Lincoln Feted Across the Union

Two centuries after Abraham Lincoln's birth, everybody suddenly wants a piece of him.

He's the subject of an avalanche of new books. New Lincoln pennies are being minted. The U.S. Postal Service released four new Lincoln stamps. And it seems like every state is staking a claim — no matter how tenuous — on his legacy.

Libraries, orchestra halls and museums across the country are all hosting their own parties for today's big 2-0-0. Celebrations years in the making have been energized by President Barack Obama, a fellow Illinoisan who refers constantly to Lincoln in speeches and even borrowed his Bible to take the oath of office.

"When Obama talked so openly about Lincoln, his admiration for him, it brings Lincoln to life even more than he would have been otherwise," said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose own Lincoln book "Team of Rivals" got the kind of publicity authors dream of when Obama started putting together his own team of rivals, referring to Cabinet secretaries who once competed with him.

Delaware, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Hawaii are just a few of the states hosting bicentennial celebrations that stake their own unique claim to Lincoln — whether they were states at the time or not.

"More than any other state, Idaho is related to Abraham Lincoln," reads the first line of the state's bicentennial Web site, which explains that not only did Lincoln establish the Idaho Territory, he helped select the name "Idaho."

Further, it turns out Lincoln had "Idaho on his mind the day he was assassinated" — he had invited the territory's delegate to Congress to join him for a night at Ford's Theater.

That deep connection may surprise people in Kentucky, who will remind you that Lincoln was born there. They note that he had written a speech — never given — that included the words, "I, too, am a Kentuckian."

"It would have helped us out a lot," said Laura Coleman, marketing specialist with the Kentucky Historical Society. "It's a great quote and it would have been even better had he actually said it."

Kentucky will have its share of activities, starting with the presentation by the U.S. Mint of the redesigned penny — one of four — that reflects Lincoln's birth and early childhood in Kentucky.

Kentucky also will have a Family Fun Day in Frankfort that includes a visit from Clifford the Big Red Dog, who dons a stove pipe hat on one Web site.

And Hawaii? The state is putting on display a letter Lincoln wrote to King Kamehameha expressing condolences for the death of the Hawaiian monarch's brother.

But nowhere is Lincoln bigger than in the "Land of Lincoln" — Illinois.

From a host of events at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield to a reading of the Gettysburg Address by school children across the state, Illinois is determined not to be out-Lincolned.

The state's celebration got a big boost when Obama announced he would travel to Springfield on Thursday for a dinner honoring Lincoln. Sen. Dick Durbin, who hails from Springfield, invited Obama back to the city where the president launched his campaign.

In Washington, perhaps the two biggest events are the reopening of Ford's Theatre after an 18-month renovation and a display at the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives of the original Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln.

Other celebrations are not quite so steeped in history.

"We're going to have birthday cake," said Tony Athans, who owns the Lincoln Restaurant, a Chicago institution known for its two giant drawings of Lincoln on its exterior walls — one on Lincoln Avenue.

That might be a nice treat after an Honest Abe Burger, or perhaps the Lincoln Sampler, which includes a quesadilla.

Cake will also be served just outside the city at the public library in Oak Park. But good luck getting near the table with the Lincoln Logs, which librarians said kids have flocked to since they were put out as part of its bicentennial celebration.

In Springfield, the Lincoln-Douglas Cafe, formerly Honest Abe's, will serve a $2.12 plate of ham and beans. That's just the kind of meal, according to the cafe, that Lincoln ate.

Later this month, James Earl Jones will narrate composer Aaron Copland's famed "Lincoln Portrait" as part of Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Lincoln bicentennial celebration.

And perhaps the busiest man for the next several weeks will be Michael Krebs, aka Abraham Lincoln.

"We do not have a day off until March 7, and then we are down to four to five days a week," said Krebs, a Chicago-based actor who travels all over the United States to perform at schools, libraries, museums and historical societies portraying Lincoln along with Debra Ann Miller's Mary Todd Lincoln.

Krebs definitely has seen an uptick in interest since the new president was inaugurated.

"We take questions, and the No. 1 question I get is: 'Do I know Obama?,'" he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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