By Laura Keys, Freeport Public Library
February 7, 2018
Have you ever seen a gathering of Abraham Lincolns? How about a procession of Mary Lincolns? Even if you have, make plans to be in Freeport this spring. From April 19-22, Freeport will host the annual Association of Lincoln Presenters conference.
Every year since 1995, cities from Burbank-Redlands, California, to Washington, D.C., have seen an influx of historical presenters committed to telling the story of the Lincolns to audiences around the country. This year’s organizer is Mary Lincoln presenter and Freeport resident Laura Keyes.
Keyes has been portraying women from history for over a decade and is devoted to the idea that not merely telling but showing the story of a figure from history enables engagement with a wider audience that is not often achievable in other mediums. Keyes also is an advocate of local history, emphasizing preservation, education and engagement with community organizations.
For those reasons, in addition to the part played by Freeport as the second of seven locations of the historic 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, she successfully pitched Freeport to the association as the location for its 2018 conference. Every year, the conference draws attendees from all over the nation, serving as an occasion for lectures, presentations, local tours, networking and fundraising.
Of equal importance to members of the association is using the conference as a time to work together to further their understanding of the Lincoln family not as myth or caricature, but as flesh-and-blood people who were at center stage during a watershed period of American history.
In making their decision, the association recognized that the resident of Freeport and the surrounding area have shown an interest in history and tradition without sacrificing the drive required to build a dynamic community for future generations.
This has translated into a variety of historical locations and monuments, venues for lectures and informal gatherings and a selection of restaurants, hotels and leisure activities with the same message: Freeport is worth the stop.
Each of these elements enable or support association events for the weekend, which include a Lincoln in Conversation presentation and dessert reception at Winneshiek Theatre, a keynote presentation and gala at the Freeport Club, a tour of the Stephenson County Historical Society and a Readin’ With Lincoln event at the Freeport Public Library.
The fact that citizens of Freeport and Stephenson County have begun to take ownership and make real investments in the Collaborate Freeport initiative is encouraging. The continuation of events like Cruise Night, as well as the addition of new ones like Paint the Port is proof.
But the fact that an outside organization committed to historic presentation and education — with the goal of fostering understanding and dialogue — chose Freeport as the site of its 2018 conference should be a signal that things are changing still further for the better.