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Taylorville goes hog-wild for Lincoln
Statue symbolizes story unique to Christian County town

TAYLORVILLE - Residents of Taylorville had been dreaming for a while about placing a statue of Abraham Lincoln somewhere in town.

Carol Alexander, head of local tourism efforts, said one idea was to show Lincoln with a horse, but that was too costly. Officials also considered Abe with a hitching post or Lincoln with a saddle at his feet. But organizers said that still wasn't what they were looking for.

Then a long-told Taylorville story came up. And they knew they had it: Abe Lincoln with a pig.

A statue of the future 16th president accompanied by a swine friend will become a reality May 28, when Decatur artist John McLarey's life-size statue of Lincoln and a small pig will be dedicated.

"We were looking for a hook for our Lincoln," said Alexander. "And the story of the pig came up. It's our story, we own it.

"It's the stuff of legend," she said.

As the legend goes, Lincoln, when still a young attorney riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit, was trying to speak in the courthouse at Taylorville. But while he was trying to make his case, pigs could be heard squealing under the floorboards of the building, which was built about 18 inches above the ground.

Lincoln is said to have jocularly asked the judge for a "writ of quietus" to stop the noise.

Researchers haven't been able to determine a date or a trial when Lincoln would have made such a statement, but they did uncover a record indicating the sheriff was ordered to put up a fence on the courthouse grounds so animals couldn't get under the building. The date was March 1850.

Even if the tale is never verified, Taylorvillians say they can make other cases for their connection between Abe and pigs. One story is even featured on the Web site of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal-rights organization.

According to that tale, Lincoln as a youngster raised a pig from infancy and was upset when he found out his father had killed it for food.

McLarey has created many Lincolns before, but this was his first pig.

"I had drawn pigs before, but never had sculpted one in clay. It was fun, but a little challenging," he said.

McLarey, a retired history teacher, has been sculpting for nine years. His life-sized Lincolns are on display in Vandalia, Charleston, New Salem, Peoria and Decatur. Another will be placed in the future Union Park, across from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

His work also includes a bust of Lincoln in Moscow, a piece in Beijing and a sculpture that was given by former Gov. George Ryan to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Another piece is in Springfield's sister city, Ashikaga, Japan.

"It means there's a lot of interest in the Lincoln legacy," McLarey said. "There is interest all over the world for the principles in which he stood. It's exciting to me to be a part of it."

The Taylorville statue will weigh 700-800 pounds when placed and will be on a pedestal facing Springfield. A storyboard will tell the story of the "writ of quietus."

"Lincoln could mix humor and wit with business and politics. He became known for that," McLarey said.

And Taylorville is hoping to be known for its pig.

"We are going to market ourselves as a children's tourism destination. We want to market Lincoln's sense of humor. This little pig at Lincoln's feet will do that," Alexander said.

The statue's cost, $250,000, is being picked up by Monte Siegrist, 71, owner of Taylorville-based Siegrist Construction. Siegrist's family initially opposed the spending, but Siegrist says they are warming to the idea of their family being known for donating the sculpture to the city.

"They are respecting the idea that I am spending their inheritance," Siegrist said.

"I wanted something that could be here forever. My family has been here since the 1880s, and I wanted something more than just a tombstone in the cemetery," he said.

Taylorville hopes to capitalize otherwise on the statue and the expected increase in central Illinois tourism to be created by the April opening of the presidential museum. Businessman Ed Downs, who owns the downtown Best For Less store, plans to put up new signs that will feature Lincoln with several pigs at his feet.

Another downtown business, Duke's Office Supply, is having 10 murals put in old window openings. They are being painted by Taylorville Junior High art teacher Cindy Adams. Four are already in place. And insurance agent Joe Meeks has written a song about Lincoln and the pig that he plans to put on CD.

Money also is being raised to bring a $1,500 fiberglass pig from Cincinnati (which is putting on its own "Big Pig Gig" promotion this year) to town for local students to paint. That pig will be housed permanently in the Christian County Courthouse.

And the old courthouse, where Lincoln allegedly made his pig annoyance statement, has been restored and is on property outside town owned by the local historical society.

The May 28 dedication, dubbed the "What's the Pig Deal? Festival" will feature people in period costume, a prettiest pig contest, a pigtail contest for men and women and the selling of pig trinkets. There is also talk of making the pig festival an annual event.

Alexander and other organizers hope the statue will be a new reason for tourists to travel to Taylorville.

"Look at what the mouse did for Disneyland," she said.

Brenda Protz can be reached through the metro desk at 788-1519.

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