The Five Lincoln Memorial
Trees of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, 1850s to the Present, and a Proposal
D. Leigh Henson
Illinois State University '64, '69, '82
Springfield, Missouri, February 8, 2017; revised August 2017, August 2018, November 2019; July 2020; July 1, 2023. The 2017 revision added the proposal section to the original report on the Lincoln Memorial Trees. Recommended browser is Firefox. Note: To avoid the need for horizontal scrolling for some images, you may have to go to "View" on the file menu bar then to "Zoom" and "Zoom Out," once or twice.
We Americans celebrate our presidents in many creative ways, for example: ceremonial speeches; various forms of literature, paintings, music, sculpture; and commemorative gardens and trees. The Lincoln Memorial Trees of Bloomington-Normal have particular significance because of his activities and heritage at those places. Abraham Lincoln had ties first to Bloomington, and legend holds that Stephen A. Douglas and he delivered speeches under the shade of an ancient oak tree there in the 1850s. Also in Bloomington Mr. Lincoln delivered his famous “Lost Speech” of May 29, 1856, in Major's Hall, and that speech helped to launch the Illinois Republican Party. In 1914, just before his passing, Bloomington resident Adlai E. Stevenson I, a former US congressman and vice president, and other civic leaders designated its Lincoln-Douglas-related oak as a Lincoln Memorial Tree. Mr. Lincoln was the attorney for the founders of Illinois State University (ISU)--then named Illinois State Normal University (ISNU, 1857)--and an official Lincoln Memorial Tree was planted on ISNU's main Quad allegedly just prior to his funeral. This webpage tells the stories of those and the other Lincoln Memorial Trees in these communities and proposes how ISU could advance its campus commemoration of the Lincoln heritage. I discuss ISU's Lincoln Memorial Trees first because ISU had such a designated tree before Bloomington did.
As background for this report/proposal, let me explain how my degrees in English studies at ISU led from my careers to my eventual interest in Abraham Lincoln. ISU gave me a combination of liberal arts education and professional education that enabled me to have two careers in education--first, teaching English at Pekin Community High School, Pekin, Illinois, for thirty years and second, teaching technical communication at Missouri State University for fourteen years. Both careers were strengthened by my part-time business experience as a professional/technical communicator made possible by my ISU education (in 1990 I cofounded Technical Publications, Inc., of Morton, Illinois--http://tpaone.com/). In retirement, my ISU education has also enabled me to pursue the fun work of researching and publishing on subjects of interest relating to my hometown of Lincoln, Illinois--the First Lincoln Namesake Town--specifically, the celebrated author/New Yorker editor William Maxwell, a native Lincolnite, and Abraham Lincoln, the attorney for his namesake town's founders. I have become especially interested in Mr. Lincoln's political activity and rhetoric.
In 2008, as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of Lincoln, Illinois, I proposed a reenactment of Mr. Lincoln's 1858 two-hour Republican rally and speech in Lincoln, Illinois, the day after the last Lincoln-Douglas debate, at Alton. Hardly any citizens of my hometown had ever heard of that local history, and no known copy exists of the speech Mr. Lincoln gave there and then. I also proposed that my hometown erect a bronze statue of Mr. Lincoln to commemorate the town's historic 1858 Republican rally/Lincoln speech. When hometown locals decided to make the reenactment the centerpiece of their Bicentennial Celebration of Mr. Lincoln's birth, I researched and wrote the play script for the reenactment pageant, including the text of a speech that Mr. Lincoln could have given at his 1858 First Namesake Town Republican rally. Later, I published on the experience of researching and composing the play script--in a peer-reviewed article, "Lincoln at Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln Rallies Logan County, Illinois, in His First Namesake Town on October 16, 1858," in the Lincoln Bicentennial (double) issue of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 101, nos. 3–4 (Fall/Winter, 2009): 356–392. After a committee of local citizens decided to commission the proposed Lincoln statue, I advised on its design. The statue, Lincoln Rallies the People by David Seagraves, was dedicated on the Logan County Courthouse lawn in May 2016. My hometown community history website--Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois (2003--the present) and my book The Town Abraham Lincoln Warned: The Living Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois (2011)--received Superior Achievement awards from the Illinois State Historical Society. In 2014 I published "Classical Rhetoric as a Lens for Reading the Key Speeches of Lincoln's Political Rise, 1852--1856" in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. In May 2017 I published a book titled Inventing Lincoln: Approaches to his Rhetoric, with testimonial endorsements from prominent Lincoln scholars.
