Janesville goes back in time to celebrate historic visit
JANESVILLE Abraham Lincoln didn't get a parade when he visited Janesville in 1859, but if residents had known how important the country politician would become, you can bet they would have thrown him one.
History enthusiasts corrected this oversight Sunday, traveling the route that Lincoln took from the First Congregational United Church of Christ to the Tallman House 150 years ago.
The Civil War 1st Brigade Band led the way, playing rousing marches of the era as it stepped brazenly down the middle of Jackson Street. Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln, played by re-enactors Vernon and Mareya Risty, followed as other participants trailed on the sidewalk.
It was all part of a daylong celebration of Lincoln's Janesville visit of Oct. 1-3, 1859, a year before he was elected president. It's the only recorded time Lincoln stayed in a Wisconsin home, organizer Jim Hay said.
"This is something that Janesville can hang its hat on," Hay said. "Lincoln was here, and he slept here and he worshipped here."
Of course, Lincoln hadn't planned to worship in Janesville. He left his boots outside his room at William Tallman's house at night, as was the custom, and didn't find them there in the morning. He missed his train because he was embarrassed to leave his room in stocking feet, so Tallman invited him to attend First Congregational with the family.
The church that Lincoln attended was torn down in 1868, but First Congregational still meets at the same site at 54 S. Jackson St.
Sunday was a special church service as "Lincoln" recited the Gettysburg Address and the farewell speech he made at the Springfield train depot as he left for the White House. The Rev. John Eyster spoke of Lincoln's historical significance and religious faith, and the 1st Brigade Band, based in Watertown, offered Civil War-era hymns from the choir section.
Every child received a set of 2009 pennies depicting Lincoln's childhood home in Kentucky, youth in Indiana and political career in Illinois. A fourth representing his time in the White House will come out later this year.
Callie Sweeney, 9, of Janesville said the Lincoln re-enactor did well because he "kind of looks like Abraham Lincoln."
"I think he's pretty cool," she said of Lincoln as she followed the parade.
Callie's cousin, Marie Hartung, 20, of Janesville said their grandfather, Rick Hartung, was active with the Rock County Historical Society and an avid Lincoln buff. The family has traveled to see Lincoln's home and grave in Springfield.
"We grew up with it in our house," she said.
Several people said they came to the festivities to hear the 1st Brigade Band, which gave a concert at the Tallman House. The band uses authentic, antique instruments and original sheet music from the period.
Adrienne Massel and Connie Matusiak, both of Beloit, are members of the Rock County Civil War Roundtable and see the band whenever they can, they said.
"When you sit and listen to them, you feel like you could go back to that time," Massel said.