Links to Lincoln

Honest Abe left quite a few footprints in Michigan

Abraham Lincoln head on shouldersBill Anderson is the founding director of Michigan’s Department of History, Arts, and Libraries (HAL), as well as a baseball historian. The fourth edition of his book, The Detroit Tigers: A Pictorial Celebration of the Greatest Players and Moments in Tigers History, was published earlier this year by Wayne State University Press.

For a history buff, running HAL must be a heckuva job.

It’s exciting and very satisfying. We’re often called the “good news department” because we’re not the state agency that’s incarcerating people or putting up orange cones on the freeway. The activities that we’re involved with — art, music, history, literature — are things that feed the human spirit, which is nifty.

If there’s a downside, it’s that I have to commute weekends between my apartment in Lansing and my home in Ludington. On dry roads, I can make the trip in two hours, 20 minutes. I’ve made that trip 500 times so far. When I catch myself complaining, I tell myself, “This is what you wanted to do,” and then I calm down.

How has the sour economy affected your department?

The state budget resources have shrunk, so you can’t always do the things you’d like to. However, it’s pressured us to be more entrepreneurial, more innovative, when tackling projects. For example, not a dollar from the general fund is being used for the upcoming Lincoln Bicentennial celebration. We’re doing it through partnerships and fundraising.

What can you tell us about the Lincoln Bicentennial?

Well, Abraham Lincoln was born Feb. 12, 1809, and every state has tied in with the national committee that was organized to commemorate his birth. The governor has appointed me to be the state’s liaison, overlooking a host of activities. Among other things, the state has co-commissioned — along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra — a young and highly regarded composer named Kenji Bunch to create classical music in honor of Lincoln. The premiere performance will be by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 17. In April, The Henry Ford will host a national town-hall meeting on the topic of “Race and Equality.”

We’re also pursuing cultural tourism. Working with Travel Michigan, a “remembrance trail” is being created that links Lincoln’s connection to Michigan. In addition, Michigan History magazine, which HAL oversees, will be publishing a hardbound anthology about Lincoln.

What are Honest Abe’s links to the state?

There are more connections than one might think. There are about 60 places — rivers, buildings, and a town near Harrisville — named after Lincoln. The Henry Ford and the Plymouth Historical Museum have major Lincoln holdings. The Henry Ford, for example, has the chair he was assassinated in, as well as the Logan County Courthouse, where he once practiced law.

Did Lincoln ever visit Michigan?

In 1856, the Republican Party had a presidential candidate for the first time, John C. Frémont, and Lincoln came to Kalamazoo to campaign for him. It’s also been documented that once, in the 1850s, Lincoln was on the Detroit River. He didn’t actually visit Detroit; whatever vessel he was on just floated past the city.

You’re a Tigers expert, so we have to ask: What happened this year?

It’s funny, at the start of the season I didn’t hear anything other than this was going to be a World Series contender. In fact, the day they traded for Miguel Cabrera, I called my publisher and said we had to push up the date of my book. I figured we’d take advantage of what was going to be a super year. But then there were injuries, and the pitching went bad …  as a Tigers historian, I’d have to call 2008 the biggest bust in team history.