In developing this webpage, I found that it prompted a couple of memories of my experiences at ISU, and I could not resist the temptation to weave some of those remembrances into this report/proposal. Also, a couple of notes about sources: except for one photo included on this webpage, the contemporary photos are ones I have taken at different times in recent years when I visited daughter Kendra and her family in Bloomington-Normal. I obtained the picture postcards on this webpage from eBay. Newspaper articles were discovered through Newspapers.com--World Collection (accessed through my account with the Springfield-Greene County Library District, Springfield, MO). I used the online resources of the ISU Archives to access digital copies of the 1909 Index, 1932 Index, 1953 Index, and the 1979 Student Record. Other sources were discovered through basic Internet searches. I am grateful to Pat Steinke Hartman, my devoted wife, for her suggestions and proofreading (but I take sole responsibility for errors). I asked for and received help from ISU library research staff, and I am most grateful for their contributions.
I invited Mr. Patrick Murphy, curator of the Fell Arboretum, located on ISU's main Quad (site of its three Lincoln Memorial Trees), to review this webpage for the purpose of adding or correcting information, and he kindly responded:
The work conducted on the Lincoln Tree history
is quite impressive. I would not have been able to create such a record on
my own. The information requested for information about the Lincoln Tree(s)
would have required the assistance from information experts like yourself. I
was unable to find anything, record wise, that would be suitable to add to
your amazing work.
permit me to share some information related to your emails and the potential
for ISU and the Fell Arboretum moving forward.
I am the
first curator for the Fell Arboretum. The director for the arboretum is the
faculties’ director. Since the Fell Arboretum was originated in 1996, there
has been only one accurate record of the arboretum. It was conducted by the
Department of Biology and managed by Mr. Don Schmidt. The records kept by
grounds from that time moving forward have been nonexistent from 1996-2012.
grounds records that have been kept and shared are great to have but have
proven to be incomplete. The tree type, when and where planted, source
nursery, etc., are spotty at best. The good news is that there is an
independent study with Horticulture students, myself and a notable emeritus
educator. The goal is to create a robust record that can be shared and used
for the purposes of education.
records for grounds tree activity have been much improved for 2015 – present
time. Sharing of trees and landscape feature plants removed, and those
planted have started to take shape. I anticipate the new record being
complete by May 2017 and ready for sharing with you and shared through the
ISU Department of Biology, Fell Arboretum web link, and the ISU Fell
Arboretum Facebook page.
I hope all of this activity will serve as an opportunity to create more new friends of the ISU Fell Arboretum. Please keep in mind that I routinely offer guided tree walks of all parts of the Fell Arboretum for various ISU work groups as a way of enhancing awareness, wellness, and best practices that relate to our sharing the world with each other, in harmony with nature (email to me, 2-3-17). (Note: More about the Fell Arboretum online at http://arboretum.illinoisstate.edu/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fell_Arboretum, Also social media potential growth at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fell-Arboretum/144000115615526?fref=ts. 2014 news report about Mr. Murphy's "tree walks": https://news.illinoisstate.edu/2014/07/arboretum-buzz-grows-curators-new-tree-walks/.)
I especially thank Ms. Christine Fary, research services assistant librarian of Milner Library at ISU, for her efforts to invite the University Archives and the Fell Arboretum units to contribute information to this project. Ms. Fary went out of her way to look for contemporary evidence of a Lincoln Memorial Tree on the ISU Quad as indicated below and elsewhere on this webpage:
I went out to the Quad earlier, and I looked at all the trees around the area where the bell and the Old Main Hall Memorial Bell and plaque currently reside, looking at the identification tags that the Arboretum [unit] has placed on the majority of trees on the Quad. I still didn't see any plaques mentioning a Lincoln Memorial Tree, but I noted a Douglas fir to the right of the current flag pole if you are facing north toward the plaque with your back to the flag pole. It has a fork at the top where one part has broken off, but the other part of the fork is intact. However, I noticed that the first article you sent said that the tree was a "pine," so I'm not so sure that the fir is the right tree. There is an Austrian pine with a very wide base also to the right (east) of the plaque but farther south [emphasis mine for this tree's significance, as later explained]. I also noticed a group of two white pines and one eastern white pine to the right (east) of the Main Hall plaque if you are facing north, in front of Moulton Hall. There is a group of Scotch pines and Austrian pines to the left (west) of the plaque that is in front of Cook Hall, as well as another Douglas fir and one other kind of pine that is short and has a top that leans way over that I am not able to identify because its tag is faded. However, none of these trees has any plaque or tag stating that they are the Lincoln Memorial Tree (email to me, 1-17-17).
