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Article posted: 12/29/2012 8:00 AM

Lombard historic site celebrates Emancipation Proclamation's 150th anniversary

By Marie Wilson

On New Year's Day, the document that helped free slaves during the Civil War turns 150.

The Lombard Historical Society's Sheldon Peck Homestead, which originally was home to a radical abolitionist who helped former slaves travel through the area, will open from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday to mark the Emancipation Proclamation's milestone anniversary.

"We thought we'd be a leader in the commemoration," said Jeanne Schultz Angel, executive director of the Lombard Historical Society. "It's an opportunity for us to talk a little about the Underground Railroad activity in northern Illinois."

The Peck Homestead at 355 E. Parkside Ave. is a fitting site for such discussions, as it was added in 2011 to the Network to Freedom, a list of verified Underground Railroad sites maintained by the National Park Service.

Schultz Angel said the homestead is the only Network to Freedom site in the Chicago area, a nod to original owner and folk painter Sheldon Peck's uncommon views about racial equality.

"He wanted instant freedom for every person in the country regardless of color," Schultz Angel said. "He felt racial equality was realistic and divinely inspired."

Peck's home made the list because years of research and a diary kept by his son prove escaped slaves stayed temporarily at the home on their way to Canada or wherever they were seeking liberty.

"In the days of the Underground Railroad, our home was a depot and very many were the slaves sheltered here while on their way to freedom," Frank Peck wrote in an excerpt from his diary, which is on display at the homestead as part of an exhibit called "The People, The Places, The Movement."

At Tuesday's event, visitors can view the exhibit and listen to discussions about the intentions of the Emancipation Proclamation and how it affected the Civil War. Schultz Angel said the movie "Lincoln" has brought these discussions to the forefront and reminded people of the complexity of President Abraham Lincoln's political decision to declare slaves in Confederate territory free as of Jan. 1, 1863.

"The movie really brought home an anxiety of what the country was going through at the time," she said. "It's getting a lot of people to rethink and appreciate the struggle."

The historical society's 150th anniversary event also will cover controversy surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation, what it actually said and who it actually freed. The free program will include refreshments. For details, call (630) 629-1885 or visit lombardhistory.org.

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