Abraham Lincoln remains one of the most revered presidents in U.S. history. The country’s 16th president will reach his 200th birthday on Feb. 12, 2009, and already the town where he was born is getting ready for the bicentennial celebration that promises to spread nationwide.

As any grade-schooler knows, “Honest Abe,” as he was affectionately known, was born in a log cabin in the small town of Hodgenville, Ky. With presidential candidates raising — and spending — millions of dollars in this era of politics, it is doubtful anyone will again rise from log cabin roots to even consider running for the highest office in the world.

Hodgenville was known as Sinking Spring when Lincoln was born. The proud folks of Hodgenville, a town of about 3,000, aren’t going to let the 200th anniversary pass without some kind of splurge. In fact, the celebration will be spread over two years. The birthplace site now draws about 200,000 people each year, and community leaders anticipate the number will increase this year and next amid Lincoln hoopla.

A statue of Lincoln sits in the center of town. The Lincoln Museum there displays a replica of the backwoods cabin where the national hero was born. A small army of volunteers have been trained to serve as ambassadors to greet visitors and answer their questions. The volunteers even took hospitality lessons so they would be more polished for the rush of tourists.

So why am I writing about Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday bash now? Because there’s an interesting connection between the Lincoln family and a Menominee man when he lived in Illinois after leaving Kentucky as a young man. It was in Illinois where Lincoln honed his skills as a politician and led to his rise to the presidency.

Sylvester C. King was himself a young man living in Illinois during Lincoln’s political surge. King first met the future president when Lincoln served in the Illinois Legislator and was laying the groundwork for his advancement to higher office. King was a frequent visitor at the Lincoln family home.

Born in Pennsylvania, King migrated to Illinois where he became acquainted with Lincoln’s political entourage. He traveled with the group to several locations for the debates between Lincoln and U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas. Douglas, branded “Little Giant,” was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for president in 1860 at the time Lincoln was gaining altitude as a political star. Lincoln went after Douglas’ seat and the two locked horns in the debates when slavery was a major issue in the country. Douglas defeated Lincoln, but not before the losing candidate was cast as a national figure with a bright future.

The Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, during Lincoln’s watch, and continued until April 9, 1865. The casualty count was horrendous. More than 645,000 Union troops, and more than 133,000 Confederate died in battle, died of disease or were wounded. King was one of the thousands of men who enlisted in the Union Army where he served four years and three months with a cavalry unit. One of his assignments was serving as a bodyguard for Gen. George McClellan, who was stripped of his command in 1862 and later ran unsuccessfully against Lincoln for president. King also was one of the many guard escorts for President Lincoln when he rode with Gen. McClelland to inspect troops and bases.

King and his wife, Josephine, came to Menominee in the 1880s. He drove a team of horses for the Spencer & Riley livery on Carpenter Street (6th Street), and later at its downtown location on Ogden Avenue (10th Avenue) near Main Street (1st Street). He also worked in a local laboratory. The King family lived at several locations on the east side of town, including Dunlap Avenue (11th Avenue), Myrtle Street (5th Street) and Spies Avenue (15th Avenue).

King’s friendship with the Lincoln family was exposed in a 1905 interview with the Menominee Herald-Leader. He recalled traveling with Lincoln’s party for the debates with Douglas in Chicago, Elgin and Freeport. The delegation traveled by horse-and-buggy and by train. He recalled that one of Douglas’ lapses in the debates with Lincoln was consuming too much alcohol with one of the more serious miscues taking place in Elgin.

Knowing President Lincoln and being on friendly terms with family members, serving as a bodyguard for a famous general and surviving the Civil War weren’t the only things that happened to the Menominee resident in a colorful military and political lifetime. He got to meet Gen. Ulysses Simpson Grant, the great warrior of the Union Army when Grant was a colonel with the 21st Illinois Regiment in the Civil War. He also was introduced to Admiral David D. Porter, a distinguished Navy personality, through a connection with another Menominee man.

According to King, a Capt. Harkins was in charge of operations when Admiral Porter was away. Harkins accompanied Porter on his well-known expeditions on the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Harkins died at his bay shore home in rural Menominee.

Understandably, the hometown newspaper was impressed with the King story, his service in the Civil War and his connection with prominent national and military figures.

“The story of Mr. King’s association with these various men who come to occupy such prominent places in the history of our country, is most unique and interesting and is truly one which any patriotic citizen of this great nation would be proud to be able to relate,” the newspaper noted at the end of the interview.

History is a blend of countless stories. There is no greater resources than to tap into the memories of those who were there, to unearth the stories. We rely on the strength of memory to depict America. Newspapers continue to be the No. 1 source for reflecting back on the memories more than 100 years later.

As the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, along with his other historic stops along the way, celebrate a special episode in American times, Menominee folks can take pride in knowing that one of its pioneer citizens witnessed some of the great chapters in our nation’s history.