Visitors flock to park in Lincoln tribute

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Extra park rangers help accommodate crowd

By Linda Ireland

On Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, his namesake park in Hodgenville was bedecked with yellow streamers.


The decor wasn’t part of the festivities, however. The caution tape warned visitors to stay on the sidewalk to reduce the chance of injuries from fallen limbs.

The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site looked like a “war zone” after the Jan. 27 ice storm, said Sandy Brue, chief of interpretation and resource management. It was without electricity and closed for several days as workers cleared the paths of limbs and debris.

The weather plagued the celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial for the second year. Last year’s national kickoff was canceled due to sleet and ice.

This year’s program, the unveiling of a new Lincoln penny, was planned at the park, but moved to LaRue County High School. It was impossible for the park workers to ready the grounds for the event.

Brue was disappointed in the change – but appreciative of the 1,200 people who attended the ceremony.

“I would have loved to have the programs at the base of the Memorial building – and people all over the grounds on a day like today,” she said.

Feb. 12 brought sunny skies and a swarm of visitors to the birthplace park.

“It has just been bedlam,” said Brue, who arrived at the site at noon after the coin unveiling ceremony. The park provided cake and punch along with the regular tours of the site. Rangers from other parks assisted with the crowd.

“When I got here, there wasn’t a parking place,” she said. “Kids have been sitting all over the ground, eating birthday cake.”

A busload of Wisconsin tourists, on their way home from Florida, stopped by the park.

“They were just thrilled to be able to be here (on Lincoln’s birthday),” she said.

Numerous children signed up for the park’s Jr. Ranger program and received an activity book designed by education specialist Steve Brown.

Jill Kraft and her four children drove to the park from their home in Owsley County to celebrate the 12th. The children are homeschooled and “wanted to take advantage of the educational opportunity,” Kraft said. Her two daughters checked out the Jr. Ranger book in the visitor’s center while her sons looked over other exhibits. They also had their photo made with a Lincoln presenter.

The family wasn’t aware of the other downtown Hodgenville programs, she said.

Another visitor, James Stillwell of Lexington, stood on the steps to the Memorial building and gazed at the temple that houses the symbolic birthplace cabin.

“I’ve been a Lincoln fanatic all my life,” said Stillwell, who took off work to attend every bicentennial event in Hodgenville that day. “I even share a birthday with Mary Todd.”

Sam Gardner of Clarksville, Ind., brought his granddaughters Sarah and Elizabeth to the park for the celebration.

“It’s his birthday,” Gardner said. “What better time to do it?”

Before the trip to Hodgenville, the girls thought Lincoln was born in Indiana.

Gardner said he is a long-time Lincoln fan.

“It’s always amazed me he grew up in this type of situation and ended up really changing our part of the world in ways I can’t even describe,” Gardner said.

“He changed history,” Sarah added.

The Lincoln boyhood cabin at Knob Creek was to be dedicated Feb. 12 also; however, the park was not open to visitors due to the storm. That ceremony will be planned for later in the year, possibly July 4, said Brue.