In Chicago, Abraham Lincoln still lives here

This weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Here in Illinois, we all live in the Land of Lincoln. And the same goes for Daniel Weinberg. Except that in Chicago, he’s spent the past four decades also working in Lincoln Land.

“I didn’t have a big interest in Lincoln [coming out of school], it just happened,” recalled Weinberg, 68, a native of Glencoe and the longtime owner of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in River North. “But I was born and raised in Illinois, so Lincoln is in my DNA. How could it not be?”

Indeed. For native Illinoisans, Honest Abe is in our bloodstream. And this weekend, it’s also in our theaters. On Friday, “Lincoln,” the critically acclaimed film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the iconic 16th President, premiered nationally.

As one of the leading Lincoln experts in Illinois, Weinberg not surprisingly received a private screening of the film earlier this month (spoiler: He liked it).

Other Lincoln buffs, perhaps including you, would enjoy making a visit to Weinberg’s book store, which is unlike any other in Illinois – and probably the entire country.

“I think of what we do as intellectual retail,” Weinberg said.

Located at 357 West Chicago Avenue, the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop enjoyed its own premiere back in 1938. That was when Ralph Newman, a man known in Chicago as a master promoter, raconteur and lifelong book lover, founded the shop in part to meet the collecting needs of small group of friends who were deeply passionate about studying the Civil War and the Great Emancipator.

That group included local luminaries such as poet Carl Sandburg, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner and William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Newman’s friends also included the 15 men who became the charter members of The Civil War Round Table, a movement that has grown to now include chapters around the world.

In the early 1970s, Weinberg was working on his doctorate at NYU when he came home for spring break and met with Newman. The aging bookseller was looking for someone to eventually assume the reins of his shop, even if he wasn’t a Lincoln aficionado – yet.

“I actually was interested in Mesopotamia, but my cuneiform was very poor,” Weinberg joked this week. “But I still loved history … and I wanted to get into the book biz.”

In 1971, Weinberg entered into a partnership with Newman, and in 1984 he purchased Newman’s interest to become the shop’s sole proprietor. Today, the shop specializes in Lincolniana and material related to the Civil War and U.S. presidents. An array of rare books, autographs, manuscripts, works of art, statues can be found on its walls and shelves.

“We’re like a museum,” Weinberg quipped, “except that you can walk off with anything for enough money.”

Included among the shop’s many past and present pieces are a sketch of Lincoln lying in state in New York City, the only known example of Abe misspelling his name (he spelled it “Linclon” before crossing it out) and signed documents related to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln-Douglas Debates and Black Hawk War.

As for the new “Lincoln” film, Weinberg gave it four stars – or, perhaps, four stovetop hats.

“It was just fascinating,” Weinberg said. “I had the feeling of the room spinning, seeing everything I’ve been involved in for 41 years was coming to life on the screen … It’s a different sort of film. I think people will enjoy it if they embrace it and just let it wash over them.”

For more information about the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, its offerings and upcoming book signings, visit alincolnbookshop.com.