- Associated Press - Saturday, October 1, 2016

RACINE, Wis. (AP) - As a youngster, Michaela Wieties had her choice of going to Disney World, the family fun park in Florida, or to Gettysburg, the somber Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania.

She picked the battlefield, The Journal Times (https://bit.ly/2d9PE16 ) reported.

For her 16th birthday, Michaela had her choice between getting a car or a 1860s period dress hand made by her mother, Marcy.

She said yes to the dress.

Michaela, now a senior at Union Grove High School, loves history in general, the American Civil War in particular, and Abraham Lincoln quite specifically.

She has a monumental crush on Lincoln and is proud of it.

“The Civil War was such a difficult time in history,” said Michaela, who lives in Racine. “People had to work hard to pull through it and it took Lincoln - this self-taught man born in Kentucky - to keep us together. He had a pretty incredible way of forging words, melding them so everyone would be recognized and addressed - north and south, black and white, free and slave.

“He’s my hero,” she said.

Michaela’s enthusiasm and erudition about her hero - many of her sentences begin with “did you know” followed by a factoid about the 16th president - recently landed her a spot in the prestigious Lincoln Forum, a national group dedicated to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era.

Each year the Forum awards scholarships to three high school students to attend the Lincoln Symposium, an annual, three-day gathering of the Forum.

This year, Michaela was one of those three students chosen from across the country. The scholarship covers the cost of registration, travel and hotel accommodation for each student and a parent to the symposium, to be in Gettysburg, Pa., from Nov. 16 to 18.

“I got an email on my way to golf practice when I found out,” she said. “I called my mom and was kind of screaming and crying. Now I’m counting down the days.”

To be selected, Michaela wrote an essay about Lincoln and had Union Grove history teacher Beth Urban write a letter of recommendation.

“What sets Michaela apart is the passion she has for the subject matter,” said Urban, who has taught U.S. history and world history to freshmen and sophomores for 21 years. “To have someone who absolutely gobbles up the subject matter is so refreshing. It’s so fun.”

For Michaela, the fun started in fourth or fifth grade, when her family visited her father’s relatives in Springfield, Ill., during Thanksgiving.

“That really got the ball rolling,” said Michaela’s mother, Marcy.

Michaela came home and started voraciously reading Lincoln books, watching Lincoln movies, researching Lincoln history. She got the family to visit Gettysburg. Last May Michaela and Marcy attended a three-day re-creation of Lincoln’s funeral procession in Springfield. They both wore period costumes and portrayed mourners.

And forget about Illinois being the land of Lincoln. Try Michaela’s room, where she has accumulated two copies of the 2012 movie “Lincoln,” a conservative estimate of 40 Lincoln books, Lincoln T-shirts, Lincoln socks, a Lincoln action figure, and even a Lincoln bobblehead doll.

“She has a passion for it,” said Michaela’s father, Christiopher Wieties. “It’s worthwhile. It’s something we have let her explore.”

At a birthday party at a comedy club with friends, Michaela roused the crowd to riotous laughter by reciting the Gettysburg Address on stage during an improv skit. She was well on her way to finishing when her own laughter caused her to stop.

“It’s incredibly hard to find someone this age so comfortable in their own skin,” Urban said. “She’s going to be who she is going to be. She’s all in on this.”

“I think most of my friends are kind of tired of me talking about it,” Michaela said with a big smile. “I’m really looking forward to being in a whole room of people just like me.”

At the November symposium experts will discuss an array of topics about Lincoln’s politics and origins. A special focus this year will be Lincoln’s both steadfast and evolving views on two highly controversial 19th-Century issues that continue to roil voters today, more than a century-and-half after his death: immigration and voting rights.

“In conceiving a theme for our coming-of-age Forum - for we will be marking our 21st birthday - we decided to focus on the essential truths every 21-year-old must confront: both the past and the future,” said Frank Williams, the symposium director.

As far as her future, Michaela said she most likely will attend Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. She received the college’s highest academic scholarship and plans to major in history.

After that she would love to become an archivist. And she would really love to handle some of Lincoln’s personal effects. “It would be incredible to see something and hold something and think that this is something that he touched,” she said in a reverential hush. “That would be something.”

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Information from: The Journal Times, https://www.journaltimes.com

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