Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
With the celebration of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12, 1809) under way, this Springfield, Ill., museum is essential viewing. Virtual-reality technology, film, theater, and lifelike dioramas add techie touches. They set off the museum’s artifacts, such as one of five original copies of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s handwriting, to make this one of the country’s most engaging history museums, about one of America’s most revered presidents. Through Nov. 9, 2008, see the special exhibition, “Packaging Presidents: Two Centuries of Campaigns and Candidates.”
Don’t miss: The “Ghosts of the Library” theatrical presentation and a four-minute cinematic recap of the Civil War’s military campaigns and mounting casualties.
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Joan Hoff loves the Theodore Roosevelt home, located in Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y., because, she said, “It honestly and modestly reflects both his intellect and personality.”
Charles Markis, chief of interpretation and visitor services, says the shingle-style house, built in 1885, passed directly to the National Park Service from the family. So the dwelling was never modernized. It still has mementos from Roosevelt’s presidency, when the home served as the first Summer White House. There’s also a Roosevelt museum and a nature trail.
Don’t miss: The 72 taxidermy-mounts, trophies from Roosevelt’s hunting days.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site
Both the first modern presidential library and the home of our only four-term president are in Historic Hyde Park, N.Y. The site’s attractions also include Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s retreat. Completed in 1941 in a spectacular Hudson River setting, the library houses a study where FDR used to work.
Don’t miss: FDR’s 1936 Ford Phaeton, with hand controls, since he was paralyzed by polio. “He was disabled,” said the museum spokesman, Clifford Laube, “but he didn’t let it slow him down.”
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Fittingly for a West Point graduate, the house and farm where Dwight D. Eisenhower used to raise Angus cows are near the Gettysburg Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa. There’s a pad for the presidential helicopter and a putting green for presidential golf. “On the back porch, he used to play cards a lot overlooking the fields,” recounted Shirley Anne Warshaw, professor of political science at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and editor of Reexamining the Eisenhower Presidency. “He was a painter, and the home is full of his paintings.”
Don’t miss: Gifts from visiting world leaders, including a silk carpet from the Shah of Iran and porcelain birds from Queen Elizabeth II of England.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Designed by I.M. Pei and overlooking the Boston waterfront at Columbia Point, “it’s the most beautiful” of the presidential libraries, Warshaw said. The tug of boomer nostalgia is also strong.
The Kennedy library inspires “a poignancy that leaves one with a respect for what he accomplished,” said Sabato, “as well as a nagging sadness for what was tragically left undone.”
Don’t miss: The Cuban Missile Crisis displays “do a solid job of explaining how the nation narrowly avoided the miscalculations that would have ended civilization,” asserted Sabato.