Susan Cousin and her 9-year-old
granddaughter Sunni Miles leaned over the crowded
railing on the second floor of the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library Thursday afternoon, overlooking the
opening-day ceremony a floor below.
Steady rain didn't prevent them, or hundreds of
others, from packing the event.
"We both share a love of books," Cousin said. "We
wanted to be a part of history."
A low-key event was promised. Instead, the Capital
Chamber Singers sang, a cappella, "The Star-Spangled
Banner" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Catholic
Bishop George Lucas invoked God's grace and Lincoln's
enduring wisdom. Democrats such as Gov. Rod Blagojevich
and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin swapped pleasantries with
Republicans, including former Gov. Jim Edgar and U.S.
Rep. Ray LaHood. All four shared the stage with library
director Richard Norton Smith and Illinois State
Historic Preservation Agency chairwoman Julie Cellini,
who added their own celebratory words.
Springfield, they all said in one way or another, has
something to be proud of - a world-class facility two
rocky decades in the making.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is a
state-of-the-art research facility that, as Blagojevich
put it, will be a "mirror held up to America's
heartland," a place that will breath new life into the
stories preserved there - of Illinois pioneers,
abolitionists and famed writers who helped build the
state from its black dirt up.
The presidential library, which absorbed the former
Illinois State Historical Library's 12-million-item
collection and 47,000 Lincoln-related artifacts, is part
of a $150 million complex that also will include a
visitors center, a park and a high-tech Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Museum, set to open next spring.
Earlier this year, Durbin, who is credited with
dreaming up the idea two decades ago, publicly
questioned whether his hometown was ready for such a
high-profile complex and the tourists it's expected to
draw. He said he's pleased with how the city has
responded to his challenge.
"I've really been encouraged by the community's
response," he said.
"We're 100 percent on target," Springfield Mayor Tim
Davlin said. "We've got a group of problem-solvers on
the readiness committee. All the players are together."
Besides curious onlookers and dignitaries, others who
attended the opening ceremony were there because they
sensed not only the library's historical impact, but its
Carol Hawn, a sales representative for Coca-Cola,
serves many downtown businesses. She stood with dozens
of others on the library's third floor, the only space
left a few minutes before the ceremony began at 1:30
"A lot of (my customers) are saying how business is
going to increase because of the traffic flow the
library and museum will bring," Hawn said.
An invitation-only event was held beforehand to name
the public reading room facing South Sixth Street after
the late Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Neal.
Neal, an early advocate for Smith's appointment as
director, also wrote columns exposing alleged political
indiscretions involving the library and museum during
former Gov. George Ryan's administration. A portrait of
Neal on the reading room's west wall was unveiled by
Blagojevich and Neal's wife, Susan.
The library was supposed to open last year, but
several building-related issues kept pushing back the
Two years ago, Ryan threw a glitzy "grand opening"
the public could view only from behind a fence. The more
open affair Thursday, with snacks at the end for all,
was a deliberate adjustment to create a more friendly
image of the institution.
"It's beyond belief," said state Sen. Larry Bomke,
R-Springfield, somewhat light-heartedly. "It's the
second opening. How often do you get to do that?"
The library remained open until 8 p.m. Thursday,
primarily to give first-time visitors a chance to
explore the nearly 100,000-square-foot facility.
Beginning today, regular library hours will be 9 a.m.
to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and
Fridays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays; and 9 a.m. to 3
p.m. on Saturdays. The library will be closed on
For general information about the library, call
Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or