(Spencer County Visitors Bureau Photo)
SIKESTON -- Those wanting to learn more about President Abraham Lincoln's early years will have the opportunity when a 60-foot pioneer-era flatboat docks at the Riverfront Park in New Madrid later this month.
The boat, Journey of Remembrance, sets sail Tuesday and will travel down the Mississippi River to retrace Lincoln's 1828 flatboat trip from Rockport, Ind., to New Orleans.
The voyage, which will pass through eight states and over 20 towns along the way, will share the story of when the 19-year-old future president transported a load of produce for a local merchant. On the trip, Lincoln witnessed his first slave auction while in New Orleans.
"There are many writings about how he was shocked and horrified to see slaves in chains and the way they were treated and torn away from their families. He found this to be very disturbing," said Melissa Miller, executive director of Spencer County Visitors Bureau in Santa Claus, Ind.
Miller said the purpose of the journey is to educate people about Lincoln's upcoming 200th birthday, which is Feb. 12.
"Most people associate Lincoln with Illinois," Miller said, adding this effort will include telling the story of Lincoln's life in Spencer County, where he lived with his pioneer family from age 7 to 21.
The flatboat will set sail from Cairo, Ill., at 8 a.m. Sept. 19 and travel 62 miles with an expected arrival time in New Madrid of 5 p.m.
"They contacted us because, of course, we're on the river," said Christina McWaters, executive director of the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce, about the boat's visit to New Madrid.
McWaters said she encourages public to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"We're honored that they asked to come to New Madrid. We're thrilled to have them. It will be a unique, learning experience for kids as well as the adults. I really feel we need to know our history and understand our history, and President Lincoln is an important part of that," McWaters said.
The boat will also dock Sept. 15 in Paducah, Ky.; Sept. 16 in Metropolis, Ill.; Sept. 17 in Cairo, Ill.; Sept. 20 in Caruthersville; Sept. 21 in Osceola, Ark.; and Sept. 22 in Memphis, Tenn.
At each stop a 16-foot informational tent will be set up containing a portable exhibit about Lincoln's life in Indiana. Costumed re-enactors will distribute free 16-page full color information booklets and activity sheets for children. Information will displayed up until dark, Miller said.
Visitors should be aware of the re-enactor who will depict a young Lincoln, Miller noted.
"It's not the more recognizable Lincoln with the black top hat. This Lincoln will be more of a frontiersmen and pioneer," Miller said.
Due to U.S. Coast Guard restrictions, public tours of the boat will not be allowed, Miller said.
This journey is the second re-enactment of Lincoln's voyage from Rockport to New Orleans. In 1958, for the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, the Rockport Jaycees Club constructed a similar flatboat and made the same journey to New Orleans. Several of these crew members will be involved in portions of this month's re-enactment, which is a joint effort by members of Spencer county Visitors Bureau, Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Think Lincoln Inc. and the Association for a Better Rockport.