Unexpected Lincoln: Champaign County, Illinois

By Edward Epstein

Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022


Champaign County in east central Illinois is Abraham Lincoln country. It was a part of the 8th Judicial Circuit that he rode for 20 years, traveling from county seat to county seat with other lawyers and a judge to handle whatever criminal and civil cases that came their way.


Today the county is known as the home of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Big Ten behemoth whose student population now tops 56,000. Lincoln is all over the place.


Here he is, seated, outside the new Alice Campbell Alumni Center on the Urbana side of the university's campus. He looks likes he's ready to walk or maybe ride his horse about a mile east to the Champaign County Courthouse in downtown Urbana, which is near the Lincoln Square Mall.


The courthouse contains a small Lincoln museum. The university's main quad hosts Lincoln Hall, which was restored about a decade ago to mark Lincoln's 200th birthday. The building exterior displays carved friezes marking key events in his life and in the building's lobby is a sculpture of Lincoln's head, whose nose students traditionally rub for good luck before exams.


About 15 miles north of the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana is Rantoul, Illinois, once home to Chanute Air Force Base. The base is noted today as the World War II home of the first squadron of the all-African-American Tuskegee Airmen. Chanute was used as a Tuskegee training and administrative site.



Along southbound Illinois Route 45 not far from the shuttered base is this billboard, put up by the Foundation for a Better Life. The foundation was created early in this century by billionaire Philip Anschutz, who has been active in a range of industries, including railroads, energy, sports, newspaper, movies and arenas. Anschutz, a political conservative, says the foundation is non-partisan in its promotion of "honesty, caring and optimism," traits that Lincoln fans would say describe him.


Others who have been featured on the foundation's billboards include Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Whoopi Goldberg, Walter Cronkite and even Shrek the Ogre, whose billboard says he was an "Ogre Achiever."