Across Illinois, cities, counties and organizations are paying homage to the state’s 200th birthday this year.
McLean County is no exception.
The local region played an important part in Illinois’ earliest years, local organizers say. Illinois State University is the state’s first public university, and President Abraham Lincoln’s ascension into public office began in these parts. Furthermore, several agricultural innovations began on local soil.
In recognition of Illinois’ official statehood on Dec. 3, 1818, several Bloomington and Normal organizations have events planned to commemorate this year’s bicentennial milestone — particularly during the warm-weathered months ahead.
Visit BN, the organization serving as the official Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, is making the bicentennial a focal point of its efforts this summer, said Brie Lohr, communications and marketing manager.
“We encourage everyone to attend our area’s bicentennial events to learn more about our state’s history,” Lohr said.
Local bicentennial-focused offerings in the months ahead include such themes as Route 66, Abraham Lincoln and cemeteries.
The McLean County Museum of History is playing a pivotal role in spotlighting the state’s historic milestone — and how the local area plays into it.
One of the local marquee events will be the annual Lincoln’s Festival on Route 66, slated to take place from Friday, July 20 to Sunday, July 22. Festivities will include living history performances, Civil War re-enactments and walking tours.
Jeff Woodard, director of marketing and community relations with the museum, said this year’s festival will showcase the bicentennial “through dramatized stories of ordinary people who became real hometown heroes by adapting to extraordinary times.”
He added, “Members of the Historic Acting Troupe will portray men and women whose experiences provide a travelogue that spans the generations and the miles, highlighting sights, sounds and ideas that echoed throughout the nation.”
Lohr said another annual event bicentennial buffs will want to check out this summer has a literary and artistic twist.
“The Illinois Shakespeare Festival has created a new event, Shakespeare in the Land of Lincoln symposium, to celebrate the milestone,” Lohr said.
The symposium, which kicks off Saturday June 30, delves into Lincoln’s interest in William Shakespeare’s writings.
In a statement, William Prenevost, the festival’s managing director, said a bicentennial focus to this year’s program was a logical decision and occurred organically through collaboration with scholars, including Michael Anderegg, an English professor whose areas of expertise include Shakespeare.
“There is a rich local history involving Mr. Lincoln from the years he worked in Bloomington-Normal,” Prenevost said in the statement. “After Dr. Anderegg agreed to come to ISF to talk about his book with our patrons, local Lincoln scholars convinced me to expand it into a symposium.”
While much of McLean County’s recognition of the 200-year milestone is planned this summer, events will continue beyond the season.
A guided walk of Evergreen Cemetery, for instance, is planned at the historic site, 302 E. Miller St., Bloomington, on Saturdays, Sept. 29 and Oct. 6, and Sundays, Sept. 30 and Oct. 7.
The event will look at several McLean County residents buried at the site who played a part in the region’s founding at the time of the bicentennial. A number of local notable names will be featured throughout the event.
—- McLean summer events recognize state’s bicentennial —