I spent today in Springfield, the state capital of Illinois, but, more importantly, the town most associated with Abraham Lincoln. After a rather peripatetic childhood, he settled in Springfield as a young adult, started his law practice, and met and married his wife. He lived in Springfield until he moved to Washington, DC, when he was elected president. And, of course, after he was assassinated, he was buried in Springfield.
Given the size of Springfield (116,500, a bit more than half the size of Tacoma), I spent way too much time lost [wry g]. Finding Lincoln’s Home NHS, then his tomb (which was more interesting than it sounds), then finding lunch, then the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. About the only time I didn’t end up driving in circles was when I finally headed out of town.
But it was still worth it. I loved the National Historic Site containing and surrounding his home. It was a little two square block 1850s Midwestern version of Williamsburg, complete with living history stuff. His house (the only one he ever owned) has guided tours, and several of the other buildings in the neighborhood are restored and filled with museum exhibits, too. The visitor center had a 3D map of Springfield as Lincoln would have seen it. I spent most of the morning there, going from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building [g], and learning about Lincoln’s decades in that house.
After that I went in search of Lincoln’s tomb, which is an impressive structure in a beautiful, rolling, tree-covered cemetery, open to the public. Yes, you actually go inside, where there’s a number of sculptures of the man, as well as the stone with his name on it (someone tried to steal his remains and hold them for ransom, believe it or not, and in the 1880s he was reburied in a concrete vault way beneath the headstone to keep that from happening again). Walking through the tomb was interesting, in a really disconcerting sort of way. Made me think of Egyptian pharoahs, for some reason.
After I finally found lunch, I went in search of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum downtown, and ended up parking in an underground parking garage with an entrance and exit so narrow I was afraid Merlin was going to lose his rearview mirrors. But he emerged intact, fortunately.
The Presidential Museum was a bit over the top. Seriously. It was still really interesting, but more Disneyesque than it probably should have been. It was divided into two sections, before his election as president and after. I liked the first part, about how he grew up and educated himself and became a lawyer and met Mary Todd and so forth. The second part, about his presidency and the war, and the part about the Emancipation Proclamation in particular (even though it really made me realize how much the makers of the movie Lincoln got it right) was all these disembodied heads projected onto glass walls, shouting and arguing at each other, and was just too much. And the recreation of the room where his body (in a closed casket, at least) lay in state in the Springfield Courthouse – sorry, that was just Wrong.
But the museum was mostly well worth the time it took to find it, and I’m glad I went. That’s the only presidential museum I’ve ever been to (I’ve been to Mount Vernon and Monticello, but that’s not the same thing – they’re homes like the one I went to this morning), so it was a new experience.
This evening I’m in the small town of Decatur, Illinois, east of Springfield, on my way east to Indianapolis. I’m looking forward to meeting another listee, Kevin Kennedy, there. Then I’m going to head south for a bit, and probably do some serious wandering around Kentucky. There’s more in Kentucky that I wanted to see than I’d realized.