Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Abraham Lincoln Centennial Celebrations in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, 1909.

In 1909 many nations and communities in the U.S. celebrated the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. The Centennial Celebration Committee of New York City asked City Hall for $25,000 ($742,000 today) in 1908 for the event. 

Chicago organized a committee of 100 citizens, who raised $40,000 ($1.2 million today) to sponsor a week-long celebration to outdo the efforts of any other city in the United States as an example of patriotism.
Exterior view of Marshall Field & Co. department store entrance at 111 North State Street in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois, draped with United States flags and stars and stripes bunting, with a horse-drawn carriage by the curb in front. Pedestrians are walking along the sidewalk. Text on the negative reads: Lincoln decorations. The bottom left corner of the negative is broken off, 1909. 
Carson Pirie Scott & Co. store at 1 North State Street in Chicago is decorated for Lincoln's 100th birthday in 1909.
Friday, February 12, 1909, was the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The current president, Theodore Roosevelt, was marking the occasion at the Lincoln Birthplace in Kentucky. Congress was talking about issuing a new penny to honor Lincoln. There were celebrations throughout the nation.

In Chicago, the festivities were elaborate. The city had never been home to a president. But Lincoln had been a lawyer in Springfield, a citizen of Illinois. To older people, he was still fresh in memory.

February 12th was proclaimed a state holiday. Schools were closed, and so were government offices. Most businesses shut down. Newspapers printed special Lincoln supplements—the Chicago Tribune included a full-page portrait “suitable for framing.”

At 10 a.m., the day’s opening ceremony was held at the Auditorium. The featured speaker was Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University. He said that Lincoln was a true Man of the People. “The man Lincoln had no special gift,” Wilson declared. “He seemed slow of development, waited upon circumstances to quicken him, but always responded, on whatever level the challenge came.”

The Auditorium meeting closed with a chorus of 300 high school girls singing Civil War songs. Then the audience stood and cheered while the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic marched out of the building.

The day went on, with dozens of events. The First Church of Englewood presented music and lectures. Negro Chicagoans met at the Seventh Regiment Armory to hear readings of Lincoln's speeches. At the Hull House, Jane Addams gave a stereopticon (a slide projector that combines two images to create a three-dimensional effect) lecture on Lincoln’s life. In Crystal Lake, Illinois, a mass meeting was addressed by Major Henry Rathbone (1837-1911), who was Lincoln’s theater guest the night John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in the head.

Everyone wanted to get into the act. Lincoln celebrations were staged by the Hungarian Societies of Chicago, the Chicago Women’s Press Club, the Chicago Hebrew Institute, the Catholic Order of Foresters, the Chicago Veteran Druggists Association, the National Good Roads Congress, and so on.

The largest gathering came at the end of the day. Over 10,000 people jammed into the Dexter Park Pavilion, next door to the Union Stock Yards. They listened to speeches, they sang, they shouted—“they gave vent to their patriotism,” the Chicago Tribune wrote.

The Lincoln Centennial closed, and Chicago returned to normal. Four years and one month later, the Auditorium headliner, Woodrow Wilson, was inaugurated as President of the United States.

Another grand celebration took place in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois. There, the Lincoln Centennial Celebration, sponsored by the Lincoln Centennial Association (later renamed the Abraham Lincoln Association), was a great meeting and banquet serving 850 guests in the Illinois State Armory, the same place that was used the previous August as a refuge for negro families seeking safety from rioters.
The Lincoln Centennial Association banquet in honor of Lincoln's 100th birthday, held Friday, February 12, 1909, in Illinois State Armory.

The Springfield organizers had invited Booker T. Washington to speak, among others, but he had already committed to the New York celebration.

A memorial tablet marking the old Lincoln law office site was unveiled at 109 North Fifth Street in Springfield, Illinois.

Major John W. Black's Report of the Memorial Tablet Committee:
The undersigned committee of the Springfield chapter of the Illinois society of the Sons of the American Revolution, to whom was assigned the duty of providing and placing a memorial tablet for marking the site of the first law office of Abra ham Lincoln, desire to report that a suitable bronze tablet has been secured and placed in position at 109 North Fifth street, Springfield, Ill. 

The committee beg leave to present in this connection some information concerning the location of the three law offices occupied by Mr. Lincoln in Springfield.

Mr. Lincoln's first law partnership was with Major John T. Stuart, under the firm name of Stuart & Lincoln, and their office was in Hoffman's row on the west side of Fifth street, between Washington and Jefferson streets, and the site of this building is now 109 North Fifth street, where the tablet has been placed.

The second floor was used by Stuart and Lincoln as a law office in 1837, 1838 and 1839.

When the state capital was removed from Vandalia to Springfield in the winter of 1836, the old county court house that stood in the public square was torn down to make room for the new capitol building, now known as the Sangamon county building. The ground floor of the Hoffman rowwas used for the Sangamon county court for a term of four years.

After the election of Major John T. Stuart to Congress, in 1838, Mr. Lincoln formed a partner ship with Stephen T. Logan, under the firm name of Logan & Lincoln, and occupied an office on the third floor of the old Farmers National bank building on the southwest corner of Sixth and Adams streets.

The United States court over which Judge Nathaniel Pope then presided as district judge occupied the second floor of said building.

The firm of Logan & Lincoln was dissolved in 1843 and Mr. Lincoln then formed a partnership with William F. Herndon, under the firm name of Lincoln & Herndon, and occupied offices on the second floor over the store of John Irwin, 103 South Fifth street, which is now the south half of the Myers Brothers clothing store. 

The partnership of Lincoln & Herndon continued during Mr. Lincoln s term of office as President and was only dissolved by the death of Mr. Lincoln April 15, 1865.
Commemorative Centennial ribbons like this one
featuring Lincoln’s portrait framed beneath
a bronze eagle was very popular
Lincoln Centennial, Program of celebrations during Lincoln week at the Chicago Hebrew Institute, 485 West Taylor Street, on February 10-11-12-13, 1909, Yiddish programs for adults and included one for teens and one for children.
Curiously, the 1909 Lincoln Centennial Celebration banquet in Springfield excluded negroes—the infamous Springfield race riots had erupted on August 14, 1908, just months before—and the banquet occurred during the temperance movement. Yet the Springfield affair was extravagant and included wine, but it was reported that there would be at least six dry tables. Guests would show their temperance inclinations by turning glasses upside down.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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