Our family visited the train museum just before it closed (November 19, 2012) to revamp the displays and again after it reopened (July 12, 2013). This review will compare the exhibits, note pertinent information, and give a summary of our experiences during the two visits.
The exterior of the building the museum is housed in was designed to resemble the Gettysburg Train Station head house that President Lincoln arrived at on November 18, 1863 (the original station is renovated & now open to the public as a visitor’s center in downtown Gettysburg).
On our family’s first visit to the Lincoln Train Museum, I overheard other visitors comment that they were disappointed that the museum did not contain the actual Lincoln Presidential railcar instead of a simulated train ride on a car decorated to resemble it. I am not sure how they got this misconception, as the staff is quick to note that the original Presidential Railcar was consumed by fire in 1911 out west and the museum information stated a simulated train ride. However, despite Lincoln never stepping foot in this building or being in the railcar this museum is charming and has something enjoyable for all ages!
If you have been to the museum prior to the renovations, after you entered the turn-style gate from the gift shop you found yourself in a long hallway with carved pictorial displays indicating how trains played an important role in the development of the USA and other facts of interest. It was informational but had a lot of reading. As a homeschooling parent I insisted we read our way through the displays before proceeding into the large main room. On our second visit my eldest daughter (10 yrs. old) groaned as she pleaded with me not to make us read all the displays as we entered the turn-style. She was quickly drawn into the presentation of information as it is now a series of videos on various screens activated as you proceed down the hall. In the videos Jim Getty portrays Lincoln as he greets you and narrates the story. At the end of the hall my daughter declared, “That was really interesting!”
The main room of the museum still contains more model trains and train related items then we would even want to count but we found ourselves drawn into looking more closely at them than on our first visit as we hunted for the answers to the scavenger hunt sheet now given out. The scavenger hunt also leads us to take a closer look at the other memorabilia of various things in USA history in the museum. My 10 year old really got into this, especially counting train bells. While she was busy with the challenge of tracking down the answers to the hunt my 3 year old was happily playing with the toy trains set out for children to touch and explore, and watching the gigantic multi-train miniature working train display (both girls spent considerable time with this display and it was a highlight for them).
There is another video presentation that was also very interesting and highly informative that alternated with the running of a miniature working model of the Lincoln Funeral Train. This video has so much packed into it (and the girls like watching the train so much) that we watched it 2 times each visit! (This was one exhibit that was already done prior to closing for the season between our visits).
The simulated train ride on our first visit had Lincoln portrayed by an actor and also narrated what Lincoln might have thought on his journey to give the Gettysburg Address. The view was as if you were looking out the front of the train and seeing the turns and hills as the railcar sways to the view. My (then) 2 year old loved this and insisted we ride it multiple times. The quality of the video before renovation was not very good, thus making the simulation very outdated. The simulated ride remade as the Lincoln Funeral Train made huge leaps in presentation quality with the new video. My (now) 3 year old was slightly disappointed with the loss of amusement park feel of the ride but still enjoyed it enough to want to ride it multiple times anyway. Though my children did not seem to notice or mind, the thought did cross my mind that it was slightly creepy to have Lincoln standing at the front of the railcar, life size, in the video narrating the simulation while in the railcar is a model of his coffin (as if his body was being transported home to Illinois on the Funeral Train). Despite this oddity, the new simulation video is well done. It leads the viewer through many of changes and challenged the USA and her citizens have endured from the Civil War to present and implores us to keep making this county great. There are a lot of clips from around the country and from our country’s history that keep it engaging.
After one of our multiple rides on the Funeral Train, another visitor sighed at the end of the video and said to the person with her, “That was really good.” That positive comment really heightened my awareness of how everyone in the museum seemed to be enjoying their visit in contrast to the disgruntled comment I heard on the first visit. We enjoyed both visits but the second was by far the better of the two.
I also found the staff to be helpful and polite, willing to find the answers to question if they were not sure of the answers. I must also note that our admission for the second visit was waived for my willingness to write this review, though I was asked to be very honest even with negative comments. I hereby declare this review is my complete & honest opinion for both my positive and negative opinions.
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