Illinois State University's Two, Lost Lincoln Memorial Trees and a
Third, Rediscovered Tree of Lincoln Lore, and
The somewhat revisionist, historical narrative of this webpage reveals that for a brief, undetermined time early in the twentieth century, ISU had two, rival Lincoln Memorial Trees--both ill fated. Then, for decades in mid-twentieth century, a third tree was proudly but mistakenly believed to be the original Lincoln Memorial Tree. That tree still lives on the Quad as of February 2017. As Lincoln lore, it may thus be considered an unofficial Lincoln Memorial Tree.
ISU's Original Lincoln Memorial Tree
My leisure-time reading in the winter of 2017 included an autographed copy of The Grandest of Enterprises: The Centennial History of Illinois State University (1956) by Helen E. Marshall, one of ISU's esteemed history professors of mid-twentieth century. At age seventy-four I first heard of a "Lincoln tree" at ISU by reading this book. As an undergraduate history minor at ISU and now a history buff and Lincoln buff in the emeritus life, I became interested in ISU's origin and development. ISU is Illinois's oldest public university. And, as a former student of Professor Marshall who became a writer and instructor of technical communication, including document design, I am interested in what and how she wrote. An accomplished writer, she well knew its value to her profession. Grandest of Enterprises features clear explanations, vivid descriptions and narration, and scrupulous documentation. It is a peculiar feeling to read a publication of one who taught me history--as well as a hard lesson about writing, as explained later.
Generations of ISU students saw the above quotation from Plato on a wall in the Capen Auditorium of Edwards Hall as they sat patiently during the registration process or attended large, lecture sections of survey courses or guest lectures. I recall one contentious guest-lecture-debate between the "Young Turk" history Professor Dean Ware, a specialist in Medieval history, and a Catholic priest. Dr. Ware's sarcasm was provocative, and it was a demonstration of a quality that endeared him to a group of students who gathered around him every chance they could, especially after class. I enjoyed his lecture style in class--characterized by witty irony--but I was not one of his groupies.
Professor Marshall increased my respect for the importance of good writing when I took her survey of American history course in the fall of 1963. I recall going to her class in the early afternoon of November 22 within an hour after the announcement of the death of President Kennedy. Like many other professors, Dr. Marshall dismissed the class, but first she advised us students to spend time that day writing our thoughts and feelings about the tragedy. I did not follow her advice: I thought it pointless, and I was too upset and interested in listening to my pocket transistor radio to follow the breaking news.
Another lesson about writing, however, that Dr. Marshall taught me took hold. The research ("term") paper on the history of the upper Mississippi River valley I wrote for her class was one of three I cranked out during the Christmas vacation that semester (in those days the first semester ended in mid-January). I had checked out quite a few books from Milner Library and taken them to my parents' small home in Lincoln, where I had set up a card table to work (I wrote during the day and ran around in the evenings, often far into the night). A few years later when my parents replaced their coal furnace with gas, I converted the coal bin into a study as I worked on my master's, painting the walls and using an industrial-arts desk my dad had salvaged from the Lincoln Community High School, where he was a janitor and bus driver (later, the superintendent of buildings and grounds).
During the 1963 Christmas vacation, I did a rush job on those papers, and the worst grade I got on them was the one for Dr. Marshall. She properly humbled me with a D for my sloppy performance. I knew I had especially slighted my effort on the paper for her course, because I had not expected a history professor to be critical of composition (after all, I had cited quite a few books). She especially took exception to some of my sentence construction. Fortunately, my test grades enabled me to avoid a below-average grade for the course, but she had made her point.
Grandest of Enterprises makes only one, passing reference to the first Lincoln Memorial Tree on the campus of ISNU. In describing the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the institution (1897), Dr. Marshall reports that three former University presidents joined President John Williston Cook "on the rostrum of Normal Hall [Old Main]: General Charles E. Hovey, Dr. Richard Edwards, and Dr. Edwin Hewett." All delivered speeches on education, and they viewed the campus with pride:
From the balcony atop the south porch, the four presidents looked across the campus. Hovey [the founding president and a Union general in the Civil War], resting on the arm of President Cook, noted the carefully laid out streets, the jangling little street car, and the many, many trees where once there had been only a cornfield. Cook told him of the terrible storm in June 1892, the wind, the lightning, and the rain. The roof had been torn off Old Main, eleven of her sixteen chimneys demolished, water had stood four inches deep in the study hall floor. He showed him the Lincoln tree that had been broken in half. It had taken six weeks to clear the campus and the town (p. 207).
The undated, rare picture postcard below shows the first Lincoln Memorial Tree aligned with the entrance to Old Main. As noted later, ISNU officials came to regard the tree's location as a problem. The scraggly tree appears to be some kind of pine, but I do not know enough about trees to speculate on its species. Local lore mistakenly had it that civic leader and Illinois State Normal University (ISNU) founder Jesse W. Fell and other citizens planted this tree on April 16, 1865--the day after Abraham Lincoln's assassination. As documented later on this webpage, ISU's first Lincoln Memorial Tree was not planted on that date but apparently on May 3, 1865, the day his funeral train passed through Normal on the way to Springfield.
