We were in Alton, IL, a few weeks back, when I spied the unusually shaped Wedge Bank building. It is not near as tall as NYC’s Flat Iron building, but it shares a similar floor plan. Alton is a Mississippi River town that is steeped in American history. Alton has three claims on the reflected glory of Abraham Lincoln. A walking tour of downtown can easily take you to all three commemorative sites. They are only a few blocks apart.
Just up the street from the Wedge building is the Ryder building, now the home of the restaurant, Just Desserts. Then the building served as the local circuit courthouse and as a young attorney Lincoln tried cases there. Once he represented Simeon Ryder, then the building’s owner and successfully collected a debt for him.
When Lincoln was an Illinois state legislator, he criticized then Illinois State Auditor James Shields. Mary Todd Lincoln exacerbated the situation by writing a letter containing vicious personal attacks on Shields. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel. Reluctantly Lincoln accepted and chose an island in the Mississippi at the duel’s site and calvary swords as the weapons. The fateful morning dawned. To ‘warm-up’, Lincoln took to hacking at a willow tree with such ferocity that Shields decided to settle matters peaceably.
The site of the final Lincoln-Douglas debate is near the riverfront. Both famous orators were campaigning in 1858 for the US Senate. Their debates had become high political theater and this one drew citizens from miles around. Lincoln lost the election, but went on to defeat Douglas and become President two years later.
This stroll down Illinois history serves as only preamble to today’s historical events. Today, on Martin Luther King Day, President Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in for a second term as our nation’s 44th president. Obama’s inaugural address held unmistakable echoes of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. I have to believe that Obama’s presidency is the physical embodiment of Abraham Lincoln’s dream. I pray that this country does not have to wait another 150 years to see Barack Obama’s dreams become realized.