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The Man, the Memorial

The Man, the Memorial

Background Essay: Honoring Heroes

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. He is remembered as a great leader. He led the country through the Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which promised freedom to slaves in Confederate states once the Union won war.

Because of his leadership as president, Abraham Lincoln is considered an American hero. Have you ever thought about how we honor our heroes? One thing we do is to remember their birthdays. Most calendars mark Lincoln’s birthday (February 12), and several states have a holiday on February 12th. Some states celebrate Lincoln and George Washington's birthday together as Presidents Day on the third Monday in February. On Lincoln’s birthday, people lay wreaths on his tomb in Springfield, Illinois; at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC; and at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

The Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is another way that Lincoln is honored. There are actually four national historic sites in the United States that are dedicated to Lincoln, and there is also a Lincoln Heritage Trail. The best known site is the Lincoln National Memorial in Washington, DC, but the one that makes the people of Kentucky proudest is the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Today people come from all over the world to see the grand memorial built to honor his birth. Inside the memorial, visitors can see a log cabin similar to the one where Abraham Lincoln was born and spent his earliest years

Have you ever noticed the images on coins and stamps? That is another way that we honor heroes. In 1909, a hundred years after Lincoln was born, the United States Mint issued the first Lincoln penny. It showed an image of Lincoln on the front and two stalks of wheat on the back. On February 12, 1959 (150 years after Lincoln was born), a new design was put on the back of the Lincoln penny. The design now showed an image of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on the back.

In 2009, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, the United States Mint issued four new Lincoln pennies. The pennies still have the traditional portrait of Lincoln on the front, but on the back are four different designs showing different times in Lincoln's life. One of the pennies is known as “the Kentucky penny” because it shows a log cabin.

Lincoln has also been honored on stamps. The first Lincoln stamp was issued in 1866 and was the first United States stamp to commemorate a president. Since then, there have been 74 different stamps honoring Lincoln. In 2009, as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, the United States Postal Service issued four new stamps showing different stages in Lincoln's life.

Heroes are also honored by having streets, towns, schools, other places, and even events named after them. Do you know of streets, towns, schools, or events named after Lincoln? Hodgenville, Kentucky, holds an annual Lincoln Days celebration with Lincoln lookalike contests and other events.

Artists also create memorials such as statues and paintings of heroes. Have you ever seen a statue of Abraham Lincoln? There are dozens of them across the country, including many in Kentucky.

We honor heroes in many ways. Lincoln even has a toy named after him. The toy is called Lincoln Logs! They were named Lincoln Logs because you can use them to build a log cabin, and a log cabin in Kentucky is where this American hero began his life.