Mr. Fell was also a
founder of the town of Normal, Illinois (home of ISNU), and he
was an early proponent of beautifying the campus and town with
and shrubs. He had studied botany in his formative years and had developed a
life-long interest in trees and other flora. He and his wife had established
orchards in Adams County, western Illinois, on their farm, Fruit Hill,
before moving to Bloomington in 1833. Mr. Fell was a close political friend
of Abraham Lincoln and convinced him to write his now-famous 1860 campaign autobiography.
Later on this webpage you will find more information about Jesse W. Fell and
his legacy at Illinois State University, including the Fell Arboretum and
the Fell Gate at the eastern entrance to the ISU Quad. For a good summary of
Mr. Fell's activities in farming, the law, land speculation, the founding of
several central Illinois towns, and politics, including his support of
Abraham Lincoln's political career--with a dramatic, vital role in the 1860
Republican presidential convention--, see Reg Ankrom, "Payson's Jesse Fell,
a Key Lincoln Man,"
The Replacement, Rival Lincoln Memorial Tree
In the 1909 Index, the ISNU yearbook, I discovered the following passage referring to the Lincoln Memorial Tree and a replacement for it that became the competitor of the original:
Many citizens of Normal and Bloomington attended [memorial ceremony on May 3, 1865, as the Lincoln funeral train briefly stopped on its journey to Springfield]. It was an event of profound interest, always to be remembered by those present.
The school then [that day?] decided to plant an evergreen, to be called the Lincoln Tree. The most prominent place on the grounds, directly south of the front entrance of the building [Old Main], and of the carriage drive, was selected. The students and teachers met there [as President] John W. Cook, '65, threw the first spade full of dirt and led in the music; and with prayers, speeches, and tears the exercises were held in the presence of a large concourse of people. It was fondly hoped the tree would always remain.
Unfortunately, however, as it grew, it became apparent the location selected was unfortunate, the tree being the only object to obstruct the vista from the main building to the south. Ten years ago , the State Board of Education appointed Dr. Cook and one of his classmates to determine how the grounds could be improved by the removal of trees. When the rest of their duty was completed, they came to the Lincoln Tree, and, recalling sacred memories, walked around it; then one said: "This obstructs the view, and ought to be taken away." Inquiry was made, and it was learned the tree would not survive a removal. The two decided they would not give the order for its destruction.
At the next meeting of the Board, the matter was called to its attention. The members went in a body and said the woodman should spare the tree until further action should be taken. Many of them knew about it; some had attended the school.
The next year  the tornado that destroyed one-third of the trees, and seriously damaged as many more, blew off the top of this tree, leaving it unsightly, but it has since grown to about its former height. At the December, 1908, meeting, the Board voted the tree should be cut down, and another one furnished to be planted by the students at the Lincoln centennial . President Felmley was appointed [as] a committee of one to attend to carrying out the instructions. The new tree was planted with appropriate ceremonies, but two petitions from bodies of the students have been presented to let the first tree stand. These petitions will be presented to the Board; in its next meeting, pending which the tree will remain. Whatever the ultimate fate of the Lincoln Tree may be, it will be gratifying to the Board that so many students have shown their interest in this way.
So here we have an instance of a conflict between utility and sentiment: between present conditions and an historic relic. Each one will reach his conclusion as he is inclined to give the greater weight to one or the other of these considerations.
Thus, two tornados damaged the original Lincoln Memorial Tree: the one in 1892 that Dr. Marshall referred to earlier and the one that struck in 1900 as cited immediately above. For an indefinite time, two Lincoln Memorial Trees competed. The banner photo of ISU's Old Main Project website shows the original Lincoln Memorial Tree (and others) obstructing the view of the Quad from the porch, second-floor balcony, and windows of Old Main: http://oldmain.illinoisstate.edu/.
I am grateful to Ms. Julie Neville, a researcher at the ISU Archives, for discovering the 1924 Pantagraph article below (at left) that describes the removal and replacement of the original Lincoln Memorial Tree. This finding exposes the error of the 1965 Pantagraph article I discovered that purports to identify the Lincoln Memorial Tree. Ms. Neville reports that she finds no information about the Lincoln Memorial tree in archives of the Vidette, the student newspaper. In view of the preceding account in the 1909 Index, the 1924 Pantagraph report's source is inaccurate in attributing the removal of the First Lincoln Memorial Tree and its replacement to 1901.
