Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lincoln Bicentennial week – the rest of the story

Who would have thought that chronicling a week of Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial activities would take a week and a half? Living them was easy, recovering from them was a bit more difficult and writing about them has taken more time than I’d expected. There is so much to share.

Over the past few days, I’ve shared highlights of all the activities I attended in Springfield through Friday afternoon, Feb. 13. Now, let’s travel back to Bloomington for the one McLean County Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission event I was able to attend, then return to Springfield to cap off the week.

Lincoln’s in Town
Friday night was the premiere of the play, Lincoln’s in Town, written by Illinois history and literature guru Robert Bray of Illinois Wesleyan University and McLean County playwright and writer, Nancy Steele Brokaw. I expected nothing but historical accuracy from Bray and he certainly delivered. From Brokaw, I expected the same mystical magic we see in the Holiday Spectacular each year – a story seen through the eyes of a child, but captured with the insight of a sage. Brokaw nailed it.

Lest the play be performed again sometime in the future (and I hope it is), I won’t spoil the plot. Let it suffice to say that a little boy and his grandpa recollect a plethora of stories about Lincoln and his time in McLean County. They leave no significant stone unturned nor crucial character out of the script.

The play was well worth the trip back to Bloomington and a fitting end to the adult portion of my Lincoln vacation. The script was entertaining and educational, the venue pleasant and the acting top-notch. What more can I say - other than that it also gave me some much-needed quiet time to relax, reflect and recharge for my final bicentennial trip to Springfield the following day.

Take two
I left my home early on Saturday morning to get my favorite side street parking place near Lincoln’s Home. My grandchildren and I got there a half-hour before the performance of "Emancipation Proclamation: From Slavery to the White House." I think the kids were as mesmerized by the production as I had been the day before. I’m not sure the younger ones understood the issues Lincoln, Douglass, Tubman and King discussed, but it was evident the trouble in Douglass’s voice and the power in King’s speech left an impression on them. The teenager told me he understood the concerns at stake, and the young ones agree they’ll always remember the day. The littlest particularly enjoyed horsing around afterward with Frederick Douglass (my friend Michael Crutcher), who stepped out of the stern abolitionist role for a moment and into the playful role of an uncle or grandpa.

Mr. Lincoln slept here
From the production, we found a sandwich shop within walking distance of the Lincoln’s Home area, grabbed a quick lunch and headed back to try to take in a Lincoln's Home tour before the afternoon concert. We were in luck. The kids enjoyed their first visit to the home where Lincoln wrestled and played with his youngsters and were in awe knowing they’d walked through the same doors and walked upon the same floors as the great emancipator. But, as it is for most visitors to the home, the true novelty to my young brood was the three-hole outhouse out back – and the realization that was a long way out there at night in the middle of the winter.

Abraham Lincoln in Song
On the trip down I’d set the stage for my travelling companions by playing the CD of Chris Vallillo’s Abraham Lincoln in Song. Once again, we made sure to be there in plenty of time to get seats front and center, and it was as if we had our very own performance. Vallillo was joined by percussionist Rocky Maffit, who put on his own unique exhibition of rhythmical talent. I’ll share more about their performance another time, but will share now that I caught the teen the next day beating out the rhythm to one of the songs and the youngest can’t stop playing the CD and singing along at the top of his lungs. Vallillo and Maffit hit the mark with this gang.

What’s a souvenir?
Souvenir means many things to many people, and there’s a smart man in a little souvenir shop in Lincoln’s neighborhood who knows just that. On Friday afternoon, I ventured into Mr. Lincoln’s Souvenir and Gift Shop, just for a look see, so I could savor the flavor of the place and write about it for a future column. I still want to do that.

For now, however, let me share that this spotless basement shop where my grandkids and I returned to end our Lincoln Bicentennial adventure was the perfect end to an even more perfect week. The shop has a little something for everyone – some of the cheesy little things you’d expect to find in a “souvenir” shop and some really classy pieces you wouldn’t be afraid to display on the mantle in your front parlor. Each of the children found something unique to capture the magic of the day.

And, this grandma walked up the stairs with a precious Bicentennial souvenir of her own – the memory of time spent together spreading her enthusiasm about all things Lincoln to the generation who will pass this enthusiasm on to their own grandchildren. As she did, she hoped her grandchildren’s grandchildren would bring their own young grandchildren to Springfield for the tri-centennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Happy bicentennial, President Lincoln!

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