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Sunday, March 26, 2017

A journey to the past

by Joanna Andrews

© Al Habtoor Group
© Al Habtoor Group
© Al Habtoor Group
© Al Habtoor Group

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, served from 1861 until his assassination four years later. He not only led the US through the American Civil War but also was instrumental in abolishing slavery. Khalaf Al Habtoor took a journey back in time to the Lincoln era. Joanna Andrews follows his footsteps to the past.

The journey started in Illinois when Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor visited his long time friend and former US Congressman, the Honourable Paul Findley. Al Habtoor is no stranger to Illinois; he has been ‘adopted’ by many of the locals for his commitment to education in the state.

The Al Habtoor Group Chairman was invited to attend a ‘Phi Alpha’ meeting in Beecher Hall (the oldest college building in the state) after becoming a honourary member of the men’s Literary Society back in May 2010. ‘Phi Alpha’, which was founded in 1845, has a notable connection with Lincoln as one of its founding members was responsible for first bringing him to town.

Al Habtoor continued his historic tour with a visit to Shastid House in Pittsfield. The house is an historical treasure; it is little more than a wooden shack, yet it is full of tales from the past. John G Shastid and his family had entertained Lincoln at the house during his numerous visits to Pittsfield.

One of the best-known stories is printed on a plaque outside the house. It tells of the time when Shastid moved his family to Pittsfield in 1936 from New Salem, where he had been Lincoln's neighbour. It reads, “John was a farmer who had but three months of formal schooling. Yet he was literate and valued book learning.

His grandson recalled that he knew almost the whole New Testament and Fox’s Book of Martyrs by heart.” It goes on to say, “John was a man of few words. So it made a deep impression on the family when, on hearing that President Lincoln had been shot, he gathered about him to utter a deeply felt six syllable prayer pleading for Lincoln’s life.”

It concludes, “Later that day, when a boisterous young man loudly exclaimed his satisfaction that, ‘old Lincoln is dead,’ the 67-year-old Shastid knocked him to the ground in one solid punch that rendered him senseless.”

Next on the trail was a tour of the famous William Grimshaw House, which was built in 1847. Grimshaw participated in several court cases with Abraham Lincoln in Pike County and hired Lincoln to represent him in a federal court case in Chicago. The house has long stayed in the family and is now the property of his great grandson, Fred Grote. “It is an impressive estate,” says Al Habtoor. “We were given an information-packed tour by Pam Grote. Every room had an amazing story to tell.” The house is packed with historic artifacts – including a simple chair belonging to the first American First Lady, George Washington’s wife, Martha.The historic journey proved that Lincoln’s legacy and influence is still very much alive and he will long be remembered as the man that guided the US through a time of great upheaval. His leadership qualities are timeless; his self-determination and unwavering commitment to freedom are lessons the world can take from him today. As Lincoln once said, “In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”

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