Sunday, January 25, 2009

Look no further – Lincoln in Illinois

What Illinois community do you think of when you think about Abraham Lincoln? New Salem, maybe, or Springfield?

He certainly lived and worked in both, but more than 42 counties throughout Illinois can claim a connection to Lincoln. The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition works with those communities to keep his legacy alive.

Looking for Lincoln was founded nine years ago, and those of us who live or work in places such as Bloomington or Galesburg have seen the Looking for Lincoln logo and signs around town.

National recognition and funding
The coalition got a big boost earlier this year, though, when the National Heritage Area was signed into law. The legislation was originally authored by Senator Dick Durbin and former Congressman, now Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The law authorizes Congress to appropriate up to $1 million a year for 15 years to support the preservation and interpretation of the historic and cultural heritage of Lincoln’s time. The Heritage Area will explore and develop these in the context of Lincoln’s life and its impact on the American cultural landscape. Projects using federal funding in the Heritage Area must be matched by local, state, private, in-kind or foundation funding.

When the Heritage area legislation was signed, Looking for Lincoln Director Hal Smith said, “The Heritage Area designation will help us more fully develop and interpret a rich and vivid visitor experience that reflects the impact Lincoln had on our history and culture. Our mission will be to create and market a visitor experience that is interesting, historic and fun for travelers from across America and around the world.”

The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area is the only heritage area in America named for a U.S. President.

Wayside exhibits
One way the coalition is creating that visitor experince is in partnering with communities to develop wayside exhibits which feature unique stories about Lincoln in each area. I had the opportunity this fall to attend the dedication of the wayside exhibit at the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington. The dedication truly was a moving experience.

By next summer, the coalition plans to have 220 exhibits at place in 47 communities throughout the state.

Looking for Lincoln History Hunt
Are you planning a family vacation to Lincoln site in Illinois? If so, the Looking for Lincoln History Hunt, available on the coalition’s website, is a great way to pique youngster’s curiosity and interest. Check it out.

Essay/art contest
In celebration of the bicentennial, Looking for Lincoln is also co-sponsoring a really cool Lincoln Hero essay and artwork contest. You can learn about the contest online, but I do want to share more later. This news is too neat to get buried at the end of a column, so I’ll give the contest its very own article soon.

Learn more about Looking for Lincoln
To learn more about Looking for Lincoln and for particulars on communities with Lincoln connections, visit the coalition’s website. They also keep an events calendar, so there’s one more place for you to learn where you, too, can live and breathe the rich Lincoln legacy here in Illinois. Be sure to check out the downloadable visitor's guide.

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