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Museum gets one-millionth visitor

The following is a news story from the State Journal-Register newspaper in Springfield, Illinois. Used by permission.

Published Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Schone family of Chapin departed for Springfield a little later than planned Saturday morning. Then Craig Schone paused for a moment outside the turnstile at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to put on his wristband.

The delays proved historic for Craig Schone, who entered the museum at 11:24 a.m. to flashing cameras, applause and a press conference commemorating his designation as the one-millionth visitor - the fastest any presidential museum has reached the milestone, according to local officials.

Perhaps it was meant to be, Craig Schone said. The family - including his wife, Lynne, and 14-year-old daughter Annie - stopped for breakfast in Jacksonville, then came straight to the museum.

"We thought we'd beat the crowd, and this is what we stepped into," Craig Schone said. "It was worth the wait."

The museum welcomed its millionth visitor 21 months after opening to the public in April 2005. Craig Schone, a grain and livestock farmer, knew the museum was nearing the mark, but he had no idea it was quite so close.

Craig and Lynne were making their first trip to the museum, although Annie, who was visitor No. 999,999, visited on a school field trip about a year ago. A son, 18-year-old Ryan, picked a bad day to sleep late, Lynne Schone said.

Still, the family had to know something was afoot when they peered down the long entry hall. The space was crammed with dozens of media members, along with dignitaries such as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, state Reps. Raymond Poe and Rich Brauer, state Sen. Larry Bomke and Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin.

Craig Schone was clearly shocked by the attention, and he often seemed at a loss for words. The family decided to visit the museum mainly to see the "Holidays at the White House" exhibit, which ends this week.

"I'm grateful that he showered and shaved after going to the hog building this morning," Lynne Schone said.

The family was presented with baskets stocked with various items and a $100 gift certificate from the museum's gift shop, along with a one-year membership to the museum - good for two free admissions on any day through the coming year - and tickets to tomorrow's inaugural swearing-in ceremony and inaugural ball.

Craig Schone also was given a key to the city by Davlin.

"Downtown Springfield has completely changed in the last few years because of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum," Davlin said. "It has provided a real economic engine to the entire city, and we like to think the million visitors here so far have been the real benefactors of that, but as the mayor we know that the city is the one that really benefits."

Julie Cellini, board chairwoman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, said the milestone highlights the efforts by politicians and museum staff in bringing the project to fruition.

"Just know that you are absolutely the best," Cellini said. "You represent what Illinois government does when it really works well. And volunteers, God bless you. Four hundred strong, (we) couldn't run this place without you."

Meanwhile, Durbin, who for years was a key player in the project's development, said the museum has become a "national treasure."

"It really is amazing that in this corner of Mr. Lincoln's hometown we have the most popular presidential library in the history of America," Durbin said. "I've yet to meet a single person who's gone through those turnstiles who hasn't said, 'It was great, and I can't wait to go back.'"

The museum welcomed its 500,000th visitor, Carlene Shafer of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, last January.

Daniel Pike can be reached at 788-1532 or daniel.pike@sj-r.com.

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