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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  February, 2009

Did You Know?

Did you know that in three days it will mark the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln? Honest Abe, The Rail Splitter or The Great Emancipator was born 200 years ago on Thursday.

A hundred years ago, the country (or at least most of it) celebrated the event with forthright solemnity and excitement. Weeks leading up to the anniversary local newspapers ran serialized biographies of Lincoln’s life. You could open the Connellsville Courier on any day and discover even obscure details about Abe Lincoln. On January 29th, 1909, for instance, readers of the Courier discovered Lincoln had been born in the same year as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allan Poe.

But not only that, they were told, in the feature titled, “The World When Lincoln Was Born,” that he’d shared his day of birth with Charles Darwin. “Where could be found more mightier names in their respective spheres,” the writer asked, “Lincoln who freed the bodies of men, and Darwin, who freed their minds.”

In the February 12th, 1909 edition of the Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review, I found a full page spread complete with six artist’s depictions of cabins where Lincoln had dwelled through the years. Of course, the one that probably mattered most to the people of Decatur was cabin he lived near there. According the Daily Review it was, “Lincoln’s First Home in Illinois.” Back in Fayette County, preparations were busily underway that week for a number of celebrations honoring Lincoln.

The Carnegie Free Library in Connellsville was full of “gray-haired veterans who fought so valiantly for their country, members of the G.A.R., schools boys and girls, and a large number of patrons” who celebrated the occasion.

At another Connellsville event, Judge R.E. Umbel of Uniontown gave a stirring speech about the promise of the future that had come about during the 100 years since Lincoln was born. And at each of those functions, it seems, there was a recitation of Lincoln’s most famous speech - The Gettysburg Address.

That brings me to the celebrations that took place in Gettysburg a hundred years ago this week. Of course there was a reading of Lincoln’s speech that had brought bittersweet fame to their town. The Gettysburg Times carried excerpts of the speech that had been given that morning by the Hon. James T. McCleary. It was a bit of oratory that may have even rivaled the simple eloquence of the man they had gathered to honor.

“He was one of the world’s great orators. His five minute address on yonder hill, dedicating a portion of this sacred soil as the final resting place of those who here died that the nation might live, will always be regarded as a literary classic and an oratorical gem. Lincoln’s ability for strong and clear and persuasive speech undoubtedly constitutes another element of the immortality of his name,” McCleary said.

It seems there were no superlatives left unsaid for Lincoln that week. Newspapers around the country carried wire stories of the events that took place during the dedication of a memorial at the cabin in which Lincoln was born near Hodgenville, Ky. “At America’s Bethlehem, where her savior was born 100 years ago,” the article said, “the nation paid tribute to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.”

It had been an event that featured the second most famous Republican to that point, President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had declared Lincoln’s 100th birthday a national holiday, but was only mentioned in the article as having given the main address.

Even in England, Lincoln’s 100th birthday was celebrated. According to the Washington Post, at Rockdale, Lancashire there had been a big town hall meeting the previous night. There had been several speeches given, and of course – there was a reading of the Gettysburg Address.

But not everybody was celebrating the 100th birthday of Abe Lincoln. I was unable to find many southern newspapers that paid much attention to it. I did find one article published in a small town newspaper in Alabama that managed only a lukewarm appraisal of the event.

The Dothan (Ala.) Eagle printed the following account of Roosevelt’s visit to the Kentucky memorial. “President Roosevelt left yesterday for Kentucky, where he makes the centenary address to Hodgenville, the birthplace of Lincoln,” the report went. So far so good. But there was still room for a bit of post-civil war animosity. “We all know what he (Roosevelt) is to talk about, for the whole thing has already been printed.

He made a very good talk, too, everything considered.”