Illinois celebration to include actors portraying Lincoln, Douglas

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

JONESBORO, Ill. -- On Sept. 15, 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas met in Jonesboro for the third of the historic debates in the race for the Senate seat that helped launch Lincoln to the presidency. The town of Jonesboro, and the state of Illinois, will be celebrating the anniversary this summer, with Jonesboro putting on a three-day event from Sept. 12 to 14.

The Lincoln-Douglas "Reunion Tour 2008" won't include word-for-word re-enactments of the three-hour debates, but actors portraying the two great figures of Civil War-era Illinois politics will be on hand in each of the eight cities on the tour.

"They will do about an hour-long program that will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon" Sept. 13, said Linda Hileman of Jonesboro, a retired schoolteacher who along with her husband, Duane, volunteered to help organize the weekend. "They will talk about what it was like then, how it has changed and take questions from the press."

The 1858 debate at Jonesboro wasn't the best attended nor the most memorable of the debates. About 1,400 people came to the debate site, including many from the nearby slaveholding states of Kentucky and Missouri, historian Carl Sandburg wrote in this biography of Lincoln.

Lincoln arrived Sept. 14 and stayed at the home of David Phillips of Anna. That home is still standing on Main Street in Anna, and organizers are hoping to persuade the current owners to allow visitors to see it during the debate reunion weekend, Hileman said. A plaque has been placed in front of the house, she said.

Other events during the weekend of Sept. 12 through 14 include:

* A dinner Sept. 12 with the debaters at Great Boars of Fire.

* A community festival Sept. 13 on the Jonesboro square. Crafts, food, demonstrations and games. For information about vendor space, call 618- 833-2712.

* A procession at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 13 from the square to the debate site in Lincoln Memorial Park.

* A community church service at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 14 in the 1850s-era Kornthal church on Highway 127 south of Jonesboro.

* A community picnic at 1 p.m. Sunday with the debaters, current local politicians and music.

Hileman took part in an event Monday in Springfield, Ill., marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's "House Divided" speech and announcing the summer of commemorative events. The debaters, George Buss and Tim Connors, have years of experience portraying the two 19th century figures.

"They are good," Hileman said. "They put a lot of humor into it so it is not going to be cut and dried."

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