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Putting Lincoln and Logan County on the Abe 200th Birth Year Party Map

(Abbreviated letter)

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Dear Mayor Davis-Kavelman, Professor Keller and other commission members:

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 Lincoln-Douglas Debates."

[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 birth year.

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 http://www.geocities.com/


Darold Leigh Henson, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of English
Missouri State University
dlhenson@missouristate.edu http://english.missouristate.edu/faculty/henson.htm 

[Posted December 06, 2007]

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(Longer, previously posted version of letter)

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