Paxton Keeley marks Lincoln's 200th birthday with Gettysburg Address

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | 12:40 p.m. CST; updated 11:44 a.m. CST, Friday, February 13, 2009
Volunteer Larry Rollins donned a top hat, suit and bow tie to give fifth-graders of Paxton Keeley Elementary School a unique take on Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Rollins went to Janet Kieffer's fifth-grade class the day before and had a vocabulary list of words in the Gettysburg Address. The vocabulary list, Rollins said, was intended to teach the children words in the Address so that they could understand it better.

COLUMBIA — Cole Kieffer, a fifth-grader at Paxton Keeley Elementary School, is sure Abraham Lincoln celebrated his birthday differently than Cole does now.

“He probably didn’t have a cake because they cost a lot, and they probably didn’t have an oven," Cole said. “And, since he didn’t go to school very long, he probably didn’t have a lot of friends. He probably didn’t have any presents, or if he did, they probably weren’t very good.

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“I usually have nerf guns,” Cole continued. He also has cake, presents and a bunch of friends. “I even had a friend come to my party wrapped up in a box."

Cole and about 120 other fifth-graders at the school commemorated Lincoln's 200th birthday Thursday with a re-enactment of the Gettysburg Address. It's important to know about the nation's 16th president, Cole said, because, "Lincoln stopped slavery."

Lincoln, born Feb. 12, 1809, gave the Gettysburg Address more than 145 years ago, on Nov. 19, 1863, to a crowd of Americans at Gettysburg, Pa., the site of a decisive victory by Union troops during the Civil War. On Thursday, Larry Rollins, who is retired and volunteers at Paxton Keeley, delivered Lincoln's famous speech in a wide hallway toward the front of the school.

The students sat in rows in the hall floor, legs crossed, looking around in anticipation. After being introduced by principal Karen Burger, "Lincoln" walked in to greet them. He was wearing his famous top hat, suit and bow tie, and shiny black shoes. His beard and eyebrows were dark as ever.

"Four score and seven years ago," Rollins intoned, uttering words known by heart by many Americans, "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

After giving the famous speech, Rollins stressed that when Lincoln gave the speech, there was much less applause than the fifth-graders gave him.

"People didn’t like it, he didn’t even like it," Rollins told the children. "He only had 18 months of schooling, yet he wrote those words that are still famous."

To give the children more information on Lincoln's life, teacher Cindy Hobbs then read “Abe Lincoln Remembers” and “Young Abe Lincoln.”

After the speech, fifth-grader Mariah Emme said she likes history because she likes learning new things. Mariah thought Rollins looked like Lincoln. "Abe was telling us the Gettysburg Address,” she said, adding the she is excited to learn more about him now.

Rollins, who retired from General Electric before moving to Columbia, volunteers three days a week with Janet Kieffer’s fifth-grade class, helping with math and other areas. "It’s amazing to me how every year kids seem to adopt an old man like me," Rollins said after his audience had stood up and gone to lunch.

Rollins volunteered to re-enact the Gettysburg Address because he thinks it is important for the students to see history. "Like Lincoln says, it’s up to the living to keep democracy going, to keep the nation going."

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Ayn Rand February 12, 2009 | 4:00 p.m.

Is it true that Lincoln met his wife at a house that stood where the downtown Walgreen's now is?

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