I remember visiting Springfield, the capital of Illinois, only once in my life. That was decades ago and my son’s memory of the place is very hazy.
Flash forward to last summer, when on my annual trip to the Windy City, I decided to take a field trip to the state of Lincoln.
A HEARTBEAT FOR EVERYTHING IN THE LINCOLN PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM
Most visitors to Springfield begin their visit to Lincoln sites at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum or Lincoln Home National Historic Site. In my opinion, the state-of-the-art, state-of-the-art Presidential Museum offers the most comprehensive overview of our country’s 16th president.
It does an excellent job of presenting Lincoln’s life story through well-preserved artifacts, state-of-the-art exhibits, interactive displays, and multimedia programs.
With more than 50,000 square feet, spanning an entire city block, the museum is the largest presidential museum. It is also the first major Museum of Experience of its kind, attracting visitors with a combination of science and entertainment.
In the museum’s main atrium, stand face to face with a replica of the White House facade as it appeared in 1861. In the front are figures of Lincoln, his wife Mary and their three children and center. Greet guests.
Nearby is a replica of Lincoln’s childhood log cabin. Take an indoor journey through Abe’s early years in the woods of Kentucky, where he taught himself to read.
The museum presents Lincoln’s pre-presidential years in the village of New Salem after his departure from Springfield. The shows depict his courtship and marriage to Mary Todd and their family life.
Also his legal and political career, including the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the four-way presidential campaign of 1860. The latter is deftly covered in the present as election analysis news.
WHITE HOUSE PER YEAR
The president’s tumultuous and historic years in the White House follow and end with his assassination. It is followed by a somber but grand funeral procession back to Springfield. One of the most disturbing experiences for me was walking through the nightmarish Whispering Gallery.
Here rumors whisper bad rumors about Abe and Mary. In addition, cruel cartoons and political caricatures on the walls show the bad feelings of his opposition.
DUDS FOR THE LADIES
Women’s clothing is shown in the “What are they wearing in Washington?” exhibit. It shows a figure of Mary Lincoln, dressed in a suit, surrounded by her party-dressed rivals.
It’s no secret that many high society women made nasty comments about Mary at the time. From the high price of his clothes and his frequent shopping trips in New York to the lavish interiors of the White House.
I HAVE BIG QUESTIONS
Slavery, the civil war and the Emancipation Proclamation naturally receive a lot of attention. For example, the state map shows the number of deaths in the north and south as they intersect in real time.
This is accompanied by battle sounds. There are also photos and profiles of some of the soldiers who fought in the battles.
The Emancipation Proclamation is discussed in the President’s War Office. Some visitors may be surprised to learn that it wasn’t so much about slavery as saving the crumbling Union.
THE LINCOLN MURDER
At the rebuilt Ford’s Theater, Abe and Mary are seen in their box enjoying the production, as John Wilkes Booth sneaks in. Even though we all know what’s coming, it’s still hard to see the president getting hit.
THEATER PERFORMANCES LIVE HISTORY
Holographic theaters and special effects theaters provide very convincing teaching. This includes ghostly images, live actors and lots of action.
As he speaks, ghosts of Civil War soldiers emerge from various objects. Like Lincoln, Mary and others appearing and disappearing.
The pen begins to write in the air in the president’s handwriting. The message here is to appreciate objects that connect us to history and understand that they can also illuminate the future.
The depot is a small, nondescript building that once housed an office and separate waiting rooms for men and women. It has passed from one owner to another over the years and has survived several fires.
Pinky’s husband, Jon Noll, a local attorney, is curiously a distant descendant of William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner at the time of the 1860 election.
After extensive renovations, the depot reopened in 2013 and was later added to the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the small museum to learn about its history through photos and videos.
Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site is where Lincoln’s remains lie, along with those of his wife and three of their four children. Lincoln’s oldest son Robert is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The 115-foot granite grave is located in Oak Ridge Cemetery, the second most visited cemetery in the country behind Arlington.
Outside this impressive monument stands a large bronze bust of Lincoln. Visitors from all over the world rubbed the statue’s nose to make it shine for good luck. No one knows how this tradition started. But it has become a ritual for many of the more than half a million people who make the pilgrimage to the site each year.
A staircase leads to a terrace above which stands an imposing obelisk. Each of the four pedestals is topped with groups of sculptures representing the four armies of the Civil War.
You can actually walk into the grave. Here, the rotunda and aisles contain smaller versions of notable Lincoln statues. In addition, there are plaques with excerpts from Lincoln’s Springfield Farewell Address, Gettysburg Address, and his second inaugural address.
Continue down the hallway to the burial chamber. Lincoln’s remains are actually under the room because robbers tried to steal his body in 1876.
GO BACK IN TIME AT THE NEW STATE HISTORIC SITE IN THE STATE OF LINCOLN
To see where it all began in Abelle, Illinois, drive to the New Salem State Historic Site in Lincoln. You are transported back to a time when young Lincoln was divorced, worked as a salesman and postal worker, and experienced several significant events that planted the seeds of his destiny.
Lincoln taught himself the law through books. This despite the fact that you only have one year of frontier school. He started the profession with passion. The villagers hired him to draw up wills and contracts.
He also joined a debating club, where he excelled at expressing his views in a persuasive, yet popular manner. It became clear that Lincoln had the ability to talk to people from all walks of life. Also the fact that this once promiscuous farm boy had depth and dignity.
Many of New Salem’s buildings have been rebuilt in their original locations. However, they strictly adhere to the authenticity of the 1830s when Lincoln lived there. As you walk, history comes to life through costumed characters who help interpret the past.
Many of the wooden buildings represent the homes of real people who lived in New Salem. Some are establishments such as a blacksmith, a coppersmith, a doctor, a general store, an inn, and a carding mill.
For example, it was at the Denton Offutt Store that Lincoln was first hired. This was before he and partner William Berry opened their own convenience store (which later went out of business).
SEE ILLINOIS STATE GOVERNMENT IN PLACE
A tour of the Illinois State Capitol should also be on your must-do list. The magnificent building has a 405-meter-high dome, making it the tallest domed capital in the country.
The building, built in Italian Renaissance style, completed in 1888, has frieze decorations. Plus 9000 stained glass windows, 42 different colors.
Your guide will lead you through the buildings many rooms and corridors. Think of the stately hall and the senate galleries, the governor’s reception, the governor’s hall and the former Supreme Court Hall.
The huge European crystal chandeliers are impressive. Like the bas-relief sculptures painted in gold leaf and bronze and the extensive use of mahogany, walnut and marble throughout the building.
The tour provides insight into the many paintings that adorn the building’s decorative walls, as well as several sculptures depicting important historical figures. Noteworthy is the bronze statue of a woman standing in the center of the rotunda.