After a winter when six Lincoln letters and two Lincoln fingerprints became the focus of my work, Springfield, Illinois was the logical destination for a spring getaway in April 2008.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum was first on the itinerary. Traveling through the museum, I followed Lincoln’s life through a series of scenes. The pre-presidential years traced Lincoln from the Indiana cabin where he grew up, reading borrowed books by firelight, to his life as a young man in New Salem and Springfield. To cover the White House years, the journey documented the death of Willie Lincoln, the night at Ford’s Theatre and Lincoln lying in state in the Representatives Hall in Springfield’s Old State Capitol. Another favorite part of the museum was “Ghosts of the Library,” a clever multimedia presentation about the exciting discoveries that researchers and archivists can make when working with a great collection.
Before I left the museum, I adopted “Jack the Doll,” a replica of the doll that belonged to Willie and Tad Lincoln. Dressed in a uniform like those worn by the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, Jack’s distinctive appearance is modeled after the Zouave battalion of the French Army. When Jack played with the Lincoln boys, he was often caught sleeping on guard duty, so he was repeatedly court-martialled, sentenced to death by a firing squad and buried in the White House rose garden. After digging up Jack one too many times, Tad was encouraged to secure a presidential pardon for Jack, which his father willingly signed.
Then it was off to see the Lincoln home and its historic neighborhood. “What A Pleasant Home Abe Lincoln Has!,” an exhibit at the Dean House, focused on the Lincoln family’s life in Springfield. After visiting Lincoln’s law office and the Lincoln tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery, I drove to the New Salem State Historic Site, a reconstruction of the village where Lincoln spent his early adult years. There, I saw a replica of the store in which Lincoln owned interest.
But Springfield isn’t all about Lincoln. In 1902, Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Dana-Thomas House, which still features its original art glass, a mural, and terra cotta sculpture. The Illinois Executive Mansion dates from 1855. And the Old State Capitol, a reconstruction of Illinois’ fifth statehouse, was another interesting place to visit.
Abe Lincoln’s pleasant home, Springfield, ranks among my favorite travel destinations. Watch for another Presidents’ Day post tomorrow!