Land of Lincoln: Springfield, Illinois

By: Andrew McGivern, curator of exhibitions on March 25th, 2009

Last weekend I led a bus trip to Springfield, Illinois, to visit historic and contemporary sites associated with our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. This year marks the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and Springfield was all spiffed up to celebrate this auspicious occasion.

On Friday evening we made our way to Bloomington, where we spent the evening. After a good night’s sleep, we headed for Springfield.

Our first stop was a guided tour of the Old State Capitol, the center of Illinois political life from 1839 – 1876 that played an important role in the political struggle between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln visited the building frequently as both a lawyer and a politician, delivering his famous 1858 “House Divided” speech in Representatives Hall. Our tour included the Governor’s Reception Room where Lincoln set up headquarters during his 1860 presidential campaign.

We then walked across the street for a tour of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices where Lincoln practiced law from 1843 to about 1852. Next, we drove to Lincoln’s Tomb located in Oak Ridge Cemetery on the north end of town. It was a beautiful spring day, and after visiting the 117-foot monument, our group sat on a wall surrounding a bronze bust of Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum, recognized for his rendition of Lincoln at Mount Rushmore. On this sculpture, Lincoln’s nose is a shiny bronze caused by visitors rubbing it while having their pictures taken.
We rounded out the afternoon at the Illinois State Museum where we viewed their newest installation, From Humble Beginnings: Lincoln’s Illinois 1830-1861. It included a treasure trove of historic artifacts as well as stories of people who lived in Illinois during the time of Lincoln.
On Sunday morning, we visited the Lincoln Home Visitor Center where we viewed a short video before a guided tour of the only house that Abe and Mary Lincoln ever owned. The rooms were dimly lit, and although the décor looked busy, the flash in my photographs revealed a truly gaudy interior due to the intensity of colors.
Some of my 17 fellow travelers said they were moved by their walk through Lincoln’s Tomb. I was most impressed by our tour of the family home, where some of the furnishings were period pieces while others were actually owned by the Lincolns. Standing in these rooms allowed me to envision life with the Lincolns.

Our final stop was the much anticipated Lincoln Museum, a beautifully designed building that occupies an entire city block in downtown Springfield. The Museum includes a series of exhibitions and interactive experiences that combine modern technology and historic artifacts to breathe life into the uplifting yet tragic story of Abraham Lincoln and his family and his immense impact on our nation. Highlights include a holographic performance of Ghosts of the Library and a film in the Union Theater complete with rumbling seats and puffs of smoke shot out of the walls during the war scenes.

By mid afternoon we were ready for our return trip to Wausau. I had a great experience and invite my co-travelers and others to leave comments on their encounters discovering Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois.

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