SPRINGFIELD - Scott Whitehouse wasn't sure he would attend Tuesday's dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
"My wife told me I'd regret it later if I didn't get a ticket," said Whitehouse, a resident of Burnside in southern Knox County, as he rode a shuttle bus from the Illinois State Fairground to get downtown for the ceremonies. "I volunteer at Lincoln's New Salem and we were part of the groundbreaking."
After listening to a who's who of prominent speakers headed by President George W. Bush and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Whitehouse, who wore a stovepipe straw hat for the occasion, said he wasn't disappointed.
"It was worth it just to see the president," he said. "But I'd have come anyway. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Whitehouse said he would have to increase his knowledge of the 16th president's life with the opening of the museum, which will give visitors an intimate look at Lincoln the man.
He noted, "When people come to New Salem, they usually ask simple questions like 'Where did he live?' That could change."
While Abraham Lincoln was the subject of the day, President Bush proved the man of the hour. As he and First Lady Laura Bush mounted the stage in front of the museum, they received a standing ovation from the crowd as the 312th Army Band played "Hail to the Chief." Bush summed up Lincoln's early life as a stage setting for his later greatness as the nation's chief executive.
"Before history took notice, he earned money as a storekeeper, a surveyor and a postmaster," Bush said. "He taught himself the law. He established a successful legal practice and rose in a new political party on the power of his words. Those who knew him remembered his candor, his kindness and his searching intellect - the combination of frontier humor with the cadences of Shakespeare and the Holy Bible.
"As a state legislator in Springfield, a congressman and a debater on the stump, Lincoln embodied the democratic ideal - that leadership and even genius are found among the people themselves and sometimes in the most unlikely places."
Lincoln's career and contributions were founded on a single argument that there are no exceptions to the Declaration of Independence's promise that all in the human race are created equal, Bush said.
"Lincoln's voice was silenced, but he, more than any other American, had spoken to all the ages and his words have haunted and driven our history," Bush said. "From the lunch counter to the school house door to the Army barracks, President Lincoln has continued to hold this nation to its promises. And we will never relent until those promises are met."
Blagojevich praised his predecessors in the governor's office, Jim Edgar and George Ryan, for providing the state backing to make the museum a reality. He said the museum will tell Lincoln's story like it has never been told before, putting visitors inside Lincoln's house and inside his head.
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, said what separates Lincoln from other great men has to do with the is-sue of character and moral resolve.
"Lincoln was not a perfect man, nor a perfect president," Obama said. "By modern standards, his condemnation of slavery might be considered tentative; his Emancipation Proclamation more a military document than a clarion call for justice. He wasn't immune to political considerations; his temperament could be indecisive and morose."
Yet despite his imperfections and fallibility, perhaps because of his painful self awareness of his failings, when the time came to confront the greatest moral challenge the nation has ever faced, Lincoln did not flinch, Obama said.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, who co-chairs the federal Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission with U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, was among the early backers of an idea voiced 16 years ago for a library and museum complex.
Speaking prior to the ceremonies, Durbin said the next step in developing Lincoln's history is to unify the threads of his life that run through Central Illinois.
"There are 19 different counties that identify with Lincoln's life," Durbin said. "He was not just in this town, but in surrounding communities as well. We could make Central Illinois a family destination. This museum will be the focal point, but it's not the end of it."