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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003 02:20 pm

Decatur celebrates the Emancipator

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This statue of Lincoln giving his first political speech stands in Lincoln Square, Decatur

Abraham Lincoln, as a strapping young man earning his keep, split many a rail near Decatur, working for Macon County landowners such as Sheriff William Warnick. One day, Lincoln fell through the ice while walking on the frozen Sangamon River, and he was forced to nurse his frostbitten feet at the sheriff's home. As he recuperated, the story goes, he read Illinois statutes to while away the time. That fed his growing appetite for the law. Years later, as an attorney and rising politician, Lincoln frequently returned to Decatur for politicking and legal business

Like other central Illinois communities, Decatur's always had a special place for the Great Emancipator -- and now it has an additional reason to celebrate its Lincoln connection. Decatur Public Library is only one of 40 libraries nationwide -- and four in Illinois (the others are in Pekin, Orland Park, and Highland Park) -- that was accepted as a host for "Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln' Journey to Emancipation."

The exhibit, which opened on Monday, explores the history behind Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Two, six-section, 75-foot-long panels are displayed on the library's second-floor gallery. Using historical documents and photographs, the panels trace the role Lincoln played in destroying slavery in the U.S. The Huntington Library of San Marino, Calif., and the American Library Association organized the exhibit.

"The library staff has worked hard on this project for five months," says Sandi Pointon, coordinator of the exhibit. "We hope 'Forever Free' will draw folks from all over central Illinois."

"Forever Free" is on display through Jan. 9 at the Decatur Public Library, 130 N. Franklin St. For more information, see www.decatur.lib.il.us/lincoln/foreverfree.htm

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