What Travel Writers Say

Springfield, Illinois - Lincoln's final resting place

© By Mike Keenan
State Capitol

Springfield, Illinois will always be remembered for its most famous citizen, and the spirit of Abraham Lincoln continues to thrive here! At 21, he arrived in1830 and lived here until he left to become the 16th President of the United States in 1861, one of the most revered American presidents.
     First stop for visitors should be the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum which immerses one in a world of gas lamps and hoop skirts. We discover that the somber-looking man did not begin to grow a beard until after his election. And that famous stovepipe hat - Lincoln used the inside to store papers. He once apologized for losing a letter when he traded his old hat in for a new one.
     The museum experience begins in a rustic Indiana cabin and then we travel with Lincoln down the Mississippi to New Orleans to confront the indecency of slavery depicted by a family wrenched apart at an auction block.
     From a modern-day television control room, we witness campaign commercials that reflect the election of 1860, and then we step into the Blue Room of the White House to meet Mary Todd Lincoln as she is about to experience four tragic years. We stand by the bedside of her dying son, Willie, and listen to black servants gossip in the kitchen about the possibility of emancipation - a discussion that continues in the Cabinet Room where the President and his advisors struggle to redefine the war's purpose.
     From "the Civil War in 4-Minutes," we follow the chess-like manoeuvres of the armies of North and South, each distressed by mounting casualties, and we are encouraged to join the Lincoln's in their box at Ford's Theatre, thereafter to share the grief of thousands filing by Lincoln's casket in the spring of 1865.
     "Lincoln's Eyes" is a nifty multi-screen, multi-layered special effects experience with action on three sides, while "Ghosts of the Library" is a spectacular production that combines live actors and Holavision technology to take us on an exciting journey of discovery into the heart of the Presidential Library archives.
     "Mrs. Lincoln's Attic" allows children to dress up and play the games that diverted Tad and Willie Lincoln. There's even a giant dollhouse that recreates the Lincoln's Springfield home.
     Priceless artifacts are on display in the "Treasures Gallery," including one of five existing copies of The Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's own hand. And, finally, the Illinois Gallery is home to a rich menu of world-class, always changing exhibits on American history.
     Not quite saturated with Lincoln memorabilia? Well, fortunately we have a few more items on hand. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library houses the world's largest collection of Abraham Lincoln material, home to more than 47,000 treasures including manuscripts, prints and photographs, paintings and sculptures, artifacts, books and pamphlets, broadsides and campaign material. For those intent on seeking a Ph.D., the manuscript collection alone contains nearly 1,500 original documents written by Lincoln.
     The Lincoln Heritage Trail covers numerous attractions throughout the state of Illinois, and many of the finest historic sites are in Springfield. They include the following:
     Lincoln House sits in a four-block cobblestone neighbourhood where Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln lived for 17 years, purchased for the princely sum of $1,200.00 in 1844. The Lincoln home was meticulously restored in 1988. The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices is where Lincoln practiced law for nearly a decade beginning about 1843. This historic site is the only surviving structure in which Lincoln maintained working law offices; he tried cases in the building's Federal court located below his office.
     The Old State Capitol completed in 1863 at a cost of $260,000, was where Lincoln delivered his famous "House Divided" speech. This was the center of Illinois government from 1839 to 1876, and is considered among the most important 19th century public buildings in the United States. After his assassination, President Lincoln's body lay in state in the second-floor House of Representatives.
     The Great Western Railroad Depot is where Lincoln bade farewell to Springfield and boarded the train for Washington, D.C. on February 11, 1861. His famous parting words, "To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything..." supposedly ranks in rich eloquence with the famed Gettysburg Address.
     Finally, the Lincoln Tomb Monument signifies where Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary and three of their four sons rest in a 320-acre cemetery. Standing 117 feet tall, the exterior of the tomb is constructed of dressed granite. Every Tuesday evening from June through August the 114th Reactivated Civil War Infantry Unit performs a flag retreat ceremony here.

Old State Capitol  Governors Mansion  Law Office   Museum Exhibit  Cozy Drive-In  Sheas Gas Station Museum

     When you get hungry, Springfield has some interesting (and historic) eateries, billed as the "Chilli Capital of the World," where chilli is spelled with a double "l". The "horseshoe sandwich" was created in 1928 at the old Leland Hotel. Named for the shape of the ham once used to top this open-faced sandwich, it features a secret cheddar cheese sauce lavishly poured over a meat of your choice (hamburger and turkey are popular) and topped with a generous pile of french fries, which represent the nails of the horseshoe.
     Seeking a taste of old Route 66? Springfield boasts the original hotdog on a stick (the Cozy Dog) and the world's first and oldest drive-up window restaurant (the Maid-Rite).
     Finally, no visit here is complete without a stop at Bill Shea's Route 66 Gas Station Museum, with a collection of gas station memorabilia and Route 66 collectibles such as oilcans, calendars, signs, glass cabinets, and a 15-cent-a-pack cigarette machine. There's old cash registers, an 80-year-old peanut dispenser, an oil company pump jack, restored gas pumps and even Bill's original Texaco uniform along with his priceless sense of humour.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Courtesy of Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau

If you go
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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springfield_Illinois
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Springfield_%28Illinois%29
About.com: www.about.com
Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.visit-springfieldillinois.com/

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