The Lincoln Centennial (2-12-1909)

Today 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.

Here 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—just as John F. Kennedy is to seniors in 2017.

The Tribune views the Lincoln Centennial

The Tribune views the Lincoln Centennial

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

Ar 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.”

Auditorium speaker Woodrow Wilson

Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson

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. Black Chicagoans met at the Seventh Regiment Armory to hear readings of Lincoln speeches. At Hull House, Jane Addams gave a stereopticon lecture on Lincoln’s life. In Crystal Lake, a mass meeting was addressed by Major Henry Rathbone, whose parents were Lincoln’s theater guests the night of the assassination.

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, 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 Stock Yards. They listened to speeches, they sang, they shouted—“they gave vent to their patriotism,” the Tribune said.

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

—30—

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2 Responses to “The Lincoln Centennial (2-12-1909)”


  1. 1 Garry February 13, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Somewhat ironic that it was Wilson praising Lincoln, as Wilson was an appalling racist [he was a Virginian] & re-instituted many racist policies when he became president.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt February 13, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      Many of the Progressives of Wilson’s era were racist. He himself lived in Georgia when he was a child, during Sherman’s march and the early years of Reconstruction, which perhaps explains—though doesn’t justify—his attitudes. There’s been movement to remove Wilson’s name from various institutions at Princeton. Yale just removed John C. Calhoun’s name from one of its residence halls, so it will be interesting to see what Princeton finally does about Wilson.
      –JRS


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