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MONTICELLO — At the tender age of 3, Christopher Cody-Bantz received his first book about Abraham Lincoln. Thirty-four years later, that volume is still among the 4,000-plus pieces of Lincoln memorabilia the Monticello man now owns.

He spent more than 12 hours over the weekend moving a good portion of his collection to the Monticello Community Building, where it will be displayed during tonight’s Lincoln Day dinner.

“They just thought it was going to be a little phase I’d grow out of in six months or a year. Now it’s taken over most of my house,” Bantz said.

He was on hand when the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in Springfield in 2005, and 10 years later was at Ford’s Theatre on the 150th anniversary of the 16th President’s death by assassination.

“I stayed up 40 hours straight for that event,” he said of the commemoration held in Washington, D.C.

What is it about the “Rail Splitter” that appeals so much to Bantz?

“He taught himself to read. He had less than a year of formal education. Everyone was down on him when he was elected president, and yet he kept the union together during the Civil War. So it’s how he had everything stacked against him, but yet he fought through it and was — I think — the best president we’ve ever had.”

Cody-Bantz’s display, set up on more than a dozen tables, includes a myriad of busts and plates, memorabilia of his trip to Ford’s Theatre, thimble sets, newspaper clippings, even Lincoln-themed mudflaps, socks and magnets.

“You name it, I pretty much have it,” he said.

The book that got his wide-ranging collection started — “The Value of Respect: The Story of Abraham Lincoln,” by Ann Donegan Johnson — will also be on display.

The 130 people who registered for the Lincoln Day dinner, which is a fundraiser for the Piatt County Museum, will get a chance to peruse the passion of Cody-Bantz, whose nickname is appropriately “Abe.”

Tickets are no longer on sale for the dinner, but Cody-Bantz said the public can attend his presentation on Lincoln that will be given after the dinner starting at 8 p.m.

Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a Community Media Group newspaper. For more, visit