Despite the bitter cold, a small enthusiastic group of Knox students, staff and Galesburg community members were gathered on the east steps of Old Main to break the world record for largest simultaneous reading of a public document—n this case, Abraham Lincoln’s farewell address. Lincoln originally gave his farewell address on Feb. 11, 1861 prior to his departure from Springfield as president-elect. The record attempt was orchestrated by a number of organizations, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, to mark the beginning of the sesquicentennial observation of the outbreak of the Civil War.
To break the record approximately 224,000 readers were required, but the final result will not be known until sometime around Feb. 23, as the Presidential Library and the Historic Preservation Agency must wait until all of the test sites have reported back with confirmations of their final numbers.
“The next step is getting all of the papers back from all of the sites … we won’t send off to the Guinness Book of World Records unless we’re confident [that the record was broken],” Dave Blanchette, Communications Manager for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, said.
Energy was high as the 11 a.m. start of the reading approached. The Farewell Address would be read multiple times until a five minute mark was reached (a requirement to achieve the world record).
Assistant Professor of History Catherine Denial organized the event at Knox and explained some of the background of the event: “We are here today to try and contribute to breaking the world record attempt for the greatest number of simultaneous readings of a public document. There are about 30 different sites that are participating today, from all over in Illinois and further afield. We have to report back what we did, send photographs and witness statements and then we hear later whether we were successful collectively.”
Part of the importance of Knox’s participation lay in Old Main’s legacy as the last surviving site of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The importance of the event to Knox was evident from the excitement of the crowd. Associate Professor of Philosophy Bill Young let his class out so his students could participate in the reading. The feeling among students was excitement: “Yeah, [we’re excited] we’re about to break a world record,” senior Ailyn Tran said.
Ultimately the reading was a local success and occurred without incident. Two observers spent the event repeatedly counting how many people were reading, while photographers and videographers documented the reading. Once it finished, everyone quickly fled inside to escape the biting wind.
“It was a lot more exciting than I thought it would be … I thought it would be corny, and it was corny, but it was also cool, and there was a really cool mix of people from students and the community,” senior Kate Robbins said.
According to Blanchette, the record attempt as a whole “went very well. The response was gratifying. We had people participating in at least half the states.”
It will be a while before the actual number of participants is known, because the only information currently available is how many sites were registered before the day of the reading.
The reading was meaningful for participants as well, connecting people across the country in an endeavor to do something that had never been done before. “[Breaking another record] would be cool. I’m a senior, so I’m all about starting new things right now. Like breaking the record for breaking the most records,” Robbins said. She said that the record attempt on Friday had her “full confidence.”