EXHIBITS : Lincoln's Struggles Still Hit Home

Some scrawled just a few heartfelt words, others penned poems, still others wrote their dreams.

All the notes are love letters of sorts, inspired by the Huntington Library exhibit "The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America," one of the largest and most comprehensive displays ever on the 16th President of the United States.

"The Last Best Hope"--taken from a Lincoln quote--is the most popular exhibit in the San Marino museum's history. Nearly 300,000 people have viewed the exhibit since it opened in October, 1993. The exhibit, which had been scheduled to close Aug. 30, was held over to Nov. 13. Information: (818) 405-2141.

At the exhibit's end, museum officials erected a bulletin board and asked: "What is Lincoln's legacy?" In response, hundreds of people posted missives--in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, German and Vietnamese. Many noted that the issues that Lincoln grappled with 125 years ago--racial justice, equal opportunity and democracy--are still relevant today.

Museum officials have saved all the comments but have not decided what to do with them. Here are some of the responses, edited for space. Names are listed when available.

On his sacrifice:

(Written in Spanish:) "The greatest man who gave his life for all of us to be free. Viva Lincoln!"

"This exhibition is a vivid example of the sacrifices that men and women of principle are willing to make to better the lot of their fellow man. Social change is risky."

"Lincoln preserved the union, saved America, at the cost of his happiness, his soul and eventually his life. Can we let this freedom he gave us be wasted through racial disagreements, censorship and the destruction of our fellow man?"

On his vision:

(Written in Spanish:) "Lincoln's ideas must be appreciated by all humanity as a great example of racial unity and complete abolishment of discrimination, not only racial but religious."

"Lincoln crystallized, perhaps for the first time in the history of humanity, that America was the womb of justice and equality. He markedly elevated the human race to a new and distant plateau."

--Arnold Newman

"One man articulated a moral necessity! With just one year of education and a background of earning a living by hard labor, he somehow managed to develop such a respect for a man's labor and worth that when he became articulate through reading and law, in him grew the simple overriding ethical principle that all men must be respected and given the same rights."

On his inspiration:

"Lincoln was not born great but he achieved greatness. Reading the Gettysburg Address brings tears to my eyes. He is one of the most eloquent men to ever live on this earth. His legacy is truth and freedom."

"In Lincoln's words lie the spirit of true democracy and true humanity. Men like Lincoln offer the 'last best hope' for a better world."

--Pamela Hansen Ruzzo

"Lincoln's legacy has had me rethink my own thoughts on what it means to live in a country where we have freedom of choice, and have the freedom to ACT on those choices without having government be a barrier. Lincoln has given me the drive to speak freely, think and act as I choose, and has had me be aware of MY OWN legacy that I will be leaving for my children, and my children's children."

--Dede Whiteside

Lessons learned:

"Abraham Lincoln--A shining example of home-schooled excellence: unshakable integrity, morals, wisdom and the ability to influence and communicate. Quite a challenge to us parents today."

--The Davis family, Escondido

"No matter how 'true' or 'great' your ideas, there will always be those who will hate you for holding them."

--B. Wilson

"No matter who you are, you have chance in life. Take it and do good."

"You can sum up what we should be doing today like this: Instead of THIS race, or MY race, or MY culture, or MY feelings, how about the HUMAN race, HUMAN feelings, etc."

Food for thought:

"Lincoln believed that anyone could and should be able to share in the American dream. We need this optimism in L.A. today."

"Lincoln set the stage for a society based on equality and must wonder what on earth is taking us so long to achieve it."

"I never would believe a little poor boy from Illinois could change the country so much."

--Renee Rice, age 14

"What is the mysterious affinity we all seem to feel for Lincoln? Can it be our own best selves responding to his truth?"

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