Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Okay, people, it’s almost here …

Since the turn of the century, if not before, a very loyal and devoted group of people have been working hard, dreaming big and preparing to pull off the biggest birthday party in the past hundred years. Why? Because they share a passion for keeping the legacy of the greatest American President alive and showing what can be learned from the life Abraham Lincoln lived.

These people are many – some famous, some not. They’re Congressmen, Senators, authors, professors, teachers, judges, collectors, photographers, bookstore owners, lawyers, librarians, archivists, and more – even Presidents of the United States.

They're from New England, New Salem, the West Coast, the North, the South, and everyplace in between. Some of them even live in other lands. Yet in many ways – some huge, some not so big – they’ve joined together to plan, promote and pull off the biggest birthday party this country has ever seen.

Some of the honoring has taken years to come together – books about Lincoln that range from a couple hundred to more than 2,000 pages, films and plays and compact discs. Some of the groundwork was laid way back in the 1800s when people had the foresight to write of and pass down stories about Lincoln. The story has been told in new media and found in faded newspapers and crumbling letters. It’s been kept alive by teachers for a century and a half and presented by tall slender men – bearded and not – who call themselves A. Lincoln.

In some places, the celebration began a year ago – on Feb. 12, 2008. In others, it’s just beginning. Some places it’s as simple as a proclamation by the mayor or school children reciting the Gettysburg Address. Other places, it’s quite and dignified, scholarly and contemplative, a gathering of like minds for a colloquium or symposium. In the places where Lincoln lived or worked or served, the celebrations are larger, longer and the crowds will be bigger.

This birthday thing got a whole lot more attention two years ago when another Illinoisan announced his candidacy just a few hundred feet from the window of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, just outside the room where Lincoln gave his “House Divided” speech. The connections grew – in Barack Obama’s campaign, in the press and in the minds of the American people and the world – and the Lincoln legacy grew even greater.

Has all the hard work paid off? Just look around you. Read your paper, watch the news, check out the billboards in Central Illinois. I’ll bet you’re hearing Lincoln’s name a lot more now than you did in the past. Wonder why?

Is it because of President Obama calling on the greater angel of Lincoln? To a certain extent, of course. Is it because so many people have been promoting him? Absolutely. But most of all, I like to think people know that the lessons we can learn from Lincoln do still matter today.

His birthday is drawing nearer by the minute. To learn just how near, see the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s countdown. How are you going to celebrate? You can watch a Lincoln documentary, read a book about Lincoln, or attend a Lincoln celebration in your community.

But watch out, the Lincoln bug bites hard. Once you get the itch, you may just have to keep digging to learn as much as you can. I know. It bit me and you don’t hear me calling for calamine lotion or using insect repellant. This bug of Lincoln scholarship is pretty cool and I won’t be swatting it away anytime soon.

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