QUINCY -- Paige Kelly likes learning about history, and the first-grader at Lincoln-Douglas Elementary School had a history lesson brought to life Friday.
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, portrayed by George Buss of Freeport and Gary DeClue of Quincy, respectively, offered handshakes at the front door and talked with students who also heard the book "Where Is Abe?" read by author Carla Mayernick.
Shaking hands with the historical figures was cool, Paige said, and so was seeing their stovepipe hats.
The activities were part of Lincoln-Douglas Day, which taught students more about the school's namesakes.
"The naming committee was so committed to giving the schools historical names, meaningful names, and we felt like there was so much for our kids to learn," said Ronda Lentz, treasurer of the school's PTO, which sponsored the event. "The kids will have a base of information about why Lincoln-Douglas is significant to Quincy and why we got that name."
Mayernick added even more information for students with the facts shared in her book, an illustrated poem published in 2015 and inspired by her grandson Pierce, who lives in Springfield and wanted to know more about the man whose statue he frequently saw.
"The older I get, the more I appreciate Lincoln's footsteps throughout Illinois and the impact he made on Quincy then and now and everywhere that he went," said Mayernick, who lives in Girard and has a family connection to the 16th president. "My great-great-great-grandparents regularly housed Abe in their farm in Lexington. Every time he traveled the 8th Judicial Circuit, he stayed with the McNaught family on his way to Bloomington."
One of the McNaught children, Joseph, had the job "to water, feed and put the horse in the barn, and in kind, Mr. Lincoln would tutor him under a tree when the weather was good," Mayernick said, which inspired the illustration for the cover of "Where Is Abe?"
The activities fell on the anniversary of the Oct. 13, 1858, debate in Quincy between Lincoln and Douglas, then the two candidates for U.S. Senate in Illinois. Lincoln lost that election but went on to win the presidency in 1860 in a candidates field that included Douglas.
"They argued a lot and disagreed with each other," third-grader Logan Smith said, adding that he was surprised to see the two at the school's front door.
Jennifer Dedes snapped a photo of Lincoln, Douglas and her daughters before heading into the school.
"It's just wonderful that they get to know why the school was named Lincoln-Douglas. They get to see the real life, 3-D version, not just in a book," Dedes said.
Despite the disagreements, Lincoln and Douglas remained friends, and that message was important to Paige, who said the day taughther "to be kind."
"We just hope our words will inspire these children to get along with one another and to know a little bit more about who their school is named for," DeClue said.
"You can't leave Lincoln-Douglas Elementary without knowing who Lincoln and Douglas were and why they were friends and why they argued," Buss said. "You can have a disagreement, but you must remain friends ... and if that's the lesson of the day at Lincoln-Douglas Elementary, then Principal (Brian) Trowbridge and the staff can be mighty proud."