HARRISONBURG — Though an Abraham Lincoln exhibit will stay on display longer than originally planned, Penny Paul Imeson, executive director of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society Heritage Museum, calls the decision “a nice coincidence.”
“President Lincoln’s Rockingham Roots” was slated to come down Sept. 15, but according to museum officials, it will continue to show for reasons unrelated to the opening of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th U.S. president.
Released across the nation Nov. 16, the film was shot in Richmond and Petersburg, and made more than $21 million in its first week.
Whatever the reasons behind the change in end date, the exhibit’s premiere on Honest Abe’s birthday, Feb. 12, made sense. The display, featuring photographs, documents and artifacts from Lincoln’s ancestral homes in Linville and Lacey Spring, will likely show until the week before Christmas.
A visitor’s guide, complete with anecdotes and a Lincoln family tree, opens the exhibit.
Among the information is an explanation of the Lincoln family connection to Lucy Simms, a celebrated black educator who helped garner support for better public schools for local African-Americans. Simms’ grandmother, a slave, is said to have been purchased from a Lincoln, likely Col. Abraham Lincoln, the president’s first cousin, once removed.
The president’s Valley connection took root with his great-grandfather, Virginia John Lincoln, and his wife, Rebecca, who moved their family to Rockingham County in 1768, where Lincoln’s father was born.
According to Imeson, “it’s not like he didn’t know that he had these Southern roots.” He remained interested in his heritage, as recorded in letters written to a Virginia cousin.
Unlike his link to Simms, another fact on display airs some of the family’s dirty laundry.
One letter describes a paternity suit against John D. Pennybacker — a state senator who married Col. Abraham Lincoln’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth. He settled with the child’s mother by agreeing to pay $30. Pennybacker never admitted to being the father, but he paid to “avoid any unpleasant scandal.”
Imeson pointed out one of the exhibit’s themes.
“This is some nice stuff. ... We think of Abraham Lincoln coming from a little frontier cabin ... ”
For more information, visit www.heritagecenter.com or call 879-2616.
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