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Reeder: Abe’s back in spotlight, thanks to new movie

FILE - This undated publicity phoreleased by DreamWorks Twentieth Century Fox shows Daniel Day-Lewis center rear as Abraham Lincoln scene

FILE - This undated publicity photo released by DreamWorks and Twentieth Century Fox, shows Daniel Day-Lewis, center rear, as Abraham Lincoln, in a scene from the film, "Lincoln." Leaving nothing to chance, Daniel Day-Lewis' prep for his movie role as Abraham Lincoln included the two-time Academy Award winner secretly spending time in the 16th U.S. president's former Illinois turf. (AP Photo/DreamWorks, Twentieth Century Fox, David James, File)

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Updated: December 30, 2012 3:52PM



Springfield is a town of hundreds of politicians, thousands of bureaucrats and one big tomb.

And buried within with his wife and three of his children is Abraham Lincoln — the 16th president of the United States, Great Emancipator, Preserver of the Union, Rail Splitter and scion of Illinois.

With Daniel Day Lewis playing him in Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed new film, national attention once again is being drawn to Honest Abe.

For those of us living in Springfield, we are well aware of the long, often mythical shadow he casts.

Folks from Chicago to Cairo and beyond make pilgrimages to the state capital to visit the famous tomb, even to meditate before it, and to touch the nose of the large bronze bust of Lincoln outside the tomb for good luck.

It’s one of the Prairie State’s best-known and oddest rituals.

I realized the pervasiveness of this tradition three years ago when my daughter, Grace, who then was 4, announced, “Daddy, I rubbed Mr. Lincoln’s nose for good luck two weeks ago, but now my luck is all gone. We need to go to Mr. Lincoln’s tomb right away.”

After taking her to Oak Ridge Cemetery and lifting her to touch Abe’s nose, I stood back and watched a parade of pilgrims from across the planet step forward to do the same. They touched the bust with religious reverence and solemnity.

Abe’s nose is rubbed so often that a metalsmith is periodically dispatched to patch holes.

Springfield is a town composed mainly of people who wouldn’t think of bowing before an idol — unless it’s Honest Abe.

In Lincoln’s case, all rationality is gone. He’s Illinois’ martyred saint.

If you grow up in the state, you are thoroughly indoctrinated in Lincoln lore. As a kid, I was fascinated by Lincoln, in part because he and I share the same birthday.

I read every Lincoln biography in the school library, had a picture of Honest Abe tacked to my bedroom bulletin board and could rattle off Lincoln trivia the way other boys can recite baseball statistics. When I was 8, I wanted to go to Gettysburg, not Disney World.

That’s why I like Spielberg’s movie so much. He cast Lincoln in a different, more realistic light.

Rather than giving him near-messianic qualities, Spielberg depicts Lincoln as a wisecracking Illinois politician who wheeled and dealed behind the scenes to get his legislation passed and accomplish his political goals.

He’s seen passing out patronage jobs to outgoing lawmakers during a lame-duck session of Congress.

His goal of freeing the slaves was honorable, but the political sausage making behind the scenes wasn’t pretty.

This portrayal of Lincoln has ruffled the feathers for many who were reared on the Lincoln myth.

But for me, it’s a refreshing and accurate depiction, showing a brilliant but flawed man with a noble purpose.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.



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