Honestly Abe

13 alpmlLinda Burton posting from Springfield, Illinois – “It’s like Epcot,” I was told by a Springfield resident, referring to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum at the corner of Jefferson and Sixth. “You’ve got to see it!” In a town that’s filled with Abe-ness, this is the spot where every facet of the Lincoln story is presented “Disney style,” in ways designed to hold the attention of even the most blasé. Everybody knows Abraham Lincoln basics; born February 12, 1809, assassinated April 15, 1865; 16th President of the United States. His rugged face is familiar to us; he’s often portrayed wearing a top hat and a somber expression. His boyhood poverty and 13 museum frontrise to leader of the land is the stuff of inspiration; “he learned to read by candlelight,” we’re told, and thus we know we can achieve greatness too, no matter how humble our beginnings, just like Abe. This is the place to kick up what you know a notch; it’s all there in an air-conditioned walk – the replica of “Abe’s Boyhood Cabin;” his courtship of Mary Todd; his children Willie and Tad playing in his office; his presidential campaign; his time in the White House; his coffin in the Springfield capitol. Special effects surround you; there’s a TV studio 13 ghostsplaying the 1860 presidential campaign as though it were held in modern times; a barrage of words and images depict the world that surrounded Lincoln as he sat as his desk to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. During the projection show in the Union Theater the seats tremble when Civil War cannons are fired; in Ghosts of the Library a live actor debates holographic ghosts. A fabulous experience, all in all. But here in Springfield you can see the honest-to-Lincoln sites too, like the Lincoln home, and offices. For real.

You can even view the Lincoln ledger here. No kidding, his bank statements are on display in the Chase Bank lobby at Sixth and Washington; an average citizen, he bought groceries and made his monthly mortgage payment, just like you and me. But Lincoln didn’t arrive in Springfield until 1836; you need to go all the way to Kentucky to visit the NPS Lincoln Birthplace site, and his boyhood home at Knob Creek, where he lived between 1811 and 1816. He was nine when the family moved across the Ohio River to Indiana; soon after that his mother died and in 1819 his father remarried. In 1830 the family moved west again, this time into Illinois where his father homesteaded; as was customary in the times, any money a son earned before the age of 21 he turned over to his father. By 1831, at the age of 22, now self-educated but with no funds, Lincoln decided to strike out on his own, canoeing down the Sangamon River and settling in New Salem. He was hired to move a flatboat of goods to New Orleans; he walked back to New Salem. He bought an interest in a general store; the business struggled. He campaigned for the Illinois General Assembly, he lost. He served as New Salem’s postmaster; he worked as county surveyor; he read voraciously; he studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1836 and began to practice law under John Stuart, with a move to Springfield. It is from that point we can follow his footsteps here.

The Lincoln Home is a National Historic Site; admission is free to the 12-room Greek Revival house and the four-block area around it, complete with neighbors homes, wooden walkways, and gaslights. Stroll the nicely restored 19th-century neighborhood, view “Abraham Lincoln: A Journey to Greatness” in the Visitor Center; view the exhibit “What a Pleasant Home Lincoln Has” at the Dean House; view the exhibit “If These Walls Could Talk” at the Arnold House. In the Lincoln Home itself view the formal parlor and sitting room, the family’s bedrooms, and the kitchen and dining areas; learn intimate details of Lincoln family life. Visitor Center @ 426 South Seventh, Lincoln Home @ 413 South Eighth, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices are in the surviving portion of a three-story brick commercial block constructed in 1840; the restored building has a Visitor Center with exhibit gallery, audiovisual theater, and an 1840’s post office. The site’s second floor represents rooms used by the federal court; the third floor has the offices Lincoln and William Herndon shared between 1844 and 1852; the recreated offices where his children enjoyed free run show the plainness and disorder that Lincoln is remembered for. On Wednesdays during the summer months, a costumed interpreter portrays Lincoln’s law clerk. Lincoln-Herndon Law Office @ Sixth and Adams, www.illinoishistory.gov/hs/lincoln_herndon.htm

The Old State Capitol is filled with Lincoln memories. He met as a state representative here; as a lawyer he tried several hundred cases before the Illinois Supreme Court here; during his 1860 presidential campaign he used the governor’s room as his headquarters; in 1865 his body lay in state in the building’s Representatives Hall. The building was reconstructed in the 1960’s; visitors can take conducted or self-guided tours. Old State Capitol @ 1 Old State Capitol Plaza between Fifth and Sixth Streets, http://www.illinoishistory.gov/hs/old_capitol.htm

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln rented Pew 20 when they attended the First Presbyterian Church on Washington and Third, though Lincoln never joined any church. The church moved to South Seventh since that time; it was the location for Mary Todd Lincoln’s funeral in 1882. Seven memorial Tiffany windows were installed between 1890-1922; the church is open for docent-led tours in summer months. First Presbyterian Church @ 321 South Seventh, www.lincolnschurch.org/html/Tours.html

The Springfield story closes with a visit to the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. It is the second-most visited cemetery in the nation and houses the remains of Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons – Edward (1846-1850), Willie (1850-1862), and Thomas “Tad” (1853-1871). (Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926) is buried in Arlington Cemetery.) “The Lincoln Tomb is a must-see too,” said my resident-advisor. “The Museum is loud and full of action, but there is a reverent silence at the Tomb.” Lincoln is buried in a concrete vault 10 feet below a marble floor. See reproductions of various Lincoln statues and plaques with excerpts of some of his speeches, such as the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s Tomb @ 1500 Monument Avenue, Oak Ridge Cemetery, www.illinoishistory.gov/hs/lincoln_tomb.htm

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum @ 212 North Sixth, http://www.alplm.org/