Guest Commentary
Film Festival brings notoriety to Abraham Lincoln's namesake town
By Ron Keller, Lincoln College


"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.”  

       - commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln

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[October 17, 2016]   LINCOLN - This past weekend the Lincoln Grand 8 Theater hosted its first ever (and hopefully first annual) Lincoln Film Festival, complete with a splendid showcase of Disney films, independent movies, and a Friday evening showing of the Steven Spielberg feature Lincoln.

Presenting Lincoln in the namesake town of Lincoln, Illinois is a natural of course. Aside from the captivating portrayal from Daniel Day-Lewis, that 2012 motion picture is a wonderfully told accounting of Lincoln’s final months as president, a tale of how he wielded the political avenues of his executive authority to achieve the noble goal of ending slavery. It is a powerful reminder of the awesome challenges and opportunities that come with the mantle of leadership.

Watching that movie, one cannot but be struck with inspiration that this same leader who took such breathtaking strides towards civil rights in 1865 was the same lanky lawyer and legislator who regularly scurried through the downtown streets of our city of Lincoln, and who sauntered along the dusty roads of our own Logan County in the 1840s and 1850s.

Though older, war-worn, and much wiser in 1865, if one looks hard enough at a photograph of the face of President Lincoln in 1865, or a movie still from Spielberg’s Lincoln, the humble railsplitter and the common man of the frontier people is still visible. By the time he lived in the White House, Lincoln had outgrown his youth, but never outgrew the strength of character and the quantity of humility that the people of Logan County witnessed before Lincoln occupied the Executive Mansion.

Though one often takes for granted what is in our own “backyards,” those associated with tourism in this city have heard the same comments numerous times from visitors who come here from afar. They tell us: “You are fortunate to be living in an area so rich with Abraham Lincoln history.” They are correct.

It is somewhat marvelous that visitors from all over the world come here to our county specifically to take in our Abraham Lincoln history and travel on our Route 66. In many ways we do live in an area which represents what is truly spectacular and greatly respected about America.

Indeed, take a trip to any one of these locations in Logan County, and you will encounter stories every bit as fascinating as that of the movie Lincoln.

  • To the peak of Elkhart Hill where Lincoln traversed Edward’s Trace on a borrowed horse
  • To the Stagecoach Inn at Middletown, where Lincoln socialized with the earliest settlers of Logan County
  • To the courthouses at Postville and in Mount Pulaski where Lincoln argued the finer points of law
  • To the christening site in Lincoln where it all began for the city of Lincoln
  • To Atlanta where ardent supporters held Wide-Awakes parades in his honor
  • To University Hall at the only college named for him in his lifetime.

These are just some of the physical, tangible reminders of what Lincoln did for our county, long before what he did for our country.

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If not for what happened here in our own backyard decades prior to the presidency, what we see unfolded in the movie Lincoln never would have happened at all. In other words, the fate of history and the fate of mankind developed here in Lincoln and Logan County.

The residents of this area were among the first to recognize the rising potential of frontier lawyer.

We returned the favor of what Lincoln gave to us. Through four terms in the state legislature, one congressional tenure, a senatorial run, and two elections as president, Logan County never failed to provide Abraham Lincoln with a solid victory at the polls. Indeed very few counties anywhere gave such solid support as Logan County did. And Mr. Lincoln acknowledged that.

While Abraham Lincoln’s farewell speech to the citizens of Springfield in February 1861 is more famous, he likewise made it a point to deliver an equally fond farewell from the back of the train here in his namesake city of Lincoln, telling the citizens gathered at the train depot downtown, “Thank you for the many kindnesses you have always manifested towards me.”

It is certain that at the onset of his presidency, many nationwide harbored reservations about Lincoln’s ability to hold a fragile country together. But not Logan County. This county felt pride that the father of their county, the father of their namesake city, and now their favorite son, was now the leader of the country.

We here, the inheritors of that legacy of Lincoln, have the opportunity and responsibility to be stewards of those physical places in our own backyard. They have been handed down to us to maintain that honored legacy, to preserve and cherish it for future generations, and to share its importance with our children and visitors.

Abraham Lincoln was proud to be associated with this area. May we feel a similar pride that we reside in this namesake city, may we be inspired by our heritage, and may we live out lives of character in the example of Abraham Lincoln.

[Ron J. Keller is associate professor of history and political science at Lincoln College, and managing director of the Abraham Lincoln Center for Character Development, which is housed at the Lincoln Heritage Museum.]

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