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The Land of Lincoln

June 23, 2013

Illinois – Sunday, June 16

My first stop today was the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which was only a short drive away. It’s like a step back in time – there’s about 9 city blocks right smack in the middle of Springfield which have been restored to Lincoln’s era as far as building appearance and streets and lamps and all. No vehicle traffic is allowed, and it’s a refreshing oasis in the middle of a big city. Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary and their 4 young sons all lived in the home that is now the centerpiece of the historic site. It has been restored to the condition it was in when they lived there, and some of the pieces of furniture, such as black horsehair chairs, a bookcase, a curio shelf, Mary’s sewing box and the cast iron stove are all original. The bannister by the stairs going up to the second floor is also original, and the park ranger told us it’s about the only thing that Lincoln touched that we could also all touch without getting in trouble! This is the house Lincoln was living in when he got word that he was the Republican party’s Presidential nominee in 1860, although it took him 4 days to consider his decision before he agreed to run for president.

The Lincoln house was very grand for its day, and it was the only house that he ever actually owned. It was much bigger than the neighboring houses, although when they first moved there, the house was quite small. But Mary inherited some money, and she used that to raise the roof of the house so that they had a full second story of rooms for their growing family. Rumor has it that the Lincolns were very lenient parents and didn’t believe too much in discipline, and the 4 boys were rascals, and ringleaders in pranks and practical jokes. Life was good for the Lincolns during the 17 years that they lived there before he became president. But they left all that behind when they moved to the White House, and, as we all know, he never returned to the home in Springfield – and neither did Mary. In fact, 3 of their 4 boys died prematurely – one of them while at the White House, and he accompanied his dad on the funeral train. Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son, sold the house to the State of Illinois for $1, with 2 conditions – 1) that the home be forever well-maintained and 2) that it would be open for the American people to visit at no charge. The State of Illinois eventually turned over administrative duties to the national park service, and they continue to fulfill the wishes of Robert Todd Lincoln.

There were a couple of donation boxes out though – one of them in the backyard of the Lincoln House, and another in the visitor center. In a way, Lincoln is one of the fathers of our country, since he was ultimately successful in keeping the country from becoming a divided nation over the slave issue. And since today was Father’s Day, I thought that making a donation to the Lincoln Home was an appropriate one. So I wrote a note and put my donation into the box in his back yard. Lincoln died at age 56, and one wonders what he might have accomplished had he lived a few more decades.

After I had toured the house, I got Tula out and we wandered around the rest of the historic site. There were some people dressed in costume to add to the historic appearances. And then we returned to reality and walked around part of Springfield too, and saw the state capitol building. From there I headed to Lake Springfield which was right outside of town, thinking there would probably be some good walking trails by the water, but it was mostly a wild goose chase – there just seemed to be a lot of boat ramps and fishing docks, although we did get one mile of walking done by a lakeside park.

Before leaving Springfield, I returned to the Lincoln Tomb, so that I could go inside and see what was there. There was a big granite gravestone to mark the spot where Lincoln is buried, and a security guard keeps an eye on things. Mary and 3 of the sons are in a crypt across the aisle, and the oldest son was buried in Arlington due to his wife’s wishes (so she’s buried there too) instead of in Springfield with the rest of his family.

Since it seemed like it was a day for Lincoln (which is kind of hard to avoid in Illinois!) I decided to head up to New Salem, where Lincoln lived and worked for a while in his younger years. I think he had a half-interest in a general store, and he also tried his hand at guiding a flatboat down the river, but it became stuck. Unlike the genteel brick and wood homes in Springfield, the New Salem site was full of log cabins and a more primitive lifestyle. Tula and I walked through the whole New Salem site. The barrel shop smelled so good, and there were wood shavings all over the floor. There was also someone making some legs for a piece of furniture, and a shelf of dyes for coloring different fibers. The general stores were “stocked” and it was fun to take a look inside the cabins. These buildings were in the woods, and the mosquitoes were kind of bad – I’m not often bothered by them, but they were getting to be a bother today, and one of the volunteers told me they’re just going to bad all summer because of all the extra water.

From New Salem I began to head west across Illinois. I stopped in Beardstown, which was on the Illinois River, and did another mile and a half of walking. Their town square was lined with hundreds of American flags, and Tula and I walked from there out into some neighborhoods and then down by the river, although there was just a short riverwalk along the top of the floodwall.

I continued driving west toward the Mississippi River, and the farmland between the Illinois River and the Mississippi River must be some of the most low-lying land in Illinois, and it was apparent there had been a lot of water – there were big “ponds” in some of the fields, and other fields simply looked too muddy to get equipment out into it, and other fields looked like they had only recently been planted. There were dry fields too, where corn was well on its way, but that only made the wet fields more noticeable. And there’s not much the farmers can do about flooding and too much rain. Despite all of that, it was still a very scenic drive.

My destination for the night was Quincy, although I stayed across the river in Hannibal, Missouri because I was able to find a much cheaper pet-friendly place to stay. That was very interesting because it brought all my Hannibal memories from last November back – I could instantly remember the whole day in detail, from my unexpected donation for a local Meals on Wheels program, through walking in the town of Louisiana, and then walking all over Hannibal and seeing all the Mark Twain stuff. I could remember the people I talked to, what I ate, and even what side of the street I walked on! I was happy with the detail of the memories – I think all the walking gives me time to have everything sink in, and then keeping the blog helps cement the memories, and my stop in Hannibal seemed to prove that my memory isn’t becoming all jumbled with everything!

































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