Peoria Journal Star

February 11, 2003

Planning begins for Lincoln bicentennial
Panel brainstorming ideas for celebration in 2009

DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Preliminary ideas on how to best celebrate Lincolnís 200th birthday in 2009 range from holding essay contests to leafleting the Middle East with translations of the 16th presidentís most inspiring speeches.

Others propose recreating Lincolnís train ride from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C., in 1861 or producing an IMAX film about Lincolnís life.

These are among some 200 ideas that have been suggested to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission through its Web site.

On Monday, an advisory group of about 50 Lincoln scholars, actors, novelists and business people formally kicked off the planning for the Lincoln bicentennial celebration still some six years away.

While their brainstorming was done in private small-group sessions, noted Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer emerged to share his goal - "to re-establish Lincolnís place in the history curriculum, which unfortunately has been focusing less on real people than on movements and trends and feelings."

"Unfortunately, a lot of students donít know when the Civil War was. They donít know who Lincoln was. They donít know who George Washington was," said Holzer, a commission co-chair who has written, co-authored or edited 18 books on Lincoln.

Commission executive director Michael Bishop said the groupís main challenge is not competing for attention with the pending war with Iraq or the countryís economic conditions. The most serious challenge, he said, is reflected by the growing popularity of "reality" TV shows such as ABCís "The Bachelorette" and Foxís "Joe Millionaire."

The commissionís target audience is "ordinary Americans," the ones "The Tonight Show" comedian Jay Leno regularly interviews during his "Jay Walking" segment who canít identify a photo of the current president.

The commissionís goal is to make Lincoln relevant in todayís times.

"This period is not unlike the period in 1861," Holzer said. "As Lincoln wrote later, the nation knew war was coming, and then the war just came. There was a feeling of dread and anticipation. But there also feeling of finding the national will, finding the rationale and spirit.

"Americaís a peaceful country, basically. We donít like war. If we can prevent it, we will. Lincoln is an example that reminds us that sometimes there are causes worth fighting for," said Holzer, who quickly clarified that he wasnít endorsing a war with Iraq.

"He did ennoble a great deal of national sacrifice," Holzer said of Lincoln.

By law, the commission is to consider minting an Abraham Lincoln bicentennial penny, issuing a bicentennial postage stamp, celebrating his life at the Lincoln Memorial, convening a joint session of Congress and acquiring and preserving Lincoln artifacts.

But theyíre also seeking more and creative ways to educate a new generation about Lincoln.

As inspiration, the group watched a performance of "Lincoln Seen and Not Heard," featuring televisionís "Law and Order" star Sam Waterston, who has portrayed Lincoln on stage and screen.

Congress established the 15-member commission in 2000. Itís chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria; and Holzer.