The Great American People Show

The Great American People Show was a not-for-profit theater company known for plays about American history, with a particularly strong focus on Abraham Lincoln’s life and legacy. GAPS, as it became known, was a regional favorite in Illinois. Beginning in 1976, the theatre ran for twenty seasons in New Salem, near Springfield, until the company’s dissolution in 1996. In 1995, Illinois designated “The Great American People Show” as the official “state theatre of Lincoln and the American Experience.”

John Ahart, a theatre professor at the University of Illinois, founded GAPS to present history through evocative and educational theatre, and he served as the company’s artistic director and leader as they moved forward.… Read More

Oliver Barrett: Lincoln Collector

Oliver R. Barrett was a lawyer and collector who, at the time of his death in 1950, had the largest collection of Lincoln books, manuscripts, and artifacts in the country. Born in Jacksonville, Illinois, on October 14, 1873, Barrett moved with his family moved to Pittsfield, the county seat of Pike, when he was young. There Barrett began collecting autographs of famous people. He reached out to individuals of interest, including former president Rutherford B. Hayes, by sending his autograph book in the mail and asking recipients to sign their name before sending it on to the next person listed in his book. … Read More

Eva Katharine Clapp Gibson: An Illinois Writer

Eva Katharine Clapp Gibson was a writer born in Bradford, Illinois, on August 10, 1857. Gibson lived on her family’s farm for the first eleven years of her life with her parents, Henry and Ann (Ely) Clapp; when her mother passed away when Gibson was eleven, she went to live with her married sister. Gibson attended school at Amboy, Illinois, the Dover Academy, and later the Milwaukee Female College. At the age of sixteen, Gibson went to visit cities in the eastern U.S. and decided to teach school in western Massachusetts before returning to Illinois. In 1892 she married Charles Brockway Gibson, a chemist from Chicago who attended the University of Illinois, and she studied German and French literature for a year in Europe before the couple settled in Chicago.… Read More

Elizabeth Packard – Legal and Mental Health Reformer

Elizabeth Packard was a reformer in the 1860s and 1870s who advocated for the legal rights of married women and mental health patients. Born Elizabeth Parsons Ware in 1816 in Ware, Massachusetts, she married Theophilus Packard Jr., a Calvinist minister, in 1839. The couple moved to Kankakee, Illinois, and had six children together.

In 1860, Packard’s husband had her committed to the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane based on his personal observations that she seemed “slightly insane” to him. Reverend Packard’s decision to commit his wife stemmed from her expression of religious beliefs that conflicted with his own doctrine. In many states in the 1800s, a husband was legally able to institutionalize his wife, and Packard had no options to challenge his decision.… Read More