Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Illinois is throwing Lincoln a big bash

For some time now, I’ve wanted to tell you all about the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and all the cool things they’ve got on the agenda to make Lincoln’s birthday his best ever – right here in Illinois.

Lincoln lived here longest
After all, it was here that Lincoln lived from age 21 (1830) until he left on the train the day before his 52nd birthday (1861), headed for the White House. In the prairie state, he worked as a storekeeper, a postmaster, a surveyor, a lawyer, a politician.
Here, too, Lincoln grew from a storyteller into one of the most eloquent speakers of all time and from a self-taught lawyer to one who participated in some of the largest railroad cases of the day. If we’re to believe his partner Billy Herndon, it was also here the 16th president planned to return to practice law, had not John Wilkes Booth’s bullet put an end to Lincoln’s life and his partnership with Herndon.

Celebrating Lincoln no small task
With a life and legacy such as Lincoln’s to commemorate, the need for a commission to plan the celebration was a no-brainer and desire to do up right was there even before day one. This was our big chance to promote our favorite son and the places in Illinois with significance in his life.
Since its formation in 2006, the Illinois commission has been working hard to put on a big bash with a small budget, which grew even smaller in light of the state’s financial woes. And, they’re doing a bang up job!

Generosity, imagination, hard work
How, you might wonder, do you put on a once-in-a–century celebration in the midst of an ailing economy and a state budget crisis? One way the bicentennial commission did this was by seeking expertise and working together with groups who could help spread the good news. Through the ingenuity and generosity of a number of government and private entities, here are just some of the ways the commission is getting the word out about Lincoln and celebrating his legacy:
  • “The Lincoln Log” – a day-by-day newspaper piece with explains Lincoln’s daily activities, running in more than 60 papers across Illinois in 2008 and 2009
  • “The Voice of Lincoln” – a series of audio public service announcements on Illinois radio stations statewide – with Lincoln as the narrator
  • Billboards throughout the Midwest with Lincoln’s face and a Happy Birthday message
  • Links to the bicentennial website from other businesses and organizations
  • Speakers spreading the word to organizations
  • Cooperation between media outlets promoting Bicentennial in print, on the air and on the tube in January and February 2009
  • A National Geographic coffee table book, “Abraham Lincoln’s Extraordinary Era,” with much content provided by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM)
  • Traveling exhibits of reproduction artifacts from the $100 million Illinois Lincoln collection, thanks to funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities
  • Lincoln documentaries featuring Illinois Lincoln sites
  • A semi-truck size mobile exhibit, “Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America,” funded by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and the ALPLM

What’s up
So, when Illinois throws a party for its favorite son, how do we celebrate? How’s this for starters:

  • The Lincoln Academy of Illinois will present the State’s highest honor, The Order of Lincoln medal, to 30 people from around the world who have advanced the study and legacy of Abraham Lincoln on Saturday, Feb. 7.
  • “The Lincoln Project,” a series of paintings by Chicago artist Don Pollack, opens Sunday, Feb. 8 at the Presidential Museum.
  • The “Post-It Note Guy,” Chris Killham, will create a huge, Lincoln-related work of art in the windows of the land bridge that link the Presidential Library and Museum, beginning Feb. 8 and running several days.
  • The U.S. Postal Service and U.S. Postmaster General will roll out the first issuance of the four Lincoln Bicentennial postage stamps on Monday, Feb. 9 at the Old State Capitol.
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address to Springfield in early 1861 will be the focus of a dramatic presentation on Wednesday, Feb.11 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center, a performance for all ages and an activity for families.
  • A free “Birthday Bash” pops performance by the Illinois Symphony Orchestra that night with a Lincoln-themed concert is developed specifically for the Bicentennial and also family friendly.
  • Bells will ring hourly in the Union Station bell tower playing “Happy Birthday” on Lincoln’s bicentennial, Thursday, Feb. 12.
  • A 9:30 a.m. reading of the Gettysburg Address will originate from the Presidential Museum Plaza, with children throughout Illinois and the nation reading along wherever they are.
  • The annual Lincoln’s Birthday wreath laying at the Lincoln Tomb will be in the morning, with a flag retreat ceremony planned for the afternoon.
  • A special Postal Service cancellation for the new Lincoln Bicentennial stamps and commemorative envelopes will help commemorate Lincoln’s birthday.
  • New United States citizens will be naturalized that day at the Old State Capitol.
  • A free 1860s Period Ball at the Presidential Museum will be complete with birthday cake.
  • The Abraham Lincoln Association will hold their Lincoln’s Birthday Banquet (by ticket) at the Crowne Plaza Hotel., with President Barack Obama joining the celebration.*
  • Numerous lectures, living history events, book signings and more will keep visitors to Springfield hopping.
  • A plethora of other events throughout the state help Lincoln buffs celebrate the big day.
  • Oh, and did I think to say, we’re still hoping President Barack Obama can join us in Springfield for the big day. Keep watching this blog and your local media, in case he says “yes” to the big invite Springfield extended.*

Learn all about it
To learn all about Lincoln events in Springfield and throughout Illinois in the coming weeks and on Lincoln’s birthday, see the calendar of events on the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website.

Be sure to read the information about sending Lincoln a birthday card. Handmade greetings are preferred and there is no age restriction for senders.

Time is ticking away until the big day. To watch the countdown, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the commission’s home page.

Looking for Lincoln info coming soon
The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition has also shared exciting news about their work celebrating Lincoln in Illinois. I’ll share that with you in a future article.

Special thanks to Julie Cellini of the Illinois and U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commissions, who braved the first winter precipitation of the season and shared much of this information at a Dec. 3, 2008 Public Relations Society of America meeting in Springfield.

* Updated Feb. 2, 2009 - We learned today President Obama will be coming. What a special gift for President Lincoln's big day!

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