After a quick, “on-the-go” breakfast, Constance and I enjoyed the first part of our morning at The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. We have both been to Presidential Museums previously (Alex: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; Constance: Harry Truman, George W. Bush, and LBJ), but this was our favorite!
The Lincoln Presidential Library
The museum is innovative, offering visitors an engaging, emotional and educational experience. It is also the largest of the Presidential Museums, although it is operated by the State of Illinois, rather than the National Archives, and some do not count it as a true Presidential Library/Museum.
Visitors experience Lincoln’s early life by walking through a replica of his childhood home–the famous log cabin. They have a similar walk-through experience of Lincoln’s “White House” years, this one using 21st century technology to bring the 19th century to life.
Visitors, for example, travel down the “Whispering Gallery,” seeing holograms of Lincoln’s rivals criticizing his decisions. Of course, we also saw Mary Lincoln surrounded by her rivals, other women in the Capital’s social set, criticizing her appearance and behavior as first lady.
Another noteworthy “replica room” included Willie’s bedroom, turned into his sickroom. Sadly, Mary Lincoln survived the death of three of their children before they reached age eighteen due to various illnesses. Two of her children died prior to President Lincoln’s assassination.
President Lincoln’s work on the Emancipation Proclamation was depicted through special effects with an impact. The Hall of Holograms included critics of the Emancipation Proclamation from both sides –that it went too far or didn’t go far enough. It was easy to imagine how the President must have felt while being attacked through these comments.
The Museum contrasted the media of Lincoln’s day with today’s media, offering a simulated version of what his momentous decisions would have wrought in the 24-hour news cycle.
We entered Ford’s Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and then into the full-scale recreation of the Representatives Hall in Springfield’s Old State Capitol. Alex reported later, “This room was the most emotional for me. Having walked through Lincoln’s entire lifetime, I felt as if I was walking into this room to pay my respects, and not as a visitor of a museum.”
The walk through Lincoln’s life was made all too real through the use of advanced technology in the museum. To evoke the time of a simpler day, we checked out “Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic,” a play area for younger children.
While there, we learned about the types of toys that Lincoln would have played with as a child and other things that children, such as Alex, would find interesting.
We also learned that Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, John Lloyd Wright. (We are making a lot of connections on this trip!)
Following the tour of the Museum proper, we explored the grounds.
The Lincoln Depot is nearby, with a statue of Lincoln commemorating the area. Alex spent time with the wise old President…
…receiving tips on life, law, and politics…
…and even directions to the next destinations.
The Lincoln Home
To continue our Lincoln-inspired morning, we followed Lincoln’s directions to his former home, the only home he ever owned.
Even though Abraham Lincoln lived in Kentucky as a boy, he spent nearly half his life living in Springfield, IL. The home is now operated by the US National Parks Service, having been sold by Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert, for $1. The home is part of a 12-acre historic site, in which surrounding homes have also been preserved, giving visitors a 19th-century feel.
A Park Ranger led us on our tour through the home…
…sharing plenty of information on the home’s interior and such trivia as the Lincoln’s humble Christmas celebrations.
We were even allowed to use the original hand railing on the stair case that the Lincolns used! Upstairs, the master bedrooms were covered in an extravagant wallpaper,which made for some interesting pattern clashes next to, say, Lincoln’s bed.
and the children’s rooms were located in the back of the house, over the kitchen, so the heat from the kitchen stove also heated the rooms.
One of the more interesting sites in the home was Lincoln’s desk, where he probably wrote his first inaugural address.
After the tour of the home, we explored the grounds, where we actually had the opportunity to enter Lincoln’s outhouse.
This seriously verged on TMI, but it was interesting to see the some of the more unpleasant aspects of 19th-century life, endured even by Presidents.
Having touched the same railing as Lincoln and learned about his life, we had lunch at a home he frequented. That home is now a restaurant, Obed and Issac’s Microbrewery and Eatery, and it is owned by the great-great grandson of Obed Lewis, who knew Lincoln prior to Lincoln winning the presidency.
All the food was satisfying, but we all agreed that the award for lunch of the day went to Constance for trying the fig pizza!
We finished lunch with bread pudding and a very sweet butter cake–too sweet for Alex, but the recipient of rave reviews from the remainder of the group.
