Local Lincoln lore explored at Oakland events
OAKLAND — For the last five years, the town of Oakland has presented a unique piece of Lincoln lore through the Trials and Tribulations program, which depicts the Matson Slave Trial held in Coles County in 1847.
The program explores the question of slavery, Abraham Lincoln's involvement as a lawyer for the slave owner and the role of townspeople in assisting the locally held slaves.
This year, Trials and Tribulations is set for three dates throughout the summer to give more people a chance to experience this interactive program. The tickets are limited to 50 participants for each performance and dinner.
"We hope to make it a more intimate experience," program director Renee Henry said.
The evening will begin with tours of historical landmarks near the Oakland town square and an 1847-style meal, including roasted ham or turkey, stewed tomatoes, roasted potatoes and fruit cobbler.
Live musicians and a preview of the commemoration of the Charleston Riots, another Coles County historical event, will be presented during the dinner.
Participants will then be transported back in time to the Independence Pioneer Village north of Oakland. The collection of log cabins will serve as a backdrop to the Matson Slave Trial story performed under the covered pavilion.
Joe Woodard, a well-recognized beardless Lincoln impersonator, will once again portray the future president in the program.
"(Woodard) did an outstanding job last year. We're very excited that he is going to return," Henry said.
Interpreters from Free Town Village in Indianapolis will portray Jane and Anthony Bryant. Jane Bryant escaped from the possession of local land owner, Robert Matson, who was keeping slaves illegally on his Illinois farm. Bryant and her four children were assisted by local abolitionists and held in the local jail while their fate was decided during the trial.
Local volunteer actors portray the other characters involved in the trial. The shuttle will return visitors to town at the end of the evening.
Organizers have continued to evolve the program through the years.
"We try to change it up a little bit every year, so if you've been before you can come and enjoy it again just as much," volunteer Susan Scheel said.
The program received funding from a Looking for Lincoln Heritage grant this year.
"We are slowly getting some broader attention for the story and the way we present it," Henry said.
The group was invited by the Looking for Lincoln organization to participate in an event commemorating Lincoln's birthday this year. Henry hopes to eventually hold the program on a regular basis throughout the year and offer bookings by appointment for interested groups.
Local support from Oakland residents and businesses has been key to keeping this event going each year.
"They have never wavered in their support," Henry said.
Oakland is a welcoming town, but it's just a little out of the way to get to; Henry, however, promises the Trials and Tribulations program offers an evening out of the ordinary that is well worth the trip.
If you go
What: Trials and Tribulations, a program that depicts the 1847 Matson Slave Trial in Coles County
When: 5-9 p.m. June 29, July 13, Sept. 20
Tickets: $30 at http://www.matsontrial1847.org
More info: 508-9113
Note: The event will be held rain or shine