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SPRINGFIELD - It might seem like a daunting task to plan a birthday party for 298 million people.

But coordinating Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday festivities is a job Michael Bishop and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission are excited about.

Bishop is the executive director of the commission, which Congress established in 2000 to plan for the 2009 celebration. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, are two of the commission's three co-chairs.

To give Lincoln a proper tribute in three years, Bishop says they need to begin generating interest in the nation's 16th president.

"Planning such a big national celebration requires a lot of advanced planning," Bishop said. "It can take a while to build up the momentum of national interest."

Today marks Lincoln's 197th birthday and interest in the lawyer-turned-politician seems to be on the rise, particularly in Illinois with the April 2005 opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

"The museum has created a great deal of interest in Lincoln, which is a part of a broader explosion of interest in the subject in recent months," Bishop said.

Bishop points to a recent book by a well-respected historian that has created renewed interest in the subject. In fact, Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals, is in Springfield this weekend for a series of sold out events promoting the book.

A movie directed by Steven Spielberg is being developed based on Goodwin's book and could be out in either 2007 or 2008, said David Early, a commission spokesman. Production on the movie, however, has not yet begun, which could delay its release.

A variety of other events are being planned both on the national and local level. The commission is assisting states, including Illinois, as they begin planning their activities.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich today will sign an executive order to form the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, with members consisting of state constitutional officers, legislators and mayors. The Illinois commission, which is responsible for scheduling bicentennial activities in the state, also will consist of up to 30 members of the public.

"Three years from now, all eyes will be on Illinois as we observe the Lincoln Bicentenary," Blagojevich said. "This commission will be charged with making sure that his 200th birthday will be a once in a lifetime event " one that lives up to his legacy."

On Thursday, President Bush appointed a Springfield woman to serve on an advisory committee to the national commission. Julie Cellini, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency and secretary of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, will be one of over 125 members on the panel.

State comptroller Dan Hynes and former Gov. Jim Edgar also are among 26 Illinoisans advising the commission.

The entire national celebration is expected to cost $80 million to $100 million and will be paid mostly through private donations, Bishop said.

Early said the birthday celebration will last nearly a year and a half, with festivities kicking off in 2008 in Kentucky, Lincoln's birth state.

In December, Bush approved a series of penny redesigns which will be issued in 2009. The pennies will feature four designs on the reverse side of the coins representing a different aspect of Lincoln's life.

"From modest Midwestern roots, Lincoln rose to the presidency through his intelligence, integrity and commitment to the nation he loved," said Durbin, a Democrat who sponsored the penny proposal, in a statement.

"To honor the 200th anniversary of his birth, this special series of coins will pay tribute to his life and work."

The commission will use the redesign, which is the first for the penny in 50 years, to help generate interest in Lincoln.

"The penny is an opportunity to reach out to every American," Bishop said.

The commission also is planning a curriculum about Lincoln for schools throughout the country to use during the 2008-09 school year.

The commission meets Monday in Washington, D.C., to discuss plans for the festivities. Monday's meeting will be highlighted by a performance of The Lincoln Family Album featuring Liam Neeson and Holly Hunter.

More information on the commission can be found at its Web site


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