Kentucky and Kentuckians played a critical role in the life and career of Abraham Lincoln. Hodgenville is where the 16th president was born, in a rough-hewn cabin on his family’s Sinking Spring farm. It’s where he spent his childhood years, in similarly humble digs, and where his education began, in a log schoolhouse near his family’s home.
Kentucky is where the basis of Lincoln’s ideas and beliefs had their beginnings, where he was influenced by family, friends, mentors, associates–even rivals–and where he exerted his own influence through his policies and politics before, during, and after the Civil War.
Several states, including Indiana and Illinois, lay claim to Lincoln and will be hosting events this year and in 2009 to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth in 1809–but the state where the most studied and written about president was born and spent his early years will be the one to kick off the celebration and the one at the center of attention, both nationally and internationally, during the two-year Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commemoration.
“One of the most common misperceptions about Lincoln is that he was born in Illinois,” says Karla Nicholson, director of education at the Kentucky Historical Society. “Kentucky is very proud of the fact that Lincoln was actually one of our most celebrated native sons. Although his family left the state when he was 7, Lincoln continued to have strong connections to Kentucky, including the fact that his wife, best friend, and law partners were all Kentuckians.
“Visitors to Lincoln sites and any of the special events and programs held during the bicentennial will get this message loud and clear, and we’re thrilled to be able to reclaim Lincoln as one of Kentucky’s own.”
Official Lincoln Bicentennial Kickoff: February 12
Indeed, one of the missions of the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Lincoln Bicentennial Commission is to strengthen the long-term legacy of Kentucky’s Lincoln sites and museums, instilling a deeper appreciation of the vital role that Kentucky played in the slavery debate, Civil War, and Emancipation Proclamation strategy.
“Kentucky has the opportunity to reclaim its Lincoln heritage by telling the story of how Kentucky and Kentuckians influenced him throughout his life,” says Kent Whitworth, executive director of the Kentucky Historical Society.
On February 12, Hodgenville officially kicks off the commemoration with a day of activities at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, including music provided by the American Spiritual Ensemble and Saxton’s Cornet Band, and a dramatic presentation of Lincoln’s words by award-winning actor Sam Waterston, best known for his role on television’s Law & Order. This Signature Event, presided over by master of ceremonies Tommy Turner, LaRue County judge and National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial commissioner, includes an anticipated visit from President George Bush, who is expected to deliver the keynote address formally launching the nation’s two-year celebration of Lincoln’s life and legacy.
Unveiled on this same day will be the Kentucky’s Lincoln Heritage Trail, geographically linking key historical and heritage sites throughout the state, many of which have been spruced up in anticipation of the bicentennial: the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home, and the Lincoln Museum and Lincoln Statue, all in Hodgenville; Lincoln Homestead State Park and Mordecai Lincoln House, both in Springfield; the Mary Todd Lincoln House and Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate, both in Lexington; Farmington Historic Home in Louisville; Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park and National Cemetery in Nicholasville; the Lincoln Heritage House, Hardin County Museum, Helm Cemetery, and Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln Memorial in Elizabethtown; and Richmond’s White Hall State Historic Site, home of Cassius Marcellus Clay, the emancipationist, publisher, and Lincoln-appointed U.S. minister to Russia.
Other Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Heritage Trail sites include the Lincoln Marriage Temple in Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg, where Abraham Lincoln’s parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, were married; Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site–the most destructive Civil War battle in the Commonwealth; and Green County, birthplace of William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, friend, and biographer, as well as biographer of his teacher, Mentor Graham.
Also making its debut at the February 12 kickoff event is Kentucky’s Abraham Lincoln, a self-contained traveling exhibit presented by the Kentucky Historical Society’s HistoryMobile. The 45-foot tractor-trailer will make stops throughout the Bluegrass during the two-year bicentennial period.
