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10 Wayside Exhibits Tell How Lincoln's Start in Politics was Right Here in Vandalia

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

The committee charged with researching and telling stories about Abraham Lincolns time in Vandalia is planning to celebrate its biggest accomplishment to date the installation of plaques that present those stories to both local residents and tourists.

At the same time, the committee is discussing how to fight state cuts at the Vandalia Statehouse and other Lincoln sites as Illinois prepares to join in on the celebration of Lincolns 200th birthday.

At a meeting of Vandalias Looking for Lincoln Committee last Thursday afternoon, committee member Dale Timmermann presented copies of the citys 10 Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits.

Those exhibits will include stories about Lincolns inauguration into politics as a state representative here in Vandalia.

The exhibits explain, for example, that Lincoln made his first public protest against slavery while serving in the Vandalia Statehouse, which then served as the state capitol, and that he was part of the Long Nine, a group of taller legislators who spearheaded the move of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield.

The images that are included on the exhibits include a copy of the bill from Ebenzer Capps Store when the Long Nine celebrated the passage of the capital move legislation.

Another image is a copy of the will for Shadrach Bond, a governor during the period that Vandalia served as the state capital. In that will, Bond leaves his slaves to his wife and daughter.

That gives a flavor of peoples attitudes about slavery in the 1830s in Illinois, Timmermann said. Illinois was a free state, but the governor owned slaves in 1832.

Timmermann spent several years researching Lincoln stories that would be included in the local wayside exhibits, which are among more than 200 such storyboards will be erected statewide within the next year.

In addition to digging up the factual information about Lincolns time in Vandalia, Timmermann had to produce photos and other images that would be included in the exhibits.

That was one of the biggest tricks of the whole thing getting all of the graphic images together, he said.

That was accomplished with help from a number of individuals, particularly Linda Kelly of Evans Public Library. Kelly was instrumental, Timmermann said, in acquiring images from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library.

He is quite proud of the wayside exhibits, and feels others should be, too.

This is something the community can be proud of, he said.

Its something for people to do when they come to Vandalia, something for them to see, something for them to learn, Timmermann said.

And, he said, Vandalia is a perfect place for people to learn about Abraham Lincolns early days in politics.

This is the first place that he held elective office. This is where he honed his political skills, Timmermann said.

There are a lot of things about Abraham Lincoln in Vandalia that are unknown by most people, he said, explaining that the wayside exhibits will tell those stories.

Not that his work on getting those exhibits produced is completed, Timmermann wants to take his work product out in the community.

The committee approved the production of 30-inch-by-40-inch reproductions of the exhibits that Timmermann will use in making presentations to local community groups and for hospitality training sessions. Those sessions will be held to educate local business owners and their employees about Lincolns time in Vandalia, because those are the people who often are asked to give that information to tourists.

Ive done this (presentations) to a few groups so far, and it has been pretty well received, Timmermann said. People have found it to be interesting.

Bill Donaldson, the chairman of the committee, also sees this as an opportunity for Timmermann to share the local Lincoln stories with other Looking for Lincoln communities.

I see a lot of potential with this, Donaldson said.

Timmermanns presentation is likely valuable to other communities involved in the states Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition because Vandalia is ahead of those other communities in getting its stories out.

Jim Staff, who heads up the committees governmental relations/foundations subcommittee, said that in a recent discussion with Nicky Stratton, who recently retired as the states coalition coordinator, Stratton again praised the work of the Vandalia team.

As I talked to Nicky, she told me, You people have always been ahead of (others in) the group.

That could be of benefit as Vandalia seeks to gain some of the federal funding that will likely be approved in the near future for the development and promotion of Lincoln sites.

The initial proposal called for $10 million to be allotted over a 10-year period, Staff said. That was recently enhanced to $15 million over a $15-year period.

The proposal calls for heritage matching grants to be made available to states, and for the individual states to make matching grants available to communities.

I really encourage the city, as soon as it gets any information on this, to get a head start on (getting some of the funds), Staff said.

The people in that office up there (in Springfield) know that we go after these things, and they like what were doing down here, he said.

Vandalia has been a leader in the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, Staff said, Because Bill (Donaldson) and the mayor (Rick Gottman) got us off to an early start.

The whole project has proven to be very beneficial to the city, he said.

But, with all of the good news being shared at last Thursdays meeting, Gottman had the unenviable task of sharing some bad news.

Gottman reported that word of pending cuts in staffing and hours of operation at state historic sites was in media reports last Wednesday night.

The mayor said that Dave Blanchette of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency told him earlier in the day that there will be major cuts at historic sites, and he felt Vandalia would be hit, but he didnt know what the impact would be.

Gottman recommended that members of the committee, as well as others in the community, send letters to state legislators to ask that cuts not be made, particularly during Illinois celebration of Lincolns 200th birthday next year.