Bloomington celebrates ties to Lincoln, reveals 'Lincoln Funeral Train Marker'
Many Bloomington residents have strong ties to the Abraham Lincoln and devote years to researching his impact in the central Illinois area.
On Tuesday afternoon, the City of Bloomington and the McLean County Museum of History dedicated a new “Looking for Lincoln” historical marker in honor of Lincoln’s profound impact. The marker is named the “Lincoln Funeral Train Marker” and is located at the corner of Chestnut and Allin streets in Bloomington.
Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said remembering the role Lincoln played in Bloomington's history is still important 150 years later.
“Having lived in communities where not much attention is paid to history, and sometimes where people have a propensity to destroy history because of political disputes, the work that the museum does communicates to future generations the importance of preserving our history,” Mwilambwe said. “I think we should be thankful for that. As we unveil this marker here, it makes me think of how special Bloomington is, and it will always be.”
"The work that the museum does communicates to future generations the importance of preserving our history. I think we should be thankful for that."Mboka Mwilambwe
On May 3, 1865, thousands of local citizens lined up near the old Bloomington train depot to watch “The Lincoln Special” transport the body of the 16th president after he was assassinated. The train was en route to Springfield where Lincoln is buried, when it stopped in Bloomington to pick up water and wood.
“Indeed, Bloomington held a special place in Abraham Lincoln’s heart because he’s been here many times, and also Abraham Lincoln held a special place in the people of Bloomington’s heart as evidence by the number of people that gathered at this location when the funeral car made its way,” Mwilambwe said.
Norris Porter, director of development at the McLean County Museum, said it is not uncommon for many Twin City residents to feel a strong connection to Lincoln to this day, and it is why the “Looking for Lincoln” project and the McLean County Museum of History partnered to create this additional marker.
Porter said the marker is focused on telling the story of Lincoln through Bloomington’s perspective.
“I just hope that people in Bloomington and McLean County realize the impact and the connection between Bloomington and Lincoln. I think today, we don’t celebrate Lincoln the way that they did through the sesquicentennial and into the late '60s. It seems today we’ve lost some of the luster and the yearning to understand and connect with Lincoln, and I hope this will excite people on exploring the history of Lincoln locally so that they can be inspired as well,” Porter said.
Porter himself contributed to both the research and the writing that comprises the marker. He has been passionate about learning about Lincoln since he was 10 years old. Since he was gifted a Lincoln memorial penny set as a child, the drive to learn has not stopped.
“Now, as I continue to study Lincoln and collect Lincoln things, it’s very interesting how each generation finds their own Lincoln, and people use Lincoln in so many different ways to try to champion their specific points of view,” Porter said.
“That’s because he grew and changed over time, and so it’s easy to find things, and we are still attracted to Lincoln because of his integrity, what he did for the country, and his eloquence. His mastery of the English language is not surpassed by any other president in our history, and I think that resonates with people.”
Another longtime supporter of Lincoln is McLean County Museum of History volunteer Dianne Hollister, who said as a young girl, she read brochures from museums about U.S. history; learning about Lincoln and visiting Springfield sparked her interest in his presidency.
“I hold him in reverence as how presidents should be: good, kind, wanting the best for everyone,” Hollister said.
Hollister helped lead the development of the marker project, saying the history of Bloomington has always intrigued her. Now, she calls Bloomington one of her forever homes.
With the new marker, Hollister hopes it encourages Bloomington people of all ages to learn about Lincoln’s influence in the community.
“I just want children to know more about Lincoln, and it’s just like a fire that burns in you. You want to know more and more. It perpetuates the knowledge that he was here in our community, in Springfield, in Illinois. He was such a wonderful president,” Hollister said.
She continued, “He is a moral compass. He was kind, and he listened to people, and I know he had the public good in mind. So, as I say, he is a legend in my mind. He is just next to sainthood and a moral compass for everyone to follow.”
Sarah Watson is executive director of “Looking for Lincoln” and the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area. She said “Looking for Lincoln” works with communities throughout Illinois to allow them to tell similar stories.
Watson said the new marker gives light to Bloomington’s story.
“It’s just important that we preserve and share our history, particularly to the next generations as they come along. In this case, Lincoln had quite an impact on Bloomington, and Bloomington had a significant impact on Lincoln and the way his career went,” she said.
“There are just so many significant Bloomington people in that story. It’s something that the community should and does take great pride in.”