Monday, March 30, 2009

More on the 29th Annual Illinois History Symposium

Last week, I attended the Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois: 1831-1860.” In an earlier blog post, I shared my report of the first day’s events. Now, I’ll move on to tell you about some of the ones I made it to on Friday, March 27, 2009.

The day started with rain, which convinced me I’d rather use my time to blog about Thursday’s events than take the walking tour of the Illinois College (IC) campus. Don’t get me wrong – Illinois College has a beautiful campus, with a nice mix of buildings of many different ages and architectural types, from Beecher Hall, where the first college class in Illinois was held, to the state of the art Bruner Center, with its indoor track and athletic facilities. I just decided to do otherwise.

So I got my cardio-strength workout as a guest at a local fitness center, went back to the room to get ready for the day and blogged. My first session was at 10 a.m., this time in a book-lined room on the second (and top) floor of Beecher Hall, a room we were assured the students had “cleaned up” for us.

I think it took most of us boomers and older back in time, with its well-worn 1960-something Early American couches and rich old wooden armchairs - on wheels. It seemed fitting that when Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame arrived, he settled into one of the couches. My guess is that it’s not the first such room this retired professor has occupied, nor the first piece of sagging furniture which has molded itself around him.

Lecture topics hold surprises
The first paper was presented by Joe Ashbrook, a Mt. Vernon (Ill.) native and independent scholar who retired from teaching in the same schools he once attended. Ashbrook’s paper about Abraham Lincoln in Jefferson County disclosed new information about a Jefferson County trial in which Lincoln represented the Illinois Central Railroad. He seemed to leave no stone unturned in his research and may very well have proven that this trial was one of Lincoln’s most important, if not the most important.

Because I hope to someday do further work on Lincoln and the railroads myself, I found this talk and his revelation of particular interest. I just wish I had the time to dig in now and start the Lincoln work I long to someday do.

The second paper of the day was presented by my fellow Bloomington (Ill.) Lincoln buff, Guy Fraker. Fraker’s paper was on Abraham Lincoln in Edgar County. Guy is the guy on Lincoln and the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and I can’t wait until his book on the topic comes out. On Friday, though, his talk took us somewhere I hadn’t yet been - to Paris (Illinois, that is). As usual, Fraker educated and entertained. Even though we were all looking forward to our luncheon program speaker, Burlingame, we hated to see the session with Ashbrook and Fraker end.

This session was moderated by Bill Kemp of the McLean County Museum of History, with commentary by James Cornelius, Lincoln Curator of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM). I saw a new side of both of these men – and I liked it.

I’ve been around Bill Kemp some, but not enough. He had just accepted the job as the archivist about the time I stopped volunteering in the museum library to attend to more pressing family obligations. I learned Friday that Kemp is a very engaging speaker himself – and interjects just the right amount of humor. I’m looking forward to getting to know him better, as I begin my Lincoln-related research in earnest late next year. I know the museum will be an invaluable repository of information I’ll need.

I met James Cornelius during bicentennial week – surely the most important time for him since he began working at the museum in 2007. He was busy most of the time – and working hard to make sure the events at the ALPLM went smoothly. Nonetheless, he never flinched.

Watching him prepare his commentary and hearing him deliver it was a real treat. I couldn’t help but wonder if Cornelius had ever been a Toastmaster. If not, he ought to join. I think he could win the evaluation contest hands down. He nailed it on Friday!

Burlingame and more when we return
I’ll be back some other days with more on the remaining symposium events, including:
  • Michael Burlingame’s luncheon talk
  • Poetry readings with Dan Guillory and Martha Vertreace-Doody
  • My absent-minded moment
  • Harold Holzer and Richard Dreyfuss in “Lincoln Seen and Heard,” preceded by some phenomenal Illinois College musical talent
  • A breakfast talk by Mark E. Steiner on the Lincoln lawyer theme
  • Papers presented by Samuel Wheeler and Raymond Lohne
  • An invaluable session about writing for the Illinois State Historical Society Journal
  • Papers on Lincoln and the “Blue Mass” (mercury) remedy and on traveling salesmen in Illinois
  • A visit to Woodlawn Farm, a stop on the Underground Railroad

Watch for more on these topics and on some of the interesting people I met this week as I have time to share.

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