More Historically Accurate: Lincoln or Vampire Hunter?Posted on April 15, 2013
By: Matt Guilfoyle
AOC Public Affairs Officer Matt Guilfoyle watches "Lincoln" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"-- and is surprised by which film more accurately depicts the U.S. Capitol.
Instead of going to the movies, I am one of those people who "wait to see it on-demand" and recently had the opportunity to catch up on two of last year's releases featuring our 16th president -- "Lincoln" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." Since I work at the U.S. Capitol Building I’m always interested in seeing how movies like these portray life at the building during the Civil War era.
The movie "Lincoln" directed by Steven Spielberg tackles the serious and historically important subject of President Abraham Lincoln’s final months. The film centers on his work to win a two-thirds majority vote of the House of Representatives on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery in the United States.
Given its serious subject, and serious actors, I expected the film to accurately portray the Capitol in this period. Unfortunately, as historian and author Harold Holzer wrote in The Daily Beast last November, "To be sure, there is no shortage of small historical bloopers in the movie."
One of these "bloopers" is the inaccurate representation of the Capitol Building and the House of Representatives Chamber. For an unknown reason, in a number of scenes, the film portrays the Capitol Dome as green – something that never occurred (maybe the film makers modeled it off the California State Capitol?). In addition, the House Chamber is an important setting for the film's focus and it too is inaccurate – such as the inclusion of large windows in the chamber (in 1857 the House had moved into the windowless chamber it uses today).
Holzer argues that in the end these errors don't matter and that the story is more important than the details. That Hollywood would take "artistic license" is not surprising – what is surprising is the film that got these same details correct.
With a film entitled, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," you might suspect that quite a few liberties with historical accuracy are taken. And this is true (as far as I know Jefferson Davis did not collude with vampires to win the Battle of Gettysburg). However, the film’s depiction of the U.S. Capitol and the House Chamber – is almost perfectly accurate.
"Vampire Hunter" includes Lincoln's first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, in front of the Dome under construction – a near perfect representation of the famous photo commissioned by Montgomery Meigs (pictured above). In addition the House Chamber shown in “Vampire Hunter” also correctly portrays it, as it would have looked in the early 1860s – similar to this 1865 photo.
Working at the Architect of the Capitol, an agency committed to the preservation of the Capitol and its history, caused me to watch these films from a unique perspective – and in this case I have to commend the filmmakers of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" for their attention to detail – I just wouldn’t base my history homework on it.