Friday, Sept. 9, Springfield, IL
The weather forecasters were wrong again. Thankfully! Today was forecast as 70-90% chance of rain all day long. We have not seen a drop since 6 AM and even had a few rays of sunshine late this afternoon. Maybe it was Mother Nature smiling on our 44th wedding anniversary today. In any event, we enjoyed it even as we were prepared for rain.
As travelers, we make snap conclusions about communities which may not be justified, but they are made anyway. Springfield did not impress us. Oh, there are public efforts to have nice sidewalks and some street lamps with poetic and enduring statements on them. But overall, the town seemed just a tad disheveled, a bit like a seedy cousin, maybe nice if you get to know them but first impression makes you want to shy away. For a a town of 120,000; it seems very quiet. Not that we are wild party people, but there should have been more activity, more people on the streets, whatever. Chris even asked a clerk if today was some sort of holiday. Nope. Nothing strongly negative, just not much positive. The two towns of Bloomington-Normal that we passed are not much different in total population than Springfield but the area came across as much more economically vibrant.
On the drive to Springfield, we passed prosperous looking agricultural fields. One tends to forget how flat the central plains of Illinois are. Certainly when you go west, Iowa fields are flat but the northern portions of Missouri are not. One of these trips we may have to learn more about the geology of Illinois to understand what forces of nature were at work here.
But today was about the forces of man; particularly the impact of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln lived in Springfield for 24 years before being elected President. He came here with no money and two saddlebags of personal belongings; an unmarried man seeking his future after previous jobs left him unsatisfied. He left Springfield, President-elect, married, with three living children (one died while the family lived in Springfield). Most of his adult formative years were spent in Springfield and he left the town in 1861 extremely appreciative of its citizens.
It has been stated that more books have been written about Lincoln than any other person than Jesus Christ. We are not going to try to cover his life but to comment on the five places we visited in Springfield; Lincoln’s home, the Old Depot, the Lincoln Museum, the Old State Capitol, and Lincoln’s Tomb.
Our first stop was at 8:30 AM at the Lincoln Home, a National Park site. This site is normally jammed during the summer, now just after Labor Day visitors were light. We were even able to park in the site’s parking lot all day with many open spaces still available. We made the first tour, walking through the home which still had numerous fixtures from their time here. When the Lincolns moved to Washington, they rented out the home. After his death, the home was still rented, eventually the home was given by Robert Todd Lincoln to the State of Illinois with the provisos that it always be maintained and that visitors never be charged to visit the home.
The National Park Service took over the site in 1972. Over time, the NPS purchased four blocks of surrounding properties so today’s visitors see homes from that period and walk on wooden sidewalks-although the muddy streets of Lincoln’s time have not been replicated. Two other homes are open, demonstrating the historic preservation efforts required to maintain the properties.
We left Lincoln’s home and walked to the Lincoln Depot. This had been the depot for the Great Western Railroad (later the Wabash Railroad). In those days, individual railroads had their own depots and the Great Western covered a territory from Illinois to Pennsylvania. At the Great Western Depot, Lincoln left Springfield for Washington DC to the adoration of its citizens. He returned those feelings with an impromptu emotional talk that thanked them for their support. The depot did not see good times; being abandoned, operated as a freight house, used as a warehouse, run as a museum while under ownership of the local newspaper, and suffered a fire. Finally today it has been purchased by a local law firm (yea, lawyers) who have their office on the second floor and restored the first floor as a free museum with video and displays.
Our third stop was a new, impressive museum. The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in 2005 and is operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Authority. The museum uses a new, more “modern” design that is more entertaining. It is high-tech exhibits, interactive displays and multi-media programs. We spent several hours here, watching films, examining displays, and enjoying the museum. One cute display had a TV commentator explaining the 1860 election with its four different candidates. Another display ran through the Civil war in highlighted form, with a running total of the casualties experienced by the North and by the South.
After an anniversary lunch at the Subway on the premises of the museum, we made a quick visit to the Old State Capitol. This building was where Lincoln delivered his speech about the “House Divided”. …”A house divided against itself can not stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”….. This building was also the scene of the assassinated President’s final laying-in-state on May 3-4, 1865 and was replaced as Capitol in 1876.
Our final stop (after ice cream) was the Lincoln Tomb. The obelisk at the tomb is 117 feet high and is made out of granite. The statues were made from iron smelted from Civil War cannon. The tomb holds the caskets of Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their sons. Robert Lincoln is buried at Arlington National Cemetery by decision of his wife. It is stated that the cemetery is the second most visited cemetery, after Arlington, in the US.
So that was our day in the Land of Lincoln. After our visits, we left with an impression of Lincoln as a man striving to better himself, immensely enjoying family life, suffering professional defeats and so much personal tragedy in his life and yet able to accomplish great feats for our country before making the ultimate sacrifice.
Ed and Chris