The 1924 article displayed above identifies the maple tree in honor of Thomas Metcalf. He was member of the original ISNU faculty, and he served the institution for thirty-two years, teaching such various subjects as spelling and mathematics. Mr. Metcalf, a close friend of the second president of ISNU, Richard Edwards, also became the director of the Training Department. No elm tree on the Quad has been identified as a Lincoln Memorial Tree as of January 2017. The photo below, from the 1932 Index, shows the Metcalf Memorial Tree damaged by a 1902 storm:
The 1924 article also mentions that
both the tree planted in 1876 to commemorate the nation's centennial and the
replacement Lincoln Tree were elms. Most likely, they were American elms,
and if so surely would have succumbed to the Dutch elm disease, which
devastated American elm trees throughout the Midwest at mid-twentieth
The Lincoln Memorial Elm was planted
east of (in front of) the gymnasium, now Cook Hall. The following 1908
picture postcard shows trees in front of this building the year before the
Lincoln Memorial Elm was planted. Owing to the popularity of the American
elm, I wonder if any trees in this picture were that species. As an ISU
undergraduate, I took a survey course in botany, and the professor gave us
students a multi-page keying guide and took us to the Quad to use it in
identifying tree species by leaf characteristics (in those days few, if any,
trees had identifying plaques affixed to their trunks). I wonder if the
picture below shows enough information, for example, shape of trunks,
crowns, and branches, to allow a tree taxonomist to identify species.
When I looked, the word elm did not appear in the Fell Arboretum website catalog of current trees (http://arboretum.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/plant_list.pdf). Ms. Fary pointed out to me that in that catalog "there are four kinds of elms indicated by their scientific genus, Ulmus, but they do not have common names listed next to them in that document. I looked up the common names and listed them next to the scientific ones:
Because of the Dutch elm disease, no wonder this list does not include an American elm.
History is fact; lore is common, traditional belief, possibly all fiction, possibly a mixture of fact and fiction---mythology. Both history and lore may be lost, but what is lost may be found. The tree depicted in the preceding 1965 Pantagraph article was Lincoln lore to generations, but it has no historical marker. The recent investigations into the Lincoln Memorial Trees at ISU found nobody who identified that pine as the Lincoln Memorial Tree. Yet it continues as a venerable feature of the Quad's Fell Arboretum, and an argument can be made that it thus qualifies as a third Lincoln Memorial Tree.
In the first paragraph of page one of Dr. Marshall's The Eleventh Decade (1967), I found a description of how Illinois State Normal University (name changed to Illinois State University on January 1, 1964) had begun to celebrate its centennial on January 8, 1957, with the ringing of Old Main's bell. It was and is mounted as a memorial immediately south and center of the Old Main Plaza. That description includes reference to the location of the tree she mistook as the Lincoln Memorial Tree:
Bong. Bong. Bong. It was the familiar sound of Old Main's Bell, that had once proudly rung from the tower of Old Main. Bong. Bong. Bong. Now it pealed forth from a low framework of steel and masonry behind the flagpole and to the right of the Lincoln pine, planted the day the martyred president's funeral train had passed through Normal [May 3, 1865].
Dr. Marshall's above
description could be interpreted to mean she was
viewing the Old Main Bell Memorial setting from the perspective of
facing it, indicating that the (mistaken) Lincoln Memorial Tree was to
the left of the Bell Memorial. Yet the photo below from the 1953 Index,
ISU's yearbook, shows no pine tree near the site that would become home
to the Bell Memorial. Nor does the photo show any elm tree that was the
second Lincoln Memorial Tree, although this scene is roughly within the area
east of Cook Hall where the second Lincoln Memorial Tree was planted.
Clearly, Dr. Marshall's reference to "the Lincoln pine" is from
a different perspective on the scene.
The photo below from the 1979 Student Record, the University's renamed yearbook, shows the area immediately south of the Old Main Plaza, including the flagpole and the Old Main Bell Memorial. Of particular interest is the aged, topped pine tree--an Austrian pine--seen in the photo: this tree is probably the one that Dr. Marshall and others, as indicated by the preceding 1965 Pantagraph article and photo, mistook as the Lincoln Memorial Tree. The columned building in the background (at right) is the second Milner Library (as an undergraduate English major in the early 1960s and graduate student working on a master's in English in the late 1960s, I was a patron of the first Milner Library [now Williams Hall], and as a doctoral student in English Studies from 1976 to 1982, I was a patron of the second Milner Library).
About the plaque in the foreground of the above photo, Ms. Fary notes that it "is a memorial to ISU veterans. There is a plaque on the bell itself, and a separate plaque for Main Hall north of the bell. However, the plaques for Main Hall and for the bell do not say anything about the Lincoln Memorial Tree. I haven't seen any plaques at all that mention the Lincoln Memorial Tree" (email to me, 1-23-17).
