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Monticello shares Lincoln tale: Abe's practical joke nearly set hotel ablaze
Herald & Review/Stephen Haas
Mayor Bill Mitze, left, and Kevin Richardson, president of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce, unveil a new Looking for Lincoln storyboard at Rotary Park in downtown Monticello.

MONTICELLO - Few people who dine on cheeseburgers at the Dairy Queen know that Abraham Lincoln almost burned down a building on that site.

That was one reason Sue Gortner had a sign erected across the street, explaining that Lincoln was a regular visitor to Monticello's Tenbrook Hotel when he tried cases at the nearby courthouse.

The 9-foot-tall sign tells the story of how Lincoln, who was known for his keen sense of humor, almost burned down the hotel during an apparent prank.

A lot of effort was expended to bring Lincoln's antics to light.

About five years ago, Gortner, director of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce, responded to an invitation from the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, extended to communities on the former 8th Judicial Circuit.

"They were opening the (Abraham Lincoln Presidential) museum," Gortner recalled. "They wanted something to tie the Lincoln communities together. They wanted to get people to get out and explore the outlying communities."

Gortner attended meetings in Springfield for several years before applying to have a Looking for Lincoln storyboard made for Monticello.

With the help of Lisa Winters, librarian of Monticello's Allerton Public Library, Gortner discovered several stories that revealed Lincoln's character, including his irrepressible sense of humor.

She decided the best tale to post on a sign was the one about Lincoln's prank on a group of children.

While staying at the Tenbrook, the first hotel in Monticello, Lincoln told some children that they should heat their inflated pig bladder, a precursor to a balloon, in the hotel's fireplace. The bladder exploded, spraying hot coals across the room. When Lincoln tried to sweep them up, the broom caught on fire.

Work has begun on two more signs, to be placed in Monticello this spring and summer.

"Our other two storyboards will focus on what the railroads were like in Lincoln's time, how they came to Piatt County," Gortner said.

When hordes of tourists visit Springfield to celebrate Lincoln's 200th birthday in February, Gortner is hoping some also will come to Monticello.

"The Lincoln enthusiasts love to go where Lincoln walked and find the human stories," Gortner said.

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