10 Dec, Sunday
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New Salem Candlelight Walk

The intoxicating aroma of burnt cedar was in the air on Sat., Oct. 7, 2023. If you were not in attendance at the New Salem Candlelight Walk, it is safe to say you missed a truly momentous occasion. On Sept. 18, registration began at UIS for the event, which was free to attend with 20 spots available. Transportation was provided by UIS and departed for New Salem, in Petersburg, Illinois, at 6 p.m. Only a quarter of the spots were filled by the day of the event and attendees had the privilege of being escorted by someone with all the inside information to make the event educational and interesting.

For those who may not know, New Salem is about a 45-minute drive from Springfield. The 16th president of the United States has much history in Illinois and New Salem is the village where Abraham Lincoln spent many years of his adulthood before moving to Springfield, Illinois to pursue a law career. At 22 years old, he arrived by flatboat in the small village founded by James Rutledge and John M. Camron. In New Salem, he held many random positions, including store clerk, merchant, postmaster and steamboat pilot, as well as enlisting in the militia. While residing in New Salem, he began to study and practice law, and it is here where he ran for his first election to the Illinois State Legislature, though he lost this election. After practicing law for some time in New Salem, Lincoln moved to Springfield to continue his career.

Upon arrival at the event, savory scents from food trucks permeated the atmosphere. Simple items like hamburgers, hot dogs and hot coffee were available for purchase to fill stomachs and provide warmth against the cool, crisp air. Trucks with carriages hitched to the back were making round trips to carry people to and from the parking lots. Walking into the historical candlelit neighborhood instantly transported guests to the distant past of Abraham Lincoln’s time. The intoxicating aroma of burnt logs wafted from the fireplaces of the cabins. The fast flicker of burning candles in window sills beckoned to the long lines of visitors trying to get a glimpse of the ancient way of life.

UIS students had the privilege of being accompanied by Jeremy Durbin, the Campus Recreation Building Service Foreman. Durbin, a former volunteer at New Salem, had all the insider details and served as the tour guide. While there was not enough time to visit every home, he made sure to take students to the most interesting of them all. He further made sure the trip was truly enjoyable for everyone by adding tidbits that could not be told in such a short time by the period dressed actors as swaths of people filed in and out in a timely manner to give everyone a chance to warm themselves in front of the chimneys and get a glimpse of the past. One piece of information that is purposely not told to visitors – most likely to avoid its desecration – regards a plum tree. It is rumored to be around 280 years old, existing when Lincoln resided in the village. In a vacant, grassy lot of the tiny village sat a covered wagon, where, at the end of the evening, UIS visitors posed for a group photo. Rumor has it that this year may be the last of the free field trips, as UIS intends to charge a fee starting next year. Students will not want to miss out on any more of the fun, free events offered through the Recreational and Athletic Center while they are still available.

New Salem Village Business | Photo Credit: Stephanie Rutherford
New Salem Period Actors | Photo Credit: Stephanie Rutherford

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