The Fell Arboretum Memorial Stone is located on the University's main Quad near the entrance to Hovey Hall, the central administration building, which is just south of the Jesse W. Fell Gate. In the early twentieth century, the heavily treed southern portion of the Quad, near the outdoor amphitheater, was known as Sherwood Forest.
D. Leigh Henson at the Fell Arboretum, with Lincoln Memorial Tree, August 2019
The Jesse W. Fell Gate to the Campus of Illinois State University
Jesse Fell's leadership in the greening of the ISU campus and many other places: http://arboretum.illinoisstate.edu/history.
The photo below shows Moulton Hall just beyond the Fell Gate, on the
northeast campus. According to ISU's website, "Moulton Hall is
home to the Office of the University Registrar. The Registrar's Office
consists of the Registrar Service Center, Veterans' Services, Academic
Records & Evaluation Services, and Transcripts and Verifications. Academic
Scheduling and the Department of Physics are also housed in this building.
Moulton Hall was named after Samuel Moulton, a University founder and
congressman, who mortgaged his property to keep the University going through
the Civil War. Samuel Moulton was also a member of the original Board of
Education. The hall opened in 1920 and first became the Thomas Metcalf
Laboratory School for teachers and classes (K-12). Adlai Stevenson II was one
of the school's most famous pupils."
The inscription beneath Mr. Fell's name: "Dedicated by His Grandchildren--1915."
Illinois State University could enhance its distinction by advancing how it commemorates its historic ties to Abraham Lincoln, its founding attorney, and to the heritage of Mr. Lincoln as a self-educated person who exemplified the importance of civil discourse and an informed citizenry. He understood that an educated public is essential to the survival of self-government committed to freedom and equality. Increasing the Lincoln commemoration at Illinois's first public university, founded February 18, 1857, would complement its mission and reputation.
Now is the time for ISU to advance its Lincoln commemorations, as originally represented by its Lincoln Memorial Trees. To the best of my knowledge, the last structural commemoration to Lincoln on ISU's campus occurred nearly twenty years ago. ISU's Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History John B. Freed's fine sesquicentennial history of ISU, Educating Illinois: Illinois State University, 1857--2007, has numerous references to Abraham Lincoln, again the attorney for the founding Board of Directors of IS(N)U. Dr. Freed alludes to several of Lincoln's political activities related to educational policy, and his endnote #1 on page 24 reports that "on May 7, 1999, the University named the West Gate to the campus "the Abraham Lincoln Gate because of the strong association of Abraham Lincoln with his contribution to Illinois State University in its very early years." My Google search of 1-15-2017 using "Illinois State University" [coupled with] "The Abraham Lincoln Gate" yielded only one hit: mention of the gate naming as reported in the minutes of the University's Administrative/Professional Staff Council Meeting, August 25, 1999 (http://apcouncil.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/8_26_99.pdf). A Google image search using that keyword combination yielded nothing. Dr. Freed's video lecture on writing Educating Illinois: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHbDYD1yCxo.
The following photo, which I took on August 19, 2018, shows the Abraham Lincoln Gate, which is the main west entryway to the Quad. Yet nowhere does that name appear on this structure or on the nearby Looking for Lincoln sign. For more photos of this structure, including the plaques and sign that fail to identify it as the Abraham Lincoln Gate, access the following link (click "more" on the captions at the bottom of the photos): https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipPN-hPmTlsIYvoqAuVnOROsDw9oqx5cnDIW_wHmGtujLZ9Z5WG9GsdPrD9iDNcjDg?key=MDRGM09DVjRuclNqV0E0VTlDLUM5c3p4MVhUdURn. In the caption of the last photo in that series, I suggest a prominent place on the gate for another plaque that would give its name in large enough letters for passersby to see who would otherwise have no way of knowing its name. The Abraham Lincoln Gate is directly opposite the Fell Gate, the main east entryway to the Quad. The dedication plaque on the Fell Gate cites Jesse Fell's name. The Fell Gate was the model for the design of the Abraham Lincoln Gate.
Here I suggest projects that would advance ISU's structural commemoration of the Lincoln heritage. First, re-establish the tradition of the Lincoln Memorial Tree (with historical marker) at the Fell Arboretum. The tree could be a white oak--the official tree of Illinois--planted near the Old Main Bell Memorial, the site of ISU's original Lincoln Memorial Tree. As noted below in the appendix of this webpage, Mr. Lincoln, like Mr. Fell, took pleasure in planting trees.
