A man resembling “Honest Abe” Lincoln rode horseback into Paris Sept. 14, 1976, as part of the local celebration of the nation’s bicentennial.
Richard Blake, a famous portrayer of Lincoln, was riding part of the Eighth Judicial Circuit and stopped at the Edgar County Courthouse to discuss some of Lincoln’s famous cases. The visit was made possible by the Illinois Department of Conservation and involved a 14-county effort to show and tell the locals about the early life of Lincoln the lawyer.
The day of Blake’s visit, the Edgar County Historical Society held a coffee and cookie reception at their meeting place and a public ice cream social on the courthouse grounds. Lincoln’s arrival was timed for 7 p.m. as the social was winding up.
The writer for the Paris Beacon-News expressed the importance of Lincoln in the history of our town and what a remarkable person he was. The article described Lincoln: “He was honest, witty, humble and kind. But the fact remains that the breadth of the man who was Lincoln cannot easily be assessed; not by poets or writers of tomes. It remains for each individual to find something of what Lincoln was.”
It went on to say how important Lincoln was as a person who came to Illinois, became a lawyer and father and even the President of the United States, stating, “Lincoln was also a writer of almost biblical prose.”
The importance of the re-enactment was to understand our history a little better by using drama and authentic costumes then traveling a historic route to a historic place. We can only imagine the conditions that Lincoln faced and yet he seemed to keep his spirit up and was quite witty at times.
Back in the 1840s and ’50s, Lincoln went from Springfield along with several other legal men to help resolve the legal cases in the sparsely settled areas. The cases were diverse and included everything from hog stealing to murder, plus numerous civil issues of land or other property disputes.
The food was not necessarily grand while riding the circuit and public accommodations were crude at best with stories about bedbugs or with his feet sticking well out of the covers. A horse named Old Buck accompanied Lincoln on the journey around the circuit.
So 20th century citizens got the experience of seeing Lincoln riding old Buck into the Paris even though it was 130 years after his last visit while riding the circuit. There were no cases to be tried, but it was a reflection of the past that showed the character of a man destined to become president at a time when he was sorely needed. He may have dismounted and casually addressed the townspeople as he did so many years ago, but it was only a glimpse to the real character of Lincoln portrayed by a look-alike actor.
Even today there are a few glimpses of Lincoln thanks to the Looking for Lincoln effort done by our state and local citizens and the Edgar County Historical Society. A glimpse of him can be found at the Historical Annex, the south side of the square, the Bicentennial Art Center and Museum and the Paris Public Library.