Later in the year, at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, the Kentucky Historical Society will present the personal side of Lincoln through its exhibition, Beyond the Log Cabin: Abraham Lincoln and Kentucky, that includes among its images and artifacts Lincoln’s pocket watch. The October opening is another Kentucky Signature Event.
Other Exciting New Kentucky Venues on Lincoln
Following the kickoff in Hodgenville is a roster packed with signature and special events, legacy and diversity project openings, and exhibit installations throughout the Commonwealth, including new Lincoln exhibit installations in May at six Kentucky Department of Parks venues:
Lincoln Homestead State Park
Fort Harrod State Historic Site
Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
White Hall State Historic Site
Jefferson Davis State Historic Site
Columbus-Belmont State Park.
Other projects, like the Lincoln Heritage Trail, will bring brand new attractions that add depth and context to the Lincoln legacy in Kentucky. These encompass the design and installation of several Lincoln statues, including a bronze figure at Louisville’s Waterfront Park created by renowned Kentucky sculptor Ed Hamilton. According to the Bicentennial Commission, Hamilton will also create four bas-relief sculptures with text on Lincoln and Civil War-related Kentucky themes that will be positioned along a walkway leading from the Ohio River waterfront and to the new statue.
Also on the agenda is the restoration of the home of Lincoln’s uncle: the Mordecai Lincoln House at Springfield in Washington County is the only remaining residence known to have been owned and occupied by a member of the Lincoln family. It remains on its original site. At the Washington County Courthouse, restoration work will include a museum exhibit in the courtroom.
National and International Lincoln Events
In Indiana, where Lincoln lived after leaving Kentucky, from 1816–1830, and in Illinois, where he spent 30 years from 1831–1861, Signature Events, special exhibitions, and re-enactments are also planned. (For more information, see the Lincoln Web exclusive on “Lincoln after the Kentucky years.”) Across the country, bicentennial events include everything from town hall meetings focusing on different interpretations of “equality” and assessing the state of the challenge Lincoln posed in the Gettysburg Address regarding the nation’s “unfinished work,” to school activities involving various Lincoln themes.
“The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial will truly be a national–and international–commemoration,” says Bicentennial Commissioner Turner, also a co-chair of the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commemoration. “Forty-seven governors to date have appointed liaisons for the bicentennial–to share information among the states, to plan regionally, and in many cases serve as the main point of contact on the bicentennial in the state. More than a dozen states have created state bicentennial commissions with membership cutting across state agencies, historical, educational, and arts groups, and others.”
Rhode Island is planning a gala this year, plus historic tours and a Lincoln play. Oregon will hold activities with schools and communities statewide. New York, New Hampshire, and Ohio will launch major exhibits highlighting Lincoln’s connections to their states. And North Dakota, a state whose Lincoln connections might not seem readily obvious, is planning a plethora of activities.
According to Turner, seed money from the legislature will allow planning for exhibits, curriculum development, and living-history programs, as well as arts programs through North Dakota’s Council on the Arts. An hour-long program on the Homestead Act, and Lincoln’s role in signing it, is in development for broadcast on the state’s public television network. And in cooperation with a major dairy in the Peace Garden state, Lincoln Fun Facts will appear on milk cartons to draw attention to Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
“Abraham Lincoln’s reach is truly global,” says Turner. “He has inspired the struggle for freedom and democracy not only in the United States, but in places like Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
“We expect there will be commemorations in Britain, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere. Lincoln can truly be an inspiration for national unity and cohesion. The next two years really provide us an opportunity to take stock and remember the timeless ideals for which he stood.”
And it all begins right here this year in Kentucky on February 12.
