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Kentucky town prepares for Lincoln birthday celebration

Associated Press Writer

It's a birthday bash with pomp and guests befitting a towering historical figure.

Abraham Lincoln's 199th birthday will be celebrated Tuesday at his birthplace just outside Hodgenville in central Kentucky, helping kick off a two-year bicentennial commemoration of the nation's 16th president.

First lady Laura Bush is scheduled to headline a guest list that includes Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Gov. Steve Beshear and members of Congress. Actor Sam Waterston will deliver Lincoln's Gettysburg address, a cornet band will play 19th-century music and the American Spiritual Ensemble will perform.

Organizers expected about 5,000 visitors at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, which features a neoclassical structure made of granite and marble that enshrines a tiny cabin symbolic of the homestead where Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809.

One unwelcome development could be a blast of wintry weather that could recreate frigid conditions of 199 years earlier. A Lincoln relative later recalled it was bitterly cold and sleeting the day Lincoln was born.

Weather forecasters said Monday the Hodgenville area could get 1-3 inches of snow and perhaps a quarter-inch of ice from a winter storm expected to hit the region later in the day.

When the 90-minute celebration begins Tuesday morning, the precipitation could turn to a wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain, said Andrea Lammers, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Louisville.

"I'm hoping it won't be as cold and as nasty as they say it's going to be," said David Early, a spokesman for the national Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. "Everybody keeps telling me that Kentucky weather can change on the dime. I'm hoping for that."

Events commemorating Lincoln's birth will be held all year across the country leading to the 200th anniversary in 2009, and then will continue on through the following year.

Lincoln was to be remembered Monday night at a ceremony at a downtown Louisville performing arts center. The event included a musical tribute along with a dramatic presentation of Lincoln's life.

Lincoln is revered as the commander in chief who held together the Union during the Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery.

He was born in a small cabin at Sinking Spring farm near what became Hodgenville. Two years later, a land dispute prompted the Lincoln family to move a few miles to Knob Creek farm, where young Abe formed his earliest memories. The Lincolns lived there until 1816 when they moved to Indiana, where Lincoln lived until age 21. Lincoln then moved to Illinois.

President Bush honored Lincoln in a ceremony Sunday night at the White House. Bush's wife was scheduled to give the keynote speech in the ceremony Tuesday at Lincoln's birthplace.

The first lady also was scheduled to visit a school in neighboring Hardin County that was damaged by last week's storms that spawned an estimated 21 tornadoes that hit portions of western and central Kentucky.

While in Hodgenville, Mrs. Bush will help dedicate a new elementary school named after Lincoln. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students and for our staff," said Amber Thurman, principal of Abraham LincolnElementary School.

In the next two years, Lincoln commemorative events are planned across the country. But Kentucky was the consensus choice for the kickoff celebration, Early said. "To use Lincoln's words from Gettysburg, it is 'fitting and proper' that the kickoff is in Kentucky."

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