or spun around.

 One of the 3D scans is the desk where Lincoln wrote his first inaugural speech.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
One of the 3D scans is the desk where Lincoln wrote his first inaugural speech.

“We're always looking at how we can make Lincoln relevant to a new generation,” said Christina Shutt, the museum’s executive director. “We know that not everybody has the resources or the time to come here to Springfield and sit in our archive and do research in our reading room.”

Indeed, museum patrons would never be permitted to crawl under the desk where Lincoln wrote his first inaugural speech. Now, people can zoom in on the wooden merchant’s desk that has a sloped front writing surface and houses an upright shelving hutch with pigeonholes.

The new 3D imaging project followed a $100,000 grant provided by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief in 2020. The U.S. Department of Education awarded that money to states to provide assistance during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Choosing which items to digitize in a 3D format was a difficult task. At the top of the list were items that generate the most interest, such as Mary Todd Lincoln’s music box.

011023_ALPLM_ChristinaShutt.jpg
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
Christina Shutt is the executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois. She joined the show from her office at the museum.

“There was a reason why she chose to have that in her possession to play those songs,” Shutt said. “That the family preserved it in such a way that the music still plays even today, there's a reason for that. And that's something that I think helps us to embrace and understand history more and make it more than just sort of the facts and the dates of history.”

Another item that receives the 3D treatment in the new web gallery is President Lincoln’s shaving mirror. The reflective surface proved difficult to scan, so much so that a few rescans were required to render it fully in software.

“I think it is probably one of my favorite pieces in our collection because, for me, it's not just how we think about Abraham Lincoln standing before the mirror, and trimming his beard … but more than that, the Lincolns actually gift [the mirror] to a Portuguese woman who was a servant in their home.

“And that's the reason that we have the mirror today is because she kept it in her family and passed it down through generations,” Shutt continued. “And so for that mirror, it's more than just a story about Lincoln — a man and his beard — it's also a story about the Portuguese immigrants who worked in his home.”

To hear more about the 3D collection listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Artifacts come to life in new 3D collection at Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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