Dear Mayor Davis-Kavelman, Professor Keller and other commission
Recently I urged the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial
Commission of Lincoln, Ill., to erect a marker to commemorate Abe's
rally and speech of Oct. 16, 1858, in his first namesake town the
day after the last Lincoln-Douglas debate in Alton. This marker
would be in addition to the impressive kiosk planned by Wanda Lee
Rohlfs of Main Street Lincoln. I have another suggestion for the
commission that directly relates to the rally and speech, which, I
understand, are also the subject of a proposed painting. My
suggestion, combined with the painting, kiosk and marker, would
create a unified set of highlights for the first Lincoln namesake
town's celebration of Abe's bicentennial birth year of 2009.
I make the following proposal because I have read accounts of the
planning to date that indicate the need for something that would
motivate more public interest and participation in the celebration.
Specifically, Paul Gleason has said, "Wage-earners do not feel like
they're a part of the celebration." Alice Petrol seeks to "involve
the youth, who need to be made aware of our wonderful heritage in
the community." Others have expressed the desire to make the
celebration a cooperative, countywide effort.
My suggestion would do all of these things, affording an
opportunity for citizens young and old throughout the county to
participate. This proposal is in the spirit of Lincoln and Logan
County's founding father of heritage tourism, Les Sheridan. His
promotional projects were both visionary and doable (yes, "doable"
is a word and a good one).
The suggestion is to create a dramatic re-enactment (moving
pageant) of Abe's 1858 political rally and speech in his first
namesake town. This rally with Abe's speech was a major political
event attended by thousands from throughout central Illinois --
truly a "monster" rally, as an event of this magnitude was then
called. Most of this pageant cast would be locals dressed in period
costume to portray dignitaries and ordinary citizens. Perhaps the
Lincoln Community Theatre would be willing to help. A professional
Lincoln impersonator would be required if there is not someone local
who could take that role.
This dramatization would be based on facts in the published
accounts of the rally and speech. There is no known copy of Abe's
speech, but a researcher-writer with knowledge of Abraham Lincoln,
local history and playwriting could create an effective script.
Abe's rally attracted groups of supporters from communities
throughout Logan County. These groups paraded in town, chanting
their support for a politician who had become well-known and
well-liked in all of these places. The re-enactment would thus give
such communities as Atlanta, Broadwell, Elkhart, Lincoln, Middletown
and Mount Pulaski the opportunity to participate in an unprecedented
celebration of the Great Man. As Abe arrived by train from
Springfield, he was met by these enthusiastic supporters, a brass
band and a cannon blast.
Lincoln's speech would summarize his main points in the great
debates and would feature interaction with the audience. This
give-and-take was typical of 19th-century American political
campaigns. Accordingly, the pageant would have both serious and
comic elements and would vividly bring history to life. Probably the
best resource for these purposes is Harold Holzer's "The
[to top of second column in this letter]
This "monster" pageant would be a great challenge, but the town
whose fine civic spirit produced the extravaganzas of its 1953
centennial celebration and its 2003 sesquicentennial celebration (I
witnessed both) is surely capable of taking this suggestion and
running with it. Cities throughout Illinois will be vigorously
competing to attract tourists during the Lincoln bicentennial birth
year celebration. As original, historical street theater, this
pageant would give Lincoln and Logan County a distinct advantage in
this competition, and the pageant could be performed more than once.
This pageant could be presented during Heritage Days 2009 or as a
separate event early that October.
The pageant would excite and unite the town and county in a
common public affairs purpose. This re-enactment
spectacle could attract many from near and far who would be
entertained, educated and inspired to take more interest in history
and the Lincoln legacy. The Illinois Abraham Lincoln
Bicentennial Commission may have more grant money in 2008 that could
be sought specifically for this pageant. The pageant would bring
national and international media attention as well as a lot of
tourist dollars. DVDs could be made and used later as part of the
area's marketing arsenal.
The first Lincoln namesake town's Bicentennial Commission motto
is "Lincoln, Illinois -- the first city to live the legacy." A
central theme of Abe's legacy is striving tirelessly for public
service. What better way for Lincoln and Logan County to celebrate
the Lincoln legacy of public service than a pageant that would
demonstrate extensive civic engagement and stimulate interest in the
American political tradition?
Honoring Abe's legacy in this way would exemplify the mission of
the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which
"encourages every community and citizen to become involved.
Communities are encouraged to learn about their Lincoln stories and
explore ways to relate their Lincoln heritage in public events and
commemorative activities." Also, this pageant would distinguish
the Lincoln-Logan County area as one of the most dedicated places in
the nation to pay tribute to the Abraham Lincoln heritage in his
And quite simply, this pageant would be a rompin', stompin' good
time for all.
Pageant title: "Abe Rallies Logan County, Illinois"
A more detailed version of this proposal is available online in
my Lincoln community history Web site. That version describes some
of the scenes I propose for the rally re-enactment. Look for it at
Darold Leigh Henson, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of English
Missouri State University
December 06, 2007]
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