Second, and even more significantly, erect a life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln at the east entrance in front of the Jesse Fell Gates. You may ask, "Who needs another Lincoln statue?" New Lincoln statues appear regularly, in many places throughout the nation, including Illinois--for example, the University of Illinois. Besides the celebrated Lincoln bust in the entryway of Lincoln Hall, the University of Illinois in 2013 installed a statue of Lincoln sitting on a bench at its Champaign-Urbana campus. In 2016 a life-size statue of Lincoln named The Young Lawyer by George Lundeen was installed at the University of Illinois's Springfield campus. If new Lincoln statues are good enough for the University of Illinois, a Lincoln statue would be good for Illinois State University. The statue could perhaps could be positioned to face east toward Hovey Hall, the main administration building. The statue could be slightly elevated on a tiered base.
A Lincoln statue at ISU could be created that would express Mr. Lincoln's belief in the importance of education. Erecting such a statue would also express a public commitment to the need to heal American strife and strengthen the Union--the central theme of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. An 1867 Currier & Ives lithograph depicts Mr. Lincoln reading a book seated at a table with his wife and sons Robert and Tad (Ref.: https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.19198/). This image reveals the president as a parent who believed in learning. Lincoln sculptors often use drawings or photographs of him as referemce material for their creations, and some Lincoln sculptures feature multiple figures, for example, Andrew Jumonville’s work titled Convergence of Purpose in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. This work portrays Abraham Lincoln conversing with Jessie Fell and Judge David Davis, his two most-prominent, local political allies.
A portion of the 1867 Currier & Ives lithograph is the source I have adapted to show my idea for a Lincoln statue near the Jesse Fell Gates, at the east entrance to the campus. The lithograph is in the public domain: Currier & Ives. The Lincoln Family / lith. of Currier & Ives. , 1867. [New York: Published by Currier & Ives 152 Nassau St., New York] Photograph: https://www.loc.gov/item/99471803/. The Fell Gates have been the main entrance to the campus since ISU's founding in 1857, for that entrance is the most direction connection between the University and the business district of Normal.
These campus additions will increase the visibility of ISU's Lincoln heritage to countless students and other campus visitors who walk the Quad and its Fell Arboretum and appreciate its natural beauty and cultural heritage.
In 2020 historian Tom Emery published Abraham Lincoln and the Heritage of Illinois State University. ISU's distinguished alum Carl Kasten suggested this project. The book discusses the history of Abraham Lincoln's relationship to Illinois State University and the traditions and commemorations of that history. I am grateful to Mr. Emery for including my research about the ISU Lincoln Memorial Trees and proposal to expand the ISU Lincoln heritage presented in this webpage-book. This book is available at https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30833729715&searchurl=bi%3D0%26ds%3D30%26bx%3Doff%26sortby%3D17%26kn%3DLincoln%26an%3DTom%2BEmery%26recentlyadded%3Dall&cm_sp=snippet-_-srp1-_-title2.
Note: To avoid the need
for horizontal scrolling for some images, you may have to go to "View"
on the file menu bar then to "Zoom" and "Zoom Out," once or twice.
The following news reports in the
Bloomington, Illinois, Pantagraph are well composed by
professional journalists--writers, photographers, and page
designers. I accessed these reports
through searches in Newspapers.com--World Collection. I copied and
pasted screen-capture clippings of these sources into Photoshop, so
that I could edit the files, erasing extraneous content and sizing,
cropping, and manipulating the images to make the text readable
online. Unfortunately photos from vintage newspapers published
digitally are of poor quality, and Photoshop's tools do not improve
them. Microfilm photos tend to be dark, and graphics editing to
brightness/contrast resolution of such material to make the text readable tends to darken the
The report below describes the historical, bronze
plaque affixed to the Lincoln Oak in 1914, and on that occasion the
main speaker was the legendary poet Vachel Lindsay of Springfield,
As noted in the preceding
article, Mr. and Mrs. Carl
Vrooman had donated the property featuring the original and
replacement Lincoln Oaks to the city of Bloomington, and Mrs. Vrooman
continued to live in her home, known as the Scott-Vrooman
Lincoln Oak Home or the Vrooman Mansion, until her death at age
104 in 1981, when her property was auctioned. The auction
advertisement in the Pantagraph indicates the Vroomans had a
strong appreciation for American history and culture: Mrs. Julia
Scott Vrooman's "family roots are deep in the American past, sharing
a common ancestry with both Queen Elizabeth and George Washington."