KENTUCKY SIGNATURE BICENTENNIAL EVENTS
Abraham Lincoln Gala, Singletary Center for the Arts, University of Kentucky campus, Lexington: February 10
National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Gala, Louisville Center for the Performing Arts: February 11
National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Kickoff, Hodgenville: February 12
Unveiling of the Lincoln Heritage Trail, Hodgenville: February 12
Debut of the HistoryMobile traveling exhibit, Kentucky’s Lincoln, Hodgenville: February 12
Premiere of Kentucky Educational Television’s (KET) Kentucky Life special on Lincoln’s Kentucky Story: March 2008
Forever Free traveling exhibit that will visit five different Kentucky venues: through January 23, 2009
Jefferson Davis Symposium, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort: June 2008
Thomas Lincoln-Nancy Hanks Wedding Anniversary Event, Lincoln Homestead State Park, Springfield, performance of the outdoor drama, Dearly Beloved: The Vows of a Lincoln Legacy: June 14, 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Three-week Lincoln-related program at Farmington Historic Home, Louisville: October 2008
Beyond the Log Cabin: Abraham Lincoln and Kentucky, Kentucky state exhibition for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, opens at the Thomas D. Clark Kentucky History Center, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort: October 2008
Unveiling of new Lincoln statue by renowned Kentucky sculptor Ed Hamilton, in Louisville’s Waterfront Park: April 15, 2009
VENUES AROUND THE STATE CELEBRATE LINCOLN
In coordination with the statewide celebration of Lincoln’s birth, a number of museums, libraries, and other venues will host exhibits and programs, including these:
Log Cabins and Lincoln Quilt Exhibition, Museum of the American Quilter’s Society, www.quiltmuseum.org, Paducah: February 8–April 9
At Wickland, Home of Three Governors, (502) 348-4877, Bardstown, 2-4 p.m. each day:
Kentucky, Era of Lincoln’s Birth, February 10
Lincoln Lore Program, March 9
Lincoln Roots in Nelson County, April 6
Lincoln’s Mothers, May 11
Thomas Lincoln, Father of a President, June 15
African American abolitionist and Lincoln friend and advisor Frederick Douglass, as portrayed by Michael Crutcher, takes the stage at the Frazier International History Museum, www.fraziermuseum.org, at 7 p.m. on February 12. Tickets: $10 members, $12 nonmembers, $5 students. Note: seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The tragic events of April 14, 1865, unfold at 7 p.m. on April 3 at the Frazier International History Museum, www.fraziermuseum.org, as Tamara Johnson portrays Laura Keene, a well-known 19th-century comedienne. It was Keene’s heralded performance in a hilarious new play, Our American Cousin, that prompted Mary Todd Lincoln to change plans and attend with the president the final performance of the play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.–the fateful night Lincoln was assassinated. Tickets: $10 members, $12 nonmembers, $5 students. Note: seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
One Man’s Lincoln touring performance, Kentucky Repertory Theater, begins February 13.
Other Kentucky Repertory Theater productions:
Abraham Lincoln runs August 22-November 1, 2008;
With Malice Toward None begins touring February 9, 2009.
Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation, Lexington Public Library, Central Library Gallery, www.lexpublib.org, August 8–September 21.
The Civil War, A Lincoln Bicentennial Event, J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre, (502) 348-5971, 8 p.m., August 18–22, 2008. A dramatic theatrical presentation, part of the Stephen Foster Drama Association’s summer production lineup, that draws on letters, diaries, firsthand accounts, and the words of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman.
Kentucky Historical Society
Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
Indiana Lincoln Bicentennial
Lincoln in Illinois Bicentennial Commission
Spencer County, Indiana, Convention & Visitors Bureau
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVES: LINCOLN WEB EXCLUSIVES AT KENTUCKYLIVING.COM
For more information about the Lincoln Heritage Trail in Kentucky or events in Indiana or Illinois, visit our Web site for these two Kentucky Living Web exclusives:
Following in Lincoln’s footsteps across Kentucky
The Kentucky Department of Tourism has a suggested day-trip itinerary, beginning in Louisville and concluding in Frankfort; to explore this newly designated Lincoln Heritage Trail, go to Lincoln itinerary.
Lincoln after the Kentucky years
For information about Lincoln bicentennial events in Indiana and Illinois, go to Lincoln after Kentucky.