“Forever Free” at the State Library: Emancipated from Not Knowing about the “Pouter Pigeon” Silhouette and the Spoon Bonnet

Most times when I visit the State Library of Ohio, I darken the door just before closing to pick up or return my latest OhioLINK book requests. For the next few weeks, though, my visits to the State Library will be better scheduled so I can spend more time in the hallway leading to the circulation desk. That’s because the State Library is featuring the exhibit “Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation” until April 15, 2011.

The traveling part of the exhibition from the American Library Association features six large text panels that look at President Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery during the Civil War. Reproductions of historical documents, photographs and ephemera help to describe the country’s attitudes toward freedom and slavery, the conflict over the spread of slavery, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and post-Civil War legacies. To accompany the display, the State Library, other local cultural repositories and individuals have contributed rare books, manuscripts, ephemera and objects from their collections that are related to Lincoln and his time.

“Funeral Obsequies of the Late Pres’t A. Lincoln,” a lithograph from the Kelton House’s collection, is one of my favorite items on display. The print shows the funeral procession of President Lincoln on April 29, 1865 as it made its way along Broad Street to the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda. It also includes a badge and armband that Fernando Cortez Kelton, a Columbus merchant, wore that day as an honorary pallbearer.

If you’ve driven through Eaton on your way to or from southwestern Ohio, you’ll appreciate another ephemeral contribution to the display. Dated April 18, 1865, it’s a request from the mayor of Eaton that all businesses in that village close during Lincoln’s funeral, to be held the next day at the Executive Mansion in Washington, D.C., so that people could “meet in their respective places of worship at that hour, for the purpose of solemnizing the occasion with appropriate service.”

Best of all are the objects from the Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection. Don’t miss the embroidered kid leather slippers (one of which is adorned with a silk rosette), dating from 1855 to 1865. Beside them is a “spoon bonnet” from the early 1860s, a popular accessory worn by wealthy and fashionable young women. When viewed from the side, the wide-brimmed bonnet that raises straight up from the crown takes on the shape of a shallow spoon. Around the corner, look for a Civil War-era lady’s dress and a man’s frock suit typical of what Lincoln wore during the 1860s. According to the caption, the suit coat was padded with quilted lining to create the “pouter pigeon” silhouette that was fashionable at the time.

Copies of an Abraham Lincoln reading list, Lincoln-related website resources, collection pathfinders and a bibliography of the rare books on display guarantee that you’ll continue learning more about Lincoln and his journey to emancipation long after you leave the State Library.

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