State might scale back Abe birthday events

Pete Sherman

Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday on Feb. 12, 2009, might not be as big a bash as planners had hoped.

Bicentennial officials, including Marilyn Kushak, chairwoman for the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, say they remain optimistic about the state’s celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, but state budget cuts are forcing a more streamlined approach.

“We will not be able to do all the things we’d like to do,” Kushak said.

Kushak, along with other state officials and Mayor Tim Davlin, announced several bicentennial events at a news conference Thursday afternoon outside the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

They include having Illinois schoolchildren recite the Gettysburg Address on Feb. 12, a period ball planned for Feb. 12 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and a larger bash that same evening at the Crowne Plaza Springfield.

All Illinois businesses will be asked to display “Happy Birthday Abe” signs, and Springfield will host a Lincoln authors’ book fair.

The commission also has invited U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Sen. and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts as guests for a banquet that evening. None have accepted yet.

The commission’s budget was $1 million last year, and legislators asked for $5 million this year. Because of the state’s budget problems, however, the commission probably will end up with only $1.5 million.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency was slated to receive an additional $500,000 to support the commission, but IHPA director Jan Grimes, who also attended the news conference, said her agency is looking at big budget cuts overall.

Half of all salaries at state historic sites might have to be chopped from the budget, resulting in dozens of layoffs, Grimes said.

Such concerns might cast a dark cloud over party plans.

“Our emphasis is on keeping our buildings open,” Grimes said.

But Grimes, Kushak and others promised a successful 200th birthday celebration.

“I’m confident we will have a good program,” said Jan Kostner, deputy director for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Budget trimming also could reduce tourism, a vital economic engine in Springfield.

Grimes said she hopes the positions will be restored once the consequences of cutting tourism operations become plain.

“We’re hopeful a year from now the value and economic benefits will be understood,” Grimes said.

Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539.

Springfield events to note Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday

Saturday, Feb. 7

- More than 20 Lincoln authors, scholars and advocates from around the world to be honored as Laureates of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois at the Lincoln Presidential Museum.

- Hoogland Center for the Arts will stage productions throughout the month of “Our American Cousin,” the play Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre.

Wednesday, Feb. 11

- A re-enactment of Lincoln’s 1861 Farewell Address will be staged at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.

- Free public performance by the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.

Thursday, Feb. 12

- Period ball at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

- Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and Abraham Lincoln Association 200th Lincoln birthday banquet. Invited speakers include U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Sen. and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

Also, beginning this summer through 2009, the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park will host various Lincoln bicentennial events, including performances by Chicago jazz artist Ramsey Lewis, who is working on a composition honoring Lincoln.

For more information about bicentennial events in Illinois, visit To learn more about events nationwide, visit