Starting this Friday, a dozen documentaries marking Illinois’s Bicentennial will bring local and state history to life as they are shown throughout the year at Pekin Public Library.

Thinking about what the library could do to celebrate the state’s bicentennial, Dec. 3, 2018, the Pekin Public Library thought it would be helpful to show some historical movies, documentaries and old video footage all throughout this year, said Jared Olar, a Pekin Public Library assistant and the library’s representative on the Tazewell County’s Illinois Bicentennial Committee. The films, all from the library’s archives, date from as far back as the 1980s and as recently as the early 2000s.

A free movie will play the first Friday of every month from now until December. Titles include “History of Pekin;” “Illinois’s Memory of the Civil War;” “We Were There: World War II,” a 1990s oral history told by veterans; “Pekin Street Cars,” a look at how Pekinites got from place to place; “Volume 1: Residential Architectural Styles in Illinois;” “History of Pekin Railroads and Depots;” “Farming in Tazewell County” and “Lt. Commander Scott Altman, Pekin’s First Astronaut.” Most of the films are only 20 to 30 minutes long, but some reach or even surpass the hour mark. A full list of films and when they will be played can be found on the library’s website at and the library’s Facebook page at

“It’s nice to be able to have a look back at things from (the) earlier 20th century,” Olar said. "(The films) should be of varying interest. I know a lot of people are train enthusiasts and some have a differing interest in military history and some like to look back at the old buildings in town — the old schools (and) high schools. (We have) a little bit for every little historical taste, I guess.”

Olar isn’t sure exactly how long it’s been since most of the films have been shown, but it was before he arrived at the library six years ago. Part of the reason for that was the movies were on VHS tapes and the library has been sans a VHS player for a few years. While the library still has the VHS copies, the movies have been transferred over to DVD, making it possible to play them again.

The series has gathered a little interest so far, but Olar doesn’t know how much of that is or will come from Pekin youth. A lot of them don’t have tons of interest in history, he said, because they’re too busy making it. Once youth are closer to history, they usually take more of an interest in it, Olar said.

“So none of (the films) were actually videos that were made with the idea of being ... entertaining for younger people. They’re mementos, and memoirs and oral history mainly for those who would like to remember or would like to learn some things they may have never known.”

The first of the library’s movie series will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday in its Community Room. January’s film is “History of Pekin,” which contains old footage of city locations like Pekin High School, Pekin Theatre, Pekin Hospital and the old post office. The film runs about an hour-and-a-half.

Olar is personally looking forward to May and “We Were There: World War II.” The oral histories bring the veterans’ stories to life, Olar said, and makes people realize these tales of war aren’t just letters on the page of a textbook or images in old, black-and-white photographs. It reminds them that these are people who went through the war.

“People like you or me, who have all their hopes and dreams, their desires, all the passions of love and anger and hate and pride and all the things that we feel, as well,” Olar said. “And to know that this is part of the human story and it’s part of our story and, in this Illinois bicentennial year, part of Illinois’s story.”