500 attend program to commemorate 1858 visit
By Jim Nowlan
TOULON – Stark County residents turned out in big numbers this past Saturday to welcome Abraham Lincoln back, 160 years to the day after his visit in 1858, when Mr. Lincoln spoke to thousands at our then-new courthouse.
Don Schmidt, one of several leaders who organized the event, estimated that 500 or more came to the parade, program and unveiling of the new historic marker on the courthouse lawn.
“We had 300 chairs set up, plus benches, and they were all full at times,” said Schmidt, “and many others stood or sat in lawn chairs.”
The News estimates that 50, maybe more, children, women and men were attired in 19th Century garb, which added much color to the day’s festivities.
This writer participated in the old-fashioned parade, in the style that preceded political rallies, which was much fun. There were horses, carriages, wagons. I even saw Gen. Ulysses S. Grant riding along.
Floyd Ham, another leader of the sponsoring Stark County Genealogical Society (known affectionately as the Genie Society), served as master of ceremonies for a program filled with historical reminiscences, music and a delightful 3rd grade children’s choir that charmed the crowd.
The Illinois 33rd Volunteer Regiment Band, in which Stark County residents served during the Civil War, fascinated the audience with its sprightly, authentic renditions of marches, waltzes and more from the mid-19th Century.
The band was accompanied by several couples in period attire who danced to the old-time music and brought members of the audience out to join them for the Virginia Reel and other dances.
Sharon Perkins, president of the very active Genie Society, is to be credited for her hard work and that of many Genie Society members, in bringing off such a successful event, which is our county’s contribution to the Illinois Bicentennial.
“This is maybe the best bicentennial event I have seen all year, across the whole of Illinois,” declared William Furry, executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society.
Furry presided over the unveiling of the handsome historical marker on the courthouse lawn, which commemorates the visits by U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Douglas on Oct. 26 and Mr. Lincoln the next day, in 1858. The marker also offers special focus on the historic Stark County Courthouse, one of only a couple of mid-19th Century courthouses in Illinois that still operate daily as the seat of county government.
Highly regarded Lincoln actor Fritz Klein, the spitting image of Lincoln, spent two days in Stark County. He spoke to both grade school and junior high students on Friday, and reports are that he mesmerized the youngsters with his recreation of Lincoln speeches.
Klein also provided the school children lessons about the keys to Lincoln’s inspiring leadership, which kept the nation whole throughout a long war that took 600,000 lives.