Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gov’s cuts rain on Lincoln’s birthday parade

I hadn’t blogged about the historic site closings in Illinois. I really try to be an optimist and, deep inside, I truly hoped they wouldn’t close. For those of you outside of Illinois, here’s the skinny of it. The State of Illinois is in a horrible budget crunch. One of the ways Governor Blagojevich wants to fix it is by closing several state parks and many historic sites, and reducing hours at others.

This would be a tragedy under any conditions. Many of these sites will no longer be available for visitors, or at reduced hours, and dedicated site employees will lose their jobs. Many of the small communities where these institutions are located depend on tourist revenue for survival. And on top of all this, the closings are especially tragic in light of the upcoming bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Lincoln sites closing
Three of the sites slated to close after November 30 are the Lincoln Log Cabin near Charleston, the Vandalia statehouse, where Lincoln served as a legislator, and the Carl Sandburg Birthplace in Galesburg. The David Davis Mansion in Bloomington was also on the budget chopping block, but thanks to a successful fundraising effort by the mansion’s foundation, private funds raised will keep the mansion open – at least until his birthday. I currently live in the Bloomington area and I’m always proud of our people. They come through – whether it’s a flood or hurricane relief drive, a food pantry effort, a Habitat home raising or maintaining the legacy of the man who helped Lincoln win the Republican bid for the presidency.

Why is Bloomington different, you wonder? Like many communities, we’ve got dedicated volunteers, caring individuals, supportive institutions. Unlike Galesburg, for instance, we still have a financially healthy community. People here are blessed and they share those blessings. Fortunately, the survival of the David Davis Mansion is on the receiving end of this sharing.

Huge hearts – empty wallets
I can’t speak for Vandalia and Charleston, as I’m not familiar with those communities, but I can speak for my hometown for more than 30 years, Galesburg. The hearts of the people of Galesburg are just as huge and the loyal contingent of Lincoln/Sandburg supporters would like nothing more than to see the birthplace remain open. Unfortunately, the money just isn’t there. The Galesburg community is as unhealthy financially as the Bloomington area is healthy. In the past decade, Sandburg’s hometown lost all major manufacturing, the lifeblood of the city and the surrounding area. As a ripple effect, many other businesses have also closed their doors, including the grocery store where, until moving away in 1997, this blogger worked and built cherished relationships for almost half of her adult life.

As the plan stands now, visitors to Illinois in 2009 who hope to see the sites which helped mold the sixteenth president and inspire the son of Swedish immigrants to write about him will miss their chance. The future of these sites looks dismal, especially for the upcoming February bicentennial.

One last hope
At this point in time, until we have an Illinois administration which cares as much as we do about keeping the legacy of Lincoln alive, I see only one hope – outside philanthropists. Maybe, just maybe, there are people out there who love Lincoln so much that they would come forth to these historic site associations or foundations and offer them the funds to keep the sites open. For the Galesburg site, the magic number is $7,833 per month, roughly $94,000 per year. I’m sure Illinois Historic Preservation Agency spokesman David Blanchette would be glad to provide similar numbers for the other sites and put you in touch with individuals at each site who spearhead the foundation or association efforts.

To borrow one of the eloquent speaker Lincoln’s many well crafted phrases, the “last best hope” for the future of these sites lies in the hands of those who love Lincoln and have the wherewithal to keep his legacy alive. Bob Lenz and his fellow Lincoln lovers in the Bloomington area have shown us it can be done and Blanchette has offered to listen to similar offers from other sites. Now, all we need is people who can make it happen. Are you one of them?

For more information

Here are several sources for more information on the closings:

  • Article on the closings by David Mercer as it appeared in today’s Galesburg Register-Mail
  • Pantagraph story by Sharon Wolfe and Kurt Erickson telling how the David Davis Mansion Foundation efforts are keeping the historic site open
  • John Pulliam’s earlier Register-Mail story about the dismal outlook without funding for the Sandburg site
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