Remembering Marilyn in Bement

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On August 6, 1955 – almost 61 years ago – Marilyn visited Bryant Cottage in Bement, Illinois, where her idol, Abraham Lincoln, had stayed while debating slavery with Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858.  The anniversary of her visit will soon be commemorated, according to Illinois.gov:

“Bement will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Monroe’s visit with a photo exhibit and a display of Marilyn memorabilia.

The free photo exhibit at Bryant Cottage State Historic Site runs Aug. 6-9.
On Aug. 8, the owners of the home where Monroe stayed during her visit will open the house for tours and display their extensive memorabilia from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The home is at 101 E. Wing Street, and the memorabilia display will be at Salon 101, located at 101 N. Macon Street.
Monroe, a Lincoln fan, visited Bement on Aug. 7, 1955, for the town’s centennial. Thousands of people turned out to watch as she shook hands, visited a nursing home and judged a beard contest. She also visited Bryant Cottage and gave a short speech about Lincoln.”
From 'Life' magazine, 1955
From ‘Life’ magazine, 1955
Meanwhile, the Peoria Journal-Star shares some details of how Marilyn’s visit was received in Bement:

“It’s the movie that hasn’t been made yet and Peorian Jack Mertes has the story for the screenplay.

It was 60 years ago when Marilyn Monroe visited Bement, a small town located between Champaign and Decatur.

It was a media moment — Marilyn, fresh from The Seven Year Itch, was at the height of her powers and the classic set-up: when big-time celebrity visits small-town America.

Mertes wrote about the visit in 1985 at the time of the 30th anniversary. He visited the town and interviewed some of the people who helped organize the star’s visit. He spoke with townspeople who remembered that day.

‘There were people everywhere…I don’t think Bement has ever had so many people in it,’ said Jessie Morgan of Monticello. ‘The Lord sure gave her looks,’ said Selby Clark.

Mertes also captures some of the press coverage of the visit. The Monroe appearance in Bement which made the cover of Life magazine, drew plenty of comments. [Actually, it didn’t make the cover of Life, though an article was published with photos by Eve Arnold, who accompanied Marilyn on the trip. She devoted a whole chapter to Bement in her 1987 book, Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation.]

The Decatur paper referred to her as an ‘atomic blonde’ while William Groninger of the Champaign-Urbana Courier noted, ‘It’s pretty difficult to assess the exact welcome the luscious blonde was given, but even without a decibel meter we will agree to hysterical.’

Let’s not forget the Bement Register that described Monroe as ‘the movie actress who made walking more than a means of locomotion.'”

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