Following lunch, we proceeded to Lincoln’s tomb. We were happily surprised that not only was the tomb an impressive and fitting structure…
…but that its interior is open to the public.
The interior consists of a series of marble hallways, which contain information about Lincoln’s life and death, as well as plaques with text from The Gettysburg Address, Lincon’s farewell to the people of Springfield, and his 2nd Inaugural.
Each corner is also adorned with replicas of famous statues of Lincoln.
The back of the interior is Lincoln’s burial place, just a dozen or so feet away from the final resting places of Mary Todd, Willie, and Tad Lincoln.
His other son, Robert, is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.
The exterior monument is 117 feet tall, and the tomb structure is the largest in the United States.
Illinois State Capitol
We left Lincoln’s grave site to return to downtown Springfield and explore the capitol building. Awed by the French Renaissance beauty seen from the outside, we entered the majestic building intrigued by what lay within. The external beauty held no match for what we encountered upon entering the 126-year-old capitol building. Ornate fixtures, bright colors, and grand marble surrounded us on all sides. It was hard to find a certain spot to fix our eyes as the overall busy-ness of the interior kept focal points hidden amidst the bright (some might say gaudy) décor.
Marble staircases, huge murals, and lavish entryways abounded throughout the capitol, which is the state’s sixth such structure. We used our time by going on a guided tour to learn as much as possible. We visited the House of Representatives Chamber where 750-pound chandeliers hung with their original crystal, giving light to the chamber’s 118 members.
Interestingly, there are more than 118 desks . The surplus desks are there to accommodate possible future growth. In addition, some desks have phones. These desks are for the chamber’s leadership.
We left the House to head across the building and enter the Senate, where President Obama served as state senator until 2004.
A bit less gaudy than the previous chamber, the chamber was still opulent, with beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and reflecting light off the rich mahogany walls.
Moving on, we explored the rest of the capitol and learned of its record-holding height at 361 feet, its original price tag of 4.5 million dollars (in 1889), and even some of the saga surrounding former Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Some of the state’s history (but, thankfully, not that involving Blagojevich) was also told in a bas-relief sculpture just below the dome, including the famous “Lincoln-Douglas Debates.”
And, of course, we took some photos, including one of President Lincoln…
…one of the bronze statue titled “Illinois Welcoming the World,” by Julia M. Bracken, in the center floor of the rotunda…
…and Murals that adorn the walls and ceilings throughout the capitol.
..and even the Governor’s office.
Illinois Supreme Court
After learning so much about the generously decorated state capitol, we left in search of the Supreme Court of Illinois, stopping to pose alongside a statue of President Lincoln along the way.
Originally housed in the capitol building, the Court is now in an adjacent building on beautiful grounds adorned with beautiful fall colors.
Walking in, we were escorted by a deputy marshal of security to the second floor of the building that finished construction in 1908. We explored the law library with its bright blue floors…
…the Appellate Courtroom that is no longer in use today…
…and the Ceremonial Courtroom where pictures had to be taken, of course, of both me
…and Alex making oral arguments…
Finishing up, we passed Supreme Court Justices of old and new on each side to proceed downstairs and head back out into the beautiful, unseasonably warm and unbelievably pretty Springfield afternoon.
With just enough time to grab Starbucks, we piled into the car and began our journey to Chicago. After a quick three-hour drive, full of conversation, productive picture editing, and Stephanie’s deft driving, we arrived in a southern suburb of the Windy City. We enjoyed dinner at A-Fusion, with selections of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine. After enjoying a hibachi show…
…some good food…
and watching Alex (unsuccessfully) attack a monstrous plate of cashew chicken, we headed out.
Odds and End of the Day
We had one more planned stop. After seeing Bella Abril’s (LEAP Center Student Worker) gopro video from The Great Muddy Escape, we decided to purchase a gopro ourselves, and we look forward to putting that into use in Chicago, tomorrow’s destination.
But little did any of us know we had one more stop to make. As we headed toward one last stop before reaching the hotel, Constance and Alex didn’t see glances exchanged between Professor Yawn and Stephanie when they realized the Indiana state line was literally minutes away. They tagged an extra twenty minutes to the trip and Constance and Alex both got to add one more state to their list, making a quick stop in Riverside Park in Hammond, Indiana.