QUINCY -- Quincy is celebrating its ties to Abraham Lincoln by bringing in an internationally known Lincoln scholar while also saluting a local man who helped to preserve Lincoln's legacy in the Gem City.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debate Interpretive Center has announced that renowned Lincoln historian and biographer Harold Holzer will be the inaugural speaker on Friday, Oct. 25, for the "Samuel C. Rinella Jr. Memorial Lincoln Lecture Series."
The lecture series is being launched in memory of the late Sam Rinella Jr. for his lifelong interest in Quincy history and its many connections to Lincoln.
Holzer is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. in the Mary Ellen Orr Auditorium at John Wood Community College. The event will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium's lobby, where Holzer will sign copies of his books.
The reception and lecture are free and open to the public.
Holzer is being brought to Quincy as part of the interpretive center's annual celebration of the Oct. 13, 1858, Lincoln-Douglas Debate that took place in Quincy's Washington Park -- just across Fifth Street from the interpretive center.
Quincy's debate was the sixth of seven that took place in Illinois cities that year while Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas competed for a U.S. Senate seat. Douglas, the incumbent, won that election, but the notoriety Lincoln received during the debates propelled him to the presidency two years later.
In 2008, Quincy's 27-member Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission hosted a major celebration of the debate's 150th anniversary. The commission also organized a series of local events in 2009 celebrating the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.
Around that time, commission members Rinella and Bob Riley were put in charge of a fund-raising committee. Rinella approached this assignment "in typical Sam Rinella fashion," recalled former Quincy mayor Chuck Scholz, who served as chairman of the commission. "He raised half a million dollars."
That money was used to pay for a multitude of special events associated with the sesquicentennial of the debate and the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. "And we still had money left over," Scholz said.
Some of the leftover money was used to finance a 50-year lease of the first floor of the downtown building where the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Interpretive Center continues to be housed.
Each year since the sesquicentennial/bicentennial celebrations, directors of the interpretive center have hosted events in October to keep shining a light on Quincy's close ties to Lincoln.
This year -- thanks to a recent donation from the Rinella family in honor of Sam's memory -- the Lincoln lecture series is being launched to commemorate the debate's anniversary. Organizers decided to kick off the series in a big way by bringing in Holzer, an acclaimed Lincoln scholar known for his books, articles and TV appearances.
"He lectures all over the country," Scholz said.
Reg Ankrom, one of the interpretive center's directors, said it's a feather in Quincy's cap to have Holzer giving a talk in town.
"The neat thing about Holzer inaugurating this lecture series is that he is the most authoritative Lincoln scholar in America, if not the world," Ankrom said. "He's written 52 books and thousands of articles and contributions to anthologies. He's extremely well known."
Ankrom said Holzer's Quincy presentation is titled, "Covering the Great Debates: Lincoln, Douglas, the Press, and the Legacy." The talk is based on Holzer's recently published book, "Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion."
"It is a superbly researched and masterfully written study of Lincoln's understanding of the importance of the press and how he was first to use it to speak directly to the people," Ankrom said.
Ankrom said the Rinella family agreed to fund the first two years of the new Lincoln lecture series as a way to commemorate Sam Rinella's fondness for Lincoln history.
"Sam was always extremely proud of Knox College" in Galesburg, which Rinella attended, Ankrom said. "And he was always proud of the fact that Knox College hosted the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate, and he loved the story that Lincoln used to tell."
That story involved the Knox College building where the debate took place. "The platform was on the outside of Old Main Hall, and there was no way to get to it except through the president's office, and Lincoln had to climb through a window," Ankrom said.
"Lincoln gets outside and says, ‘At last I have gone through college,' " Ankrom said. "Sam Rinella loved that story."