Monday, February 16, 2009

My Lincoln’s birthday adventure – Part Two

Okay, I’m back. I think my bicentennial week is catching up with me. I went non-stop from dawn to midnight nearly every day for a week. As one of my new Lincoln friends, who travelled much farther than I did, said, “I’m decompressing…”

I still need to tell you about the last two-and-a-half days of the bicentennial celebration, though, so I’d best get the fingers to begin again their keyboard dance.

When I ended my earlier blog post about the festivities of Friday, Feb. 12, 2009 – Lincoln’s 200th birthday – I’d just left the Abraham Lincoln Association Roundtable. So, let's continue the adventure.

Off to the Michael Burlingame luncheon

My next event was the Bicentennial Lunch at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel featuring Michael Burlingame as the speaker. I slipped out of the Roundtable a bit early so I would make sure to find the hotel on time. On the way over, I ran into John Allen of Lincoln Land Community College as he waited on a corner for some of his guests. Allen is involved with the Elderhostel, which has more Springfield Lincoln events on its agenda yet this year. The folks on this one seemed to be having a great time.

Once at the luncheon, I picked an empty table, hoping some interesting guests would join me. I wasn’t disappointed. The first to sit down were a couple from Virginia, who were thankful for the kindness of a Springfield resident. Due to high winds in Chicago that day, it appeared they weren’t going to make it down until late in the day, and would miss the lunch. With true Midwestern hospitality, however, they met someone from Springfield at the airport. He offered to drive them to the capital so they were able to join in the meal and hear Burlingame, too.

We were next joined by a couple from Chicago. It was no surprise that either of the couples were there, as one in each couple was, like Lincoln, an attorney. The next guests to join us were a woman across the table, who I didn’t get a chance to meet and one of the children’s authors, Bob Burleigh. I was excited to have the opportunity to visit with Burleigh and to hear more about his journey as a writer and his writing process. He’s a second career author, coming to children’s literature through an earlier career making educational filmstrips. His journey gives me hope that mine may someday lead to a book of my own.

Burleigh’s book, Abraham Lincoln Comes Home, illustrated by Wendell Minor, is about a boy and his father waiting for Lincoln’s funeral train to pass. I think Burleigh and one of my other Lincoln friends, Chris Vallillo, would have a lot in common, as Vallillo’s musical tribute, Abraham Lincoln in Song, includes a song titled, “Lincoln’s Funeral Train.”

Burlingame’s talk was great – easy for Lincoln buffs to follow, but with enough substance for the scholars in the bunch. He’s also got a pretty cool sense of humor, so it’s great fun to hear him talk.

Getting ready for the really big event

There were several scholarly events on Thursday afternoon, held various places and featuring multiple scholars at each one. I’d originally hoped to attend at least a couple, but with President Barack Obama coming, all that changed.

It was going to be a real challenge to get to the Crowne Plaza, find parking and get inside in time to help distribute tickets for the Abraham Lincoln Association’s Lincoln’s 200th Birthday Banquet, featuring the President and Michael Burlingame. So, I high-tailed it back to my hotel, changed into my banquet attire and headed to the Crowne Plaza. The parking lot was full, so the police officers directed me across the street. I was surely a funny sight trying to cross four lanes of traffic in an evening gown and high heels – and hoping I got across quickly enough to avoid being hit by a passing car or semi.

The wait begins

I was at the hotel by shortly after 2 p.m., but didn’t need to start helping pass out tickets until much later. The time flew, though, as I watched people come and go. An Illinois surveyors’ organization was about to end their convention in the hotel, as people were starting to arrive for the banquet. I thought it was pretty neat that another of Lincoln’s professions was represented in Springfield on his 200th birthday.

I won’t bore you with all the nitty gritty of taking care of last minute details in the banquet room or of ticket distribution or security rigmarole. Let it suffice to say that a Presidential visit is a big thing, and you’ve likely never seen so many law enforcement and Secret Service folks in your life. We were all glad to get past that and to make it to our tables, though I must say, greeting people and waiting on them in the ticket line reminded me how much I miss working with the public – either in a checklane or in a volunteer effort.

The really big deal
To me, the entire Bicentennial week was a dream come true, with one exciting experience after another. But, the banquet topped it all because:

  • Hearing “Hail to the Chief” and standing as the President of the United States enters the room is something you just can’t understand until you’ve lived it.

  • Getting to meet another tall good-looking Chicagoan, Stedman Graham, was an unexpected surprise.
  • Being just a few feet away as I reached for the President’s hand and being touched by a short gaze instead is a memory I’ll have forever - and a story my grandchildren can someday pass down to theirs.

Watch future articles for more about the banquet and the President’s visit. I’ve also still got to tell you about some really cool experiences I had on Friday and some Lincoln memories I made with my grandkids on Saturday. All I can say, over and over, is “Wow! What a week!”

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