- Associated Press - Sunday, May 1, 2016

MATTOON, Ill. (AP) - There are items recalling the most famous political debate to take place in Coles County, and they range to those from a native son’s try at the state’s highest office.

It shows how women voters in the county cast their ballots the first time they were able to do so, as well as a famous newspaper headline marking the only time a president resigned from office.

The new exhibit by the Coles County Historical Society is meant to show how campaigns and elections have changed over the years, said Aaron Walk, the historical society’s operations manager.

“It’s to help understand the progress we’ve made,” Walk said. “It commemorates the election year. It’s a little electoral history.”

The exhibit, “A Campaign History in Coles County,” is scheduled to open Tuesday in the historical society’s museum in the basement of the Mattoon train depot.



Walk said the exhibit is made up entirely of items in the historical society’s collection and will remain open until November, sometime after the election.

There’s a variety of local, state and national election and campaign materials, including what Walk said is “if not the oldest, one of the oldest pieces of election memorabilia in Coles County.”

The aged, handwritten document is a vote “tally sheet” from 1843, which was actually before Coles County was established. It shows vote totals for various candidates in what was then called the Wabash precinct, which Walk said was likely located in what’s now the eastern part of the county.

There are also items commemorating the Charleston debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas that was part of the 1858 campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Replicas of programs show how the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the debate were recognized, and a book of postcards is open to one showing the house on Seventh Street in Charleston where Lincoln stayed.

Walk said the exhibit also shows that negative campaign themes are nothing new, as it includes an “early attack” advertisement from the 1868 campaign for president.

It’s displayed alongside an anti-Republican Party cartoon from the same year when Ulysses S. Grant became president in the first election following the end of the Civil War, a time of debate over Reconstruction and related issues.

“With all the bad things going on in the country before and after the Civil War, some people were blaming Republicans,” Walk said.

Visitors to the exhibit will also be able to learn how Coles County women voters cast their ballots in the first election in which they were allowed to do so. The ballots from the 1920 presidential election, the first after women were able to vote, are separated by gender.

The same area of the exhibit also includes a ballot on repealing Prohibition, with a list of arguments on the issue and information on how the constitutional amendment against alcohol sales affected jobs.

“Prohibition killed a lot of jobs and was impossible to enforce,” Walk said.

Items from the political and campaign career of Charleston native Jim Edgar include not only materials from his terms as governor but also a postcard from his first campaign for state representative.

Edgar’s autograph can be seen on one of his campaign signs, next to that of his mother Betty, and his signature is also on a newspaper report on the end of his time as governor.

Recollections of the 1968 presidential campaign include a recording with excerpts of Richard Nixon’s speech accepting the Republican Party nomination and a news story with the headline “Will the Political Process be Changed?” referring to Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“It did cause a lot of backlash,” Walk said.

There are also newspapers, both those printed locally and from other locations, showing headlines of famous moments in the nation’s political history.

There’s “Nixon Resigns” on a copy of the Charleston Times-Courier, a headline that also ran across the front of the Washington Post on the same day, Aug. 9, 1974.

An earlier local publication, the Coles County Daily Times, chose “Kennedy Goes Home” for a report on the funeral for Robert F. Kennedy.

The exhibit also shows more innocuous items such as buttons that were once a staple of campaign seasons — candidates include William Howard Taft, Landon Cox, Paul Simon and Dan Walker — and a ballot with a form to sign showing the voter paid the tax required for dog ownership.

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Source: The Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, https://bit.ly/1V2B7C9

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Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, https://www.jg-tc.com

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