At the entrance to the Towson Library, visitors encounter a life-size photograph of Abraham Lincoln - familiar with his towering height and black attire, but unusual because he is clean-shaven and his eyes are stark blue.
The photo is the first of many in a multipanel exhibit that focuses on the 16th president and his struggles with slavery and the Civil War.
The library opened the traveling exhibit, "Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation," Thursday, and the staff has put together books, documentaries and Lincoln memorabilia to accompany it - including a collection of Civil War-era artifacts on loan from the Baltimore County Historical Society and a trunk borrowed from the Gettysburg National Military Park and filled with relics of 19th-century military life.
"Forever Free," which has traveled the nation for several years, is making its first appearance (and the only one this year) in Maryland at the library on York Road.
Organized by the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City, the display will have visited 63 places, including libraries, universities and historic sites, by the end of 2010. "The more you learn about Lincoln, the more complex you realize his life was," said Jennifer Haire, Towson branch manager. "This exhibit tries to show the real Lincoln and his motivations. There are controversial topics surrounding this, but it is also fascinating and fun. It makes you ask who else could have accomplished what he did."
The library has organized several lectures and family programs, including a period dance troupe, to coincide with the exhibit, which runs through March 5, and Friends of the Towson Library is sponsoring an essay contest for students.
"We want this exhibit to come alive, especially for children," said Mercedes G. Mendoza, librarian. "There is great interest in this era. People are still re-enacting much of it."
Compelling quotes from the president, who led a divided country through a civil war and abolished slavery, are placed prominently throughout the 75-foot-wide display.
The events that led to the Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation and words from the document take prominence throughout the exhibit.
"I think people will be startled by the strength of Lincoln's words," said Robert W. Hughes, library spokesman. "He got the most out of the fewest words at a time when long speeches, hours of oratory, made politicians more electable."
Many lines penned by Lincoln reveal his struggles to preserve the Union and abolish slavery.
"We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued," he said in 1862.
Information: 410-887-6166 or www.bcpl.info.