Lincoln video draws enthusiastic crowd

[JAN. 13, 2003] Two seatings were required for Saturday nightís premiere showing of a video depicting Abraham Lincolnís involvement in Logan County because the crowd of over 400 exceeded the 300-seat capacity of the theater.

The video, produced by the Looking for Lincoln committee of Main Street Lincoln, is titled "From Surveyor to President: A. Lincoln in Logan County." It presents significant events in which Abraham Lincoln is known to have participated in the county. Ron Keller, Lincoln College Museum director and curator, called the filming of this local material "a long overdue project."

Many of those present Saturday night at LCís Johnston Center for the Performing Arts were watching their own performance, or a family memberís, or even their horseís. Kathy Taylor of Taylorville said of the video, "I thought it was great and very informative." Her daughterís pony Snapple was in the film.

Alex Barnett, 8, of Springfield said she enjoyed the part where she, as Nina Gillett, is giving a look to her father John D. Gillett, portrayed by Lee Johnson. "I also liked seeing Grandma [Gillette Ransom of Elkhart] because I thought she was a good player as Mary Todd Lincoln," Barnett added.

Illinois State Historian Tom Schwartz said cities sometimes overlook their greatest tourism asset -- their own local stories. "Artifacts pale in comparison to stories," he continued. "Ultimately it is the stories that visitors respond to." Schwartz, a historical consultant to Looking for Lincoln, said the project aims to help visitors experience the Lincoln who "walked among people, not above them."

Speakers on the program included Schwartz, Keller, Beaver, Main Street Lincoln manager Cynthia McLaughlin and Ron Schilling in his first official act as president of Lincoln College.


[Photos by Lynn Spellman]
[Many of the video's actors attended the viewing, including Greg Conrady, who acted in the christening scene.]

Dean Williams of Springfield filmed the video in late September. Narrated by Chuck McCue of Mount Pulaski, it shows scenes in or near Atlanta, Cornland, Elkhart, Lincoln, Middletown and Mount Pulaski. A grant from Illinois FIRST supported the project.

Schilling praised the inclusion of events from throughout Logan County. Many were shot in authentic locations, such as Mount Pulaski Courthouse, Stagecoach Inn at Middletown and the Hoblit carriage house -- now a shed -- near Atlanta. Footage of Lincoln riding along Edwardís Trace near Elkhart takes the viewer back to the 8th Judicial Circuit of the 1800s. Other scenes are set in rural areas uncluttered by modern intrusions. A surveying party crossing a stream and the christening of the city of Lincoln were shot on the Conrady-Paulus farm near Lincoln.


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Greg Conrady of rural Hartsburg plays a doctor in the christening scene. "It was fun," he said, "but itís not something Iíd like to do a lot." Repeating the scene "again and again and again" grew tiresome. Conrady was able to wear his own clothes for the scene, except for his hat, which was his son Codyís. Gillette Ransom was in charge of costumes.

Marilyn Craig of Lincoln said she found the video so touching she was almost moved to tears. Part of the mystique was watching people she knew, and the historical authenticity seemed to transport her into the time period.

Joe Woodard of Villa Grove played the unbearded, pre-presidential Lincoln. After seeing the completed video for the first time Saturday night, he said he enjoyed the process of making it and was interested in how the scenes were put together.


[Joe Woodard, who portrayed Lincoln, and Daris Knauer, who played Virgil Hickox.]

"Itís something weíve been wanting to do for years and years," Lincoln Mayor Beth Davis said of the project. "Iím glad we have so many dedicated people in the county to put this together."

A reception continued through the two showings of the video, with music provided by the Possum Holler Pickers.

At the premiere, Paul Beaver, Lincoln College emeritus professor of history and chair of the local Looking for Lincoln committee, announced a $5,000 gift from Bill Lane of Portola Valley, Calif, to go toward duplicating the video and disseminating it to schools, libraries, tour companies and others. Lane is making the gift in memory of his parents-in-law, the late Art and Louella Gimbel of Lincoln, and in honor of their children, Mary Lou Gimbel (Mrs. Homer) Harris of Lincoln, Donna Jean Gimbel (Mrs. Bill) Lane of Portola Valley and Art Dale Gimbel of San Mateo, Calif. Bill Lane, former owner of Sunset Publishing Company, was ambassador to Australia during the Reagan administration.

Copies of "From Surveyor to President: A. Lincoln in Logan County" can be obtained at the Main Street Lincoln office on the second floor of Union Planters Bank or by phoning 732-2929. The VHS version is $15 plus $3 postage and handling, and the DVD is $20 plus $2 postage and handling.

[Lynn Spellman