Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years in the Land of Lincoln

Exhibit Bicent Wb3

Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years in the Land of Lincoln

February 3 - June 3

The first & only comprehensive exhibition celebrating the Illinois bicentennial!

I hope visitors take away an interest and pride in the state’s history. You really start to see how many amazing individuals have lived and worked here who’ve made a positive lasting impact. There is truly something in this exhibition for everyone! -- Lottie Phillips, exhibition curator

Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years in the Land of Lincoln presents a unique story of the state’s past to present as told through more than 240 historic objects and the narratives of notable Illinoisans, including four U.S. presidents, abolitionists and reformers, farmers and pioneers, inventors and scientists, artists and authors, athletes and celebrities, veterans, Native Americans and immigrants.

The exhibition celebrates the state’s influential people, places, and innovations in Illinois history, giving visitors the chance to discover Illinois remarkable history.

As part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Illinois becoming a state, the Museum has created the exhibition using artifacts borrowed statewide from colleges, professional organizations, other museums and historical societies. 

Celebrate Illinois is curated around the concept that objects tell stories and behind each object is a person, and that person has a unique story to tell – a personal insight into the history of Illinois. -- John Morris, Museum CEO

The exhibition is a unique opportunity for Museum visitors to find inspiration in the number of people and objects that have positively impacted the state’s history. -- Lottie Phillips, exhibition curator


One of the cufflinks that President Abraham Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated, on loan from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, is among the rare and significant pieces on display. Also in the exhibit are the White House desk and chair at which Lincoln purportedly wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, on loan from the Chicago Historical Society and a very rare Lincoln inaugural ball ticket on loan from Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Artifacts from three other U.S. presidents include a belt buckle from Ulysses S. Grant’s Galena home, Ronald Reagan’s Eureka College diploma and 1957 Golden Globe Award and a pen used by President Barack Obama to sign his first executive order.

A 1995 World Series championship hat signed by Peoria native Jim Thome, inducted this year into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, will be on display alongside Eureka native Ben Zobrist’s batting helmet and gloves worn during the World Series MVP’s famous Game 7 10th inning hit that led to a Cubs victory. 

Celebrated Illinois athletes Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Ernie Banks, Curley “Boo” Johnson and Peoria native and NBA point guard Shaun Livingston are featured. 

John Deere's original plow, invented in 1837 for breaking the sticky prairie soil and Caterpillar’s first diesel engine, “Old Betsy,” made in 1930 are displayed – both on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Visitors will see Illinois artifacts from Chicago-born author Ernest Hemingway, architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, comedian and Peoria native Richard Pryor, Peorians Betty Friedan and Susan G. Komen, nuclear scientist Enrico Fermi, poets Vachel Lindsay from Springfield and Galesburg native Carl Sandburg, U.S. astronaut and Pekin native Scott Altman, sculptor and Elwood native Lorado Taft, the pioneering Funk family, Galesburg abolitionists behind the first Illinois Underground Railroad, Ferris Wheel inventor and Galesburg native George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. and Bishop Hill painter Olaf Krans, and U.S. Senator and Civil Rights leader Everett Dirksen from Pekin.

Earlier this fall, the museum installed the 31-ft. bronze Lincoln sculpture, “Return Visit,” facing the Illinois River, with the assistance of local businesses and individuals, to usher in the Illinois Bicentennial.


Artifacts in the exhibition include those on loan from: National Park Service and Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, Chicago Historical Society (Chicago History Museum), Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of American History, Illinois State Museum, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Knox College Archives (Seymour Library) and Galesburg Colony Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association, Bishop Hill State Historic Site, Eureka College, Elmhurst College, The Dirksen Congressional Center, Bradley University Archives, McHenry County Historical Society, Galena History Museum, General John A. Logan Museum, St. Clair County Historical Society, Western Illinois Museum, Ray LaHood, Nancy Brinker, Carl Soderstrom and the Zobrist Family.


Riverfront Museum is an official partner to the Illinois Bicentennial Commission and the exhibition is an officially sanctioned program. Museum board member Dr. Timothy Cundiff is representing the Commission locally.

“Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years in the Land of Lincoln” is presented by Prairie Home Alliance and sponsored by the Peoria Journal Star, WMBD 1470 radio, the Visionary Society and Tom and Lois Mayer.


A slate of bicentennial programming will be held at the museum in conjunction with the exhibition, beginning with Celebrate Illinois Family Day, Feb 3, 11 am–1 pm (free with admission and to members). Programming will include an Illinois Classic Film series featuring “The Blues Brothers” (April 5), “The Breakfast Club” (April 12), “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (April 19) and “Sixteen Candles” (April 26).

Exhibition Programming details - click here!

Illinois Film Series details - click here!