Finding Mr. Lincoln: A Few Reflections on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial
- Ohio Valley History
- The Filson Historical Society and Cincinnati Museum Center
- Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2010
- pp. 73-85
- Additional Information
SPRING 2010 73 Finding Mr. Lincoln A Few Reflections on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Thomas C. Mackey O n Friday, February 12, 2010, at four p.m., in Frankfort, Kentucky, in the Old State Capitol Building, the Kentucky Historical Society convened a ceremony that concluded Kentucky’s bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln and initiated Kentucky’s sesquicentennial observations of the Civil War. As the Civil War sesquicentennial progresses in the next few years, Lincoln will remain a prominent figure, but the various commemorations in honor of his two hundredth birthday have ended and Lincoln-focused events will become fewer. Thus, the moment is right for reflections on the Lincoln bicentennial. Or as Lincoln said on November 9, 1863, in perhaps his best known speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” For the past few years I have worked on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial commemorations and events at the local, state, national, and briefly the international level. Since the 1970s, Lincoln and his place in the middle period of the nineteenth century has been one of my research, teaching, and professional interests. Thus I volunteered with little hesitation to help plan and deliver programs recognizing the bicentennial of the birth of the Kentucky-born, Indiana-raised, Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln. Starting with an episode that occurred on Lincoln’s two hundredth birthday, this essay seeks, in an admittedly individual and idiosyncratic fashion, to weigh and assess some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Lincoln bicentennial. Others would no doubt offer different opinions and insights, but this evaluation seeks to cast some perspective on Lincoln, his memory, his significance , and his long legacy still discernable in the early twenty-first century. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), carte de visite, 1864. THE FILSON HISTORICAL SOCIETY FINDING MR. LINCOLN 74 OHIO VALLEY HISTORY On February 12, 2009, after I had participated in the formal ceremony honoring the two hundredth birthday of Abraham Lincoln, I drove from the high school in Hodgenville, Kentucky, to the middle school. The National Parks Service and the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission had planned on holding the ceremony at the Lincoln birth site at the Sinking Spring just outside of Hodgenville, but a few days prior to the event an ice storm hit the area and closed the park. Electricity had only just been restored, downed trees and limbs scattered the grounds, and the parking lot could not accommodate what turned out to be a nice crowd. In response, the organizers moved the ceremony to the local high school. I shared the stage with the director of the United States Mint who unveiled the first of four new Lincoln pennies depicting the symbolic Kentucky log cabin of Lincoln’s famous humble birth. Also on the stage was the governor of Kentucky. Security people alone—from the U.S. Mint, the state police, and the local and county police—guaranteed a good crowd. The governor arrived, his staff handed him a speech, and he made his way through his prepared comments. My harmless remarks went off without embarrassment and the ceremony ended. I bought my quota of the new Kentucky Lincoln pennies, got into my car, and drove to the middle school for the invited lunch. Kent Whitworth, executive director of the Kentucky Historical Society, speaks at an event honoring the conclusion of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial and the beginning of the commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, February 12, 2010, in the Old State Capitol, Frankfort. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE KENTUCKY HISTORICAL SOCIETY THOMAS C. MACKEY SPRING 2010 75 And then Abraham Lincoln found me. As I opened my car door, and started to step out, a flash of copper caught my eye—a Lincoln penny, face-up, glinted at me from the pavement. Hello Mr. Lincoln. On his birthday, near his birth site, Lincoln was not going to be forgotten by the patriotic and appropriate hubbub of the day. I laughed to myself because I am always finding Lincoln pennies, so I picked up this one and placed it in my shirt pocket for safe-keeping. The lunch proved to be quite good and the lunch speaker, the commander...