Although many of the thousands
gathered Tuesday had waited hours to watch President
Bush dedicate the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum,
they lingered afterward as if not wanting to leave.
It was a day to remember.
There were no protesters in Union Square Park. The
speeches were generous but brief. Children and parents
played hooky from school and work.
If there were any problems, perhaps the sun was too
The president, who with first lady Laura Bush toured
the museum before his address, equated Lincoln's
allegiance to the Declaration of Independence with his
own vision for spreading democracy around the world.
"Every generation strives to define the lessons of
Abraham Lincoln, and that is part of our tribute to the
man," Bush said.
Mihan Lee, an 11th-grader from Potomac, Md., who won
a C-SPAN contest for writing the best contemporary
Gettysburg Address, told how her regard for freedom of
expression traced back to her great-grandfather, who was
arrested by the Japanese for working on the first Korean
Other speeches by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, U.S. Sens.
Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and
U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert offered
different angles of praise for Lincoln, while sometimes
referring to the 16th president's darker aspects.
There were lighter moments, too.
Blagojevich encouraged Lee to think she could be
president, mentioning that he had become governor
despite having scored a meager 18 on his ACT
college-entrance exam years ago. Dozens of Abe
impersonators got frisked as they entered the highly
secured, metal-detector-equipped dedication area. One
Springfield radio crew covered the event dressed as
The presenters referred to the $145 million
presidential museum and library behind them as
institutions worthy of promoting Lincoln's legacy.
Crowds started lining up in front of the security
checkpoint at Fifth and Mason streets early in the
morning, long before anyone was let in at about 7 a.m.
Museum officials prepared for 15,000 people to attend,
and it appeared they were close, though not all the
dedication seats were occupied.
Gary Schwab, a Springfield attorney, brought his
brother Bill from Peoria to the dedication. Schwab's
office is on the fifth floor of the National City Bank
building just south of Union Square Park. He noticed
security officials standing on the roof of the building
just above his office.
He routinely took calls on his cell phone - he's in
the middle of working on an insurance case, he said.
Like some other downtown businesses, Schwab's law firm
closed for the day. At one point, however, he was
talking to someone from his office who decided to show
up for work anyway. Schwab waved so the co-worker could
see him from inside his office.
Museum officials sent all Springfield schools nine
tickets each to the dedication, and dozens of school
groups patiently waited for the ceremony, which began at
11 a.m., after an hourlong concert by the 312th Army
Band from Lawrence, Kan.
Card games, books and people-watching were popular
diversions for the thousands who showed up hours before
the 312th started playing.
The ceremony itself lasted a little more than an
hour. The Rev. Gordon McLean of First Presbyterian
Church - where the Lincolns once rented a pew - gave the
invocation and benediction.
The Four Sopranos, a Springfield-based gospel
quartet, provided a musical interlude, singing a lively
rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" called "Swing
Down Chariot." Later in the ceremony, after Bush's
speech, they sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with
Noticeably absent from the stage was former Gov.
George Ryan, whose name is etched onto the wall of the
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Ryan and his wife,
Lura Lynn, attended the event but sat a few rows in
front of the stage. Although a couple of the officials
who spoke at the ceremony credited Ryan's involvement in
the library and museum, many have accused his
administration of politicizing the project.
Some attendees complained that the speaker system
faded in and out, making several moments of some
speeches, including the president's, inaudible. Others
found other distractions, including one who answered his
cell phone to the news of a new pope.
But for most, it was a day for Lincoln. Elected
officials mingled with the crowd. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn
posed with an Abe and Mary as people snapped photos.
Even Ryan signed a few autographs.
Afterward, the museum opened with free admission for
the day. A line several people thick extended across
Sixth Street waiting to enter. Starbucks Coffee
employees passed out free bottled water and root beer.
Bob Rogers, whose firm BRC Imagination Arts designed
the museum's exhibits, wondered whether John Y. Simon,
the Southern Illinois University professor whose
criticisms of the museum as Disneyesque have been widely
quoted, was planning to come. Rogers said he wanted to
give Simon a big hug.
Pete Sherman can be contacted at 788-1539 or