Spending the day following the footsteps of President Lincoln in Springfield

IMG_8621 Presidents Day is a little more special to me after visiting Springfield, Illinois. While spending a week in St. Louis, Lisa and I took a day trip to Springfield, Illinois. It was the home of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, our 16th president, lived in Springfield before his election. His plan was to retire there after serving his terms. Unfortunately, history didn’t let this happen. The president, who initiated social change with the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, was assassinated a few days after the Civil War ended.

His return to Springfield was for his interment at the local cemetery. The family has a tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. The president, his wife Mary and three of their four sons are interred there. IMG_8813 Springfield, Illinois’ state capital, is proud of its Lincoln heritage. Locations have been preserved, including the home and Lincoln’s law office, as well as identified as significant in telling the story of Abraham Lincoln.

The visitors’ center for the Lincoln complex at Union Station is home to an exhibit of costumes and sets from the movie “Lincoln.” The movie runs on a loop, which made it difficult to leave the building, because I kept wanting to watch it. IMG_8556 There are costumes that Sally Field wore as Mary Todd Lincoln, including the First Lady’s bedroom. IMG_8573 A major scene in the movie features President Lincoln and his advisors in the president’s meeting room discussing the Emancipation Proclamation. IMG_8565 The Lincoln Library and Presidential Museum are located in the center of downtown Springfield, a few blocks from the current state capitol building. The museum offers a unique look into Lincoln’s life. Starting with his childhood, the museum lays out Lincoln’s life up to and including his assassination. IMG_8808 There are a couple of short films to catch when you are there. One highlights his life, told through an artist’s view of the president’s eyes. The second looks at the role history plays in life, using an actor in a hologram appearance examining historical artifacts and stories they can tell. Once you start the tour, it is quite interesting. Looking at Lincoln’s childhood home, a small log cabin that could later sit in his house’s kitchen. The childhood section recaps legend and fact regarding Lincoln. IMG_8580 It looks at life beyond the log cabin. Slavery appears to have been a lifelong issue with Lincoln. He thought all people were created equally, and should be treated as such.

Old paintings and artifacts are displayed through the visit. As you move from the childhood story to the White House story, you pass through an election section. Editorial cartoons that just outright insult the man remind me of ones you see today. Politics never change, do they?

The election area has a TV news control room set-up. Tim Russert, one of our generation’s greatest political correspondents, hosts a special “Election 1860,” examining the four major candidates and how their messages would be carried today. It was both humorous and educational.

The White House section focused on Lincoln’s life as president. The immediate votes from southern state legislatures to secede from the United States of America followed his election to the presidency. IMG_8598 The White House area has a film that displays the Civil War in four minutes. It shows a daily death toll on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Photographs and uniforms of soldiers are on display.

The major piece of legislation of his administration – the Emancipation Proclamation – is examined in depth. It shows both the critics and supporters of the plan to free slaves. Some people thought it went too far, while others thought it didn’t go far enough. A scene almost out of the movie “Lincoln” shows President Lincoln and advisors debating the proclamation. Again, artifacts and paintings are prevalent in the section.

As the Civil War came to an end, the president visited a bordering Confederate state. As he prepared to leave for his return to Washington, DC, he asked the military band leader to play the southern song “Dixie.” He was asked why. Lincoln’s response was basically to let the rebels know that despite losing the war, they still maintained the right to play the song.

As we turned a corner, an exhibit highlighting Lincoln’s trip to Ford’s Theater was in front of us. You can see John Wilkes Booth starting to enter the president’s box. Then, you see Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln and his guests sitting there.

Later, as you round another corner, you see the funeral exhibit. It shows the president’s casket lying in state at Representative Hall at the Illinois state capitol. A map shows the train route taken to return the president to Springfield. Several funerals were held for him along the way, before his final interment.

The thing that Lisa and I walked away with was the way the museum staff told President Lincoln’s story – unique with the combination of the films, the interactive exhibits, and the discussion of issues – controversies and all.

After our visit to the museum, we stopped at the presidential library. There aren’t any exhibits for the public, as it is used mainly for research. It was an OK walk through. It’s not a must when visiting.

We met Alycia Erickson from the visitor’s bureau for lunch as La Calia. Alycia arranged for us to have tickets for the museum. We had a fine lunch and a great visit. The restaurant offered an eclectic menu. Lisa had a roasted pepper quesadilla, while I had a Rueben and pumpkin chipotle soup. IMG_8694 Following lunch, we took a stroll to the Old State Capital building. It was here that Lincoln delivered his famous “A House Divided” speech. He called for equal rights for the races at that time. We walked a couple of blocks to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office building. Here, the president had practiced law. A sculpture of the Lincolns stands in front. Inside is a display regarding Lincoln’s career. IMG_8710 Next door is a gift shop. We lucked out here in meeting Garret Moffett. Garret runs Springfield Walks, a local Lincoln tour company. He leads walking and trolley tours of significant spots in Lincoln lore. Garrett walked with us to the Lincoln Home visitor center, which is operated by the National Park Service. IMG_8737 During the walk, he pointed out a spot where Lincoln led discussions at the local Republican Party’s “wigwam,” as the meetings were called. He also pointed out a pew at a local church that was referred to as the Lincoln family pew, despite the president never visiting the church.  For more information on Garrett’s tours, please visit his website at www.springfieldwalks.com.

Visiting the Lincoln home was like taking a walk back in time. Our guide mentioned that 80-90 percent of the house is intact from when the Lincolns lived there, so it’s likely we walked over the same spot as Abe Lincoln. Amazing! IMG_8779Several items in the house once belonged to the family. A bed in the guest room was the Lincolns’. The stove in the kitchen was used in the house during their time. Other items also belonged to them. IMG_8797 Can you imagine Lincoln basically accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in his parlor? He accepted the nomination in the formal parlor. The children were not allowed in that room. Rather, the family would relax together in the family parlor. IMG_8760 As our visit to the 16th president’s home town concluded, I walked away with an even more positive view of the man and what he stood for…and died for. I recommend visiting the Lincoln attractions if in the area. We thought it was worth the 90-minute drive from St. Louis. I think you will, too.

For more information on the presidential museum, please visit www.alplm.org.

For information on the law office, please visit www.stat.il.us/hpa/hs/lincoln.

For more information on the Lincoln home, please visit http://www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm.

DISCLOSURE: Thanks to the Springfield convention and visitors bureau for the complimentary tickets to the Lincoln Museum and for lunch. However, all thoughts, views and opinions are ours.