The Build-Up to Lincoln's Bicentennial Blowout

The Lincoln Memorial is slated for rededication in 2009, at the end of Lincoln's year-long national bicentennial party, which begins next February.
The Lincoln Memorial is slated for rededication in 2009, at the end of Lincoln's year-long national bicentennial party, which begins next February. (By Craig Harmon -- Associated Press)
By Linda Wheeler
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Abraham Lincoln, an intellectual leader with a taste for theater and music, would probably enjoy himself immensely if he could attend his own national bicentennial party planned for a whole year, beginning Feb. 12, 2008. To honor him, new symphonies, poems, theater and art pieces are in the works, as well as revivals of plays and music popular during his administration.

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, established in 2000, is in charge of the celebration. The goal of the 15-member commission is to show the public the impact Lincoln had on the development of the nation and to find the best possible ways to honor his accomplishments. Members include three Lincoln scholars: Gabor Boritt, Harold Holzer and Frank Williams.

Besides the cultural events approved by the commission during the past 21 public meetings, plans for a redesigned Lincoln penny and five-dollar bill were given the nod. A commemorative coin to mark the 2009 Lincoln birthday was also approved, and in September, President Bush signed legislation directing the U.S. Treasury to mint 500,000 one-dollar coins that are 90 percent silver. The design has not been chosen.

"The calendar is chock-full," said commission Executive Director Eileen Mackevich, who was hired in October. "We will have programs throughout the country."

The schedule will be made public in the next few months.

She said commemorations are already planned in more than half of the states, including some that were in the Confederacy. Atlanta and Richmond have scheduled events, she said.

At her first meeting with the commissioners in November, she recommended they put more emphasis on programs that will interest African Americans and immigrants who have become citizens.

"We would like to know how African Americans, rural and urban, view Lincoln," she said, noting that John Hope Franklin, the dean of historians on the black American experience, had just accepted an invitation to speak in Washington on April 15. The location and time of his talk should be available soon on the commission's Web site,

"There is a large pocket of new immigrants in the country, and we need to reach them," Mackevich said. "They need to know that Lincoln had only two years of formal education and he was able to rise from such a modest beginning."

The commission meets Saturday at the University Club of Chicago. The agenda for the 22nd meeting includes a discussion of Internet communications and how the commission can make use of the Web, ongoing plans for the formal kickoff of the celebration in 2008 at the Kentucky birthplace of Lincoln and the rededication of the Lincoln Memorial in 2009. The public is invited to the meeting.

Holzer, one of the three co-chairmen of the commission, said the group has made progress since it first met in 2001.

"The commission has significantly raised the national awareness level about the impending Lincoln bicentennial," he said. "Based, we hope, on our early activity, press events and Web site creation, the buzz is growing. The Lincoln book publishing field is awash with new titles. Steven Spielberg is planning a new film."

However, the commission is reluctant to launch many activities until the formal opening event in 2008 in Kentucky. The Franklin speech will be among a few programs taking place this year, including a public round table Sunday on African Americans' perspectives of Lincoln at the Chicago History Museum.

"That may give the appearance of inertia, but it in fact represents a plan to build excitement until the real kickoff," Holzer said. "However, the truth of the matter is, none of these events will be possible unless the commission raises the funds to create them. That is a real challenge. The private sector tends to think of us as publicly funded, and the public sector imagines we are privately endowed."

The year-long celebration is expected to cost about $25 million, Mackevich said.

"We have close to $1 million pledged," she said. "We are just at the beginning."

Linda Wheeler may be reached at 540-465-8934

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