We stopped in at Illinois’ capital city, Springfield, to pay tribute to the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. We started at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, where the future president lived with his wife and sons from 1844 until departing for Washington, D.C. in 1861.
We took a ranger-guided tour of the family’s two-story Greek Revival-style cottage and heard some of the tales about the Lincolns’ life in Springfield. Apparently the children were quite a handful, perhaps because Abraham and Mary didn’t believe in any sort of discipline. That made life difficult for the 18 different hired girls employed over the years to help run the household and mind the boys. Emptying the chamber pots was perhaps even less enjoyable.
The kitchen was strikingly small, but even more striking was the fact that Abe grew up very poor in rural Kentucky in a one-room cabin the size of this kitchen — and he shared this cabin with nine other people! Surely his upbringing contributed to his compassion for the underdog that shaped his legal and political careers.
This national park site preserves not just Lincoln’s home but also some dozen or so other historic buildings in the neighborhood dating back to Lincoln’s time. We took a second guided tour along Eighth Street learned a bit about the people who lived nearby. The Dean House, for example, contains exhibits on the various improvements the Lincolns made to their home, as well as displays on Abe’s legal career. The final activity worth a bit of time here was the Visitor Center’s exhibits and film portraying the story of the family’s pre-presidential time in Springfield.
You can’t help but become a fan of this president after touring this national park site. Hailing originally from the Land of Lincoln myself, I am partial to the Great Emancipator as a favorite president and can’t decide whom I admire more — Honest Abe or FDR.
We walked a few blocks to the Illinois State Capitol building, whose interior is worth seeing for its ornate painted ceilings, rotunda and works of art. Bronze sculptures of key Illinois politicians — and a plaster relief sculpture of one of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 painted to look like it was cast in bronze — encircle the rotunda inside.
Our final stop for the day was Oak Ridge Cemetery to see Lincoln’s Tomb. A 117-foot granite obelisk stands above the tomb. (Many ordinary people buried here seem to have liked the Lincoln obelisk so much that their grave sites have similar, albeit much smaller, obelisks marking their final resting places.)
The burial chamber below houses the remains of Abraham Lincoln, his wife and three of his four sons. The building was much larger than I had expected, with numerous Lincoln statues and stone plaques carved with excerpts from several of his speeches. A lovely flower garden outside adds to the splendor of his grave site.
You might think a tomb would be an altogether somber site, yet here you’ll find a bit of levity in the bronze head of Lincoln sporting a large shiny nose, which thousands of visitors have rubbed for good luck. We did, too.
I have vague memories of coming to Springfield on a grade school field trip, but I can’t remember specific sites we visited. Now, however, I can fully appreciate a trip here, especially after having visited Ford’s Theatre and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address in 1863 during the Civil War. I only wish we had stopped at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace south of Louisville when we went through Kentucky to really make this year’s Lincoln experience complete.