Her personal property included much antique furniture, other
historical appointments, and
artistic and literary collectibles, for example: Vachel Lindsay
letters, signed copies of his books, autographed books by Sara
Teasdale, books by William Jennings Bryan, William Morris
(multi-talented Victorian designer, artist, and writer:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris), and hundreds of
other leather-bound volumes (estate auction advertisement, Pantagraph, November 22, 1981, p. 65). I wonder whether among
those leather-bound volumes, there were any first-edition,
nineteenth-century biographies of AbrahamLincoln written by his
several hagiographers of that period. Contemporary photo of the Lincoln Oak of Bloomington,
Photo credit: Ivo Shandor -- Author, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2969434.
The Lincoln Oak of Bloomington, IL, on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Oak.
The Scott-Vrooman Mansion on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott%E2%80%93Vrooman_House.
Website of the Vrooman Mansion Bed and Breakfast:
http://vroomanmansion.com/. On Facebook:
Some historians believe that Lincoln planted a tree
at his Springfield home, and it lived to 1906:
Connor, Kendra, and Ruby
Leigh with Grandkids
Oak behind them to the right. He wears the birthday shirt from Kendra's family.)
Google search links to Harold Sinclair: https://www.google.com/search?q="harold+sinclair"&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1-ab.
Tree in Front of
Lincoln's Home in a Lithograph Depicting His Return Home,
1898 Photo of the Lincoln Home
In an effort to maintain accuracy, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has planted a tree on the southwest corner of the Lincoln home block:
The White House grounds feature numerous commemorative trees and shrubs planted by presidents and first ladies. On April 12, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower planted a black walnut tree from Illinois's New Salem State Park to honor Abraham Lincoln, but the information I cite later suggests this tree is gone. A knowledgeable gardener positioned the tree in the hole before the dignitaries arrived, because the main tree fork is oriented so that someone viewing the tree from the White House would see the wide side ("face") of it.
Source: The Cumberland News, April, 13, 1957, p. 1
Links to film of the planting:
The Cumberland News report mentions Eisenhower was curious enough to ask the question about whether the roots would grow through the burlap bag encasing the root ball. The Arbor Day Foundation website advises removing the burlap from the sides of the root ball: https://www.arborday.org/Trees/planting/balled-burlapped.cfm.
In searching the internet, I found a 1959 report in the Medford [Oregon] Mail Tribune titled the "Annual Spring Grooming Given the White House Grounds" that implies this tree did take root: "President Eisenhower has planted two trees outside his executive office, a black walnut and a scarlet oak" (p. 2). The only other information I found suggests that by the 1990s this tree had not survived. A passage in a government report published in 1994 cites the trees Eisenhower planted, identifying one that was removed and two that remained at that time. Eisenhower's Lincoln tree is not one of the four: "Eisenhower commemorative trees include a black walnut planted on April 12, 1957; a northern red oak planted on October 14, 1960 (the president's 70th birthday), south of the present visitor entrance pavilion; another red oak planted in 1960; and a pin oak that was originally from the grounds of Mount Vernon and was planted on May 8, 1958, near the West Wing to commemorate the centennial of Theodore Roosevelt's birth. The pin oak and the northern red oak are still extant. The other red oak was removed in 1983 and replaced in 1984" (The White House & President's Park: Cultural Landscape report, Site History and Evaluation, 1791-1994: https://archive.org/stream/prpa_clr/prpa_clr_djvu.txt). Why was President Eisenhower's Lincoln tree not mentioned in this 1994 report?
A catalog of White House commemorative trees and shrubs through 1999 titled The White House and President's Park, Comprehensive Design Plan and Final Environment Impact Statement (p. 142) does not include the Eisenhower Lincoln tree: https://books.google.com/books?id=xjk3AQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
The mystery of what happened to the Eisenhower Lincoln tree is especially puzzling because black walnut trees are long lived. According to the online Encyclopedia Britannica, "Black walnut grows slowly, maturing on good soils in about 150 years; it may have a life span of more than 250 years": https://www.britannica.com/plant/walnut-tree-and-nut.
The National Park Service manages the South Lawn of the White House, also referred to as the President's Park, where Eisenhower planted the Lincoln black walnut tree, and on April 24, 2019, I filled out an email form to ask about the fate of this tree. If I get any information, I'll post it on social media. Arbor Day Foundation webpage information about the black walnut tree: https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?ItemID=934. At Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juglans_nigra.
The Hartman-Henson Arboretum in
the historic Country Club/Delaware Neighborhood of the Queen City of the
D. Leigh Henson Receives Distinguished Alumni Award from the ISU English Department
Email comments, corrections, or
questions to DLHenson@MissouriState.edu.
My award-winning, collaborative, community history
website of my hometown, Lincoln, IL--the First Lincoln Namesake Town--
Information about the books
The Town Abraham Lincoln Warned: The Living Namesake
Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois (http://findinglincolnillinois.com/townabewarned.html) and
"The Past Is But the Prelude"