Illinois will celebrate Lincoln's 200th birthday this week, but the
buildup to the big event has been overshadowed by even bigger events
-- the election of another president from Illinois and the removal
of the state's disgraced governor.
Budget problems mean Illinois had to pinch pennies and even close
some historic sites connected to the 16th president. To top it all
off, a key cheerleader for the bicentennial, the head of the Lincoln
presidential library, was fired over a shoplifting arrest.
Still, a visit to Springfield from President Barack Obama will help
put the spotlight back on Lincoln. And officials hope his Feb. 12
birthday will be the start of a yearlong celebration, rather than a
quickly forgotten one-day event.
"We're trying to do things that will keep this alive," said Tim
Farley, executive director of the Springfield Convention and
Visitors Bureau. "The birthday party is the kickoff of the
bicentennial. It is not the beginning and end of it."
The weeklong party is packed with events, from the cerebral to the
Scholars will debate fine points of Lincoln lore and hawk their
latest books. Actors will stage the play Lincoln was watching when
he was assassinated. A motorcycle buff will display the "Circuit
Rider," a Harley-Davidson customized in Lincoln's honor (including
replica shackles "representing the issue of slavery").
Organizers are even going for a new world record by having students
across Illinois -- and the world, for that matter -- simultaneously
recite the Gettysburg Address. Schools in Japan and Germany say
they'll take part in the effort to reach the magic number of 223,364
people simultaneously reading aloud.
Lincoln fans around the country have also been invited to send
birthday cards to Abe. Bicentennial organizers have gotten between
2,000 and 3,000 so far and are displaying them around the capital
Some are simple Hallmark-style cards that were sent to the president
who died 143 years ago. Others are scrawled drawings and notes from
children ("I love snowmen. Do you?"), or heartfelt letters from
adults. A few are humorous, including a top 10 list of other Lincoln
nicknames. No. 8: "Town Car."
The process of celebrating Lincoln's bicentennial has not gone
Last year, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich shut several Lincoln historic
sites to save money. The farm where Lincoln first lived after moving
to Illinois has been closed, and so has the former state capitol in
Vandalia, where Lincoln first served as a legislator. His law office
in Springfield is open only one day a week.
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Blagojevich also cut money for the bicentennial itself. While $8.7
million was originally approved for planning over the past two
years, Blagojevich cut that to just $3 million.
Without the money problems, Illinois "might have done things a
little bigger and grander," said the state's bicentennial
coordinator, Kay Smith. But the flood of birthday cards and the
sold-out events this week show the bicentennial is still generating
tremendous interest, she said.
And Obama's speech Thursday night at a Lincoln banquet can only
intensify that interest. "That just makes it all the more special,"
The celebration gets good reviews from Daniel Weinberg, a Lincoln
expert and owner of Chicago's Abraham Lincoln Book Shop.
"They have a gazillion things going on for the week," Weinberg said,
pointing particularly to musical events that include a performance
by a noted string trio and a concert of spirituals.
He also praised the idea of having children recite the Gettysburg
Address. They won't understand all of it, Weinberg said, but they
should be exposed early to ideas that helped change America amid the
"It's important for all of us to remember what Lincoln produced for
us -- a new definition of democracy and inclusion," Weinberg said.
On the Net:
Illinois Bicentennial Commission:
Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum:
Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau:
By CHRISTOPHER WILLS]
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