Wednesday, June 2, 2021

ROADTRIPPING WITH ABE LINCOLN, ( PART 4) THE FINAL JOURNEY

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS


Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd on their wedding day, 1839

If I could recommend a place to visit anywhere in the United States, it would be Springfield, Illinois. If you are a huge fan of Abraham Lincoln (like I am!) then this is a must see. His home, his neighborhood, his old law office and the Capitol building—it’s all there as if he just left it! I almost expected to see him walking down the street at any moment, tipping his gigantic stovepipe hat to the long skirted ladies as he passed.

Abe Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1837 after six formative years spent in New Salem just a few miles upriver from Springfield. (See previous blog) It was the year it became the state capital and this young, self-taught lawyer rode into town to establish himself in the bustling heart of Illinois politics. He joined John Todd Stuart’s law office as a junior partner, eventually starting his own law practice with William Herndon. Two years later, he married Mary Todd, who was as politically astute and ambitious as he was. Together they started a family of four boys, only one tragically surviving to adulthood.

 


(Picture from the Lincoln Library) 
Lincoln often cared for his boys and let them play while he worked in his law office. His partner, William Herndon said that Lincoln "worshiped his children and he loved what they loved and hated what they hated."

Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln's family home in Springfield. A portion of the neighborhood has been wonderfully preserved to capture the atmosphere of their time there. It is located just a few short blocks from his law office, the court house, the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Museum and Library.

The Lincoln's bought a modest cottage in a thriving neighborhood close to his law offices in 1844. Their neighbors were a lively mix of tradesmen and professionals. And if you can imagine it, farm animals were allowed to roam around as they pleased! (Can't you just see them dodging the chickens and pigs on their way to town?) They soon added a second story for their growing family and for the next 17 years, it must have been a wonderful place for his boys, Robert, William and Tad to play. The marriage, however, according to historians, was not a particularly happy one. During this time, they tragically lost their 3 year old son, Eddie, and Lincoln would leave home for sometimes months at a time, serving the outlying areas of the new state with his law practice, which didn't help matters. However, these years away proved politically beneficial, making him a popular and influential figure statewide.


When Mr. Lincoln was elected President, he and Mary rented out their home, selling most of the furnishings and storing the rest. Most of the furnishings in the home has been donated and are true to the period of the house. Robert, his only surviving son donated the home to the people of Illinois in 1887.




OLD CAPITOL BUILDING

The Old Capital building is beautifully preserved as well, a moving memorial to the years of Lincoln. This is where he gave his “House Divided” speech in 1858, and candidate Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the Presidency on the Capitol steps in 2007. Abe’s spirit is everywhere along these halls, having spent eight years in the Illinois House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. He was also laid in state here for two days in 1865

LINCOLN MUSEUM AND LIBRARY


I have seen two other Presidential Museums (George Washington and Ronald Reagan) and each have been fantastic—so worth seeing. But, this one has the added glamour of the original stage sets from a movie!  

Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks Studio loaned the museum many of the sets and props used for his 2012 movie, “Lincoln”, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Dramatically staged within the museum, the story of Abe Lincoln is unfolded as we go from room to room. His personal belongings and those of his family is a poignant reminder of the man whose journey began in a one room log cabin in Kentucky to the highest office in our country.



During the Lincoln's years in the White House, their  adored son, Willie, died. He was only 11 years old. Mary Lincoln suffered acutely as this vignette depicts. She is shown sitting in front of a window as the rain, like tears, slowly drips down the panes of glass.



Of course, most moving are the depictions of his death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth, the long train ride from Washington DC carrying his casket, and his lying in state in the Hall of Representatives in the Old Capitol building. Draped completely in black, the Hall was opened to the grieving public on May 3 and 4, 1865. The Hall, which is so realistically recreated in the museum, is especially moving. I remember being by myself in that dimly lit and somber room for several minutes, feeling a shared grief for this great man. 

THE LINCOLN TOMB

 



Bronze head of Lincoln is a recasting of sculptor John Gutzon Borglum's head in the US Capitol. He is the same sculptor of the Mt. Rushmore Monument. The seated figure of Mr. Lincoln is like the one in his memorial in Washington DC. It has him sitting on the American Flag.

The final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States is in Oak Ridge Cemetery outside of Springfield, Illinois. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln as well as three of their four sons is also buried here in this beautiful memorial to his life and contributions to his country. Constructed of granite, it is as grand as the esteem in which we hold him.

MY JOURNEY THROUGH THE LAND OF LINCOLN

This trip has been quite an emotional ride and I feel that I know Abraham Lincoln better now, as a man and not as an icon of history. There is a saying, "To whom much is given, much is required" and in regards to Lincoln, it is so tragically true. In addition to his profound intellect, he was also extremely sensitive and empathetic. From the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge, to the loss of two of his four sons, to the slaughter of the countless lives lost in the Civil War, each etched a deeper crevice in his face. In addition, he suffered from debilitating depression all of his life, which he managed to rise above to function brilliantly in spite of it. This is a road trip you will never forget.


(*A new book released in June, 2021 entitled, An American Marriage: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd by Michael Burlingame. It is a comprehensive look at the Lincoln's complicated marriage. I just received my copy!)

Michael Burlingame is a Lincoln historian and currently teaches at the University of Illinois.

His books include: Abraham Lincoln: A Life, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln and the Civil War, An American Marriage: the Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd



Monday, December 14, 2020

ROAD TRIPPING WITH ABE LINCOLN (PART 3) NEW SALEM, ILLINOIS

New Salem, the town that changed Abraham Lincoln's life...

As Timothy, Thomas and I cross the 200 plus miles from the Lincoln’s farm in Indiana to Springfield, Illinois, I wonder how Abe Lincoln managed to settle in an area so far from home. A bit of investigation gave me the answer: it was chance. Pure chance. For 14 years Abe worked side by side with his father, Thomas, on their farm in Indiana until one day they received a letter. A relative had settled in Illinois and described the vast prairie lands as if they were another Garden of Eden and encouraged the Lincolns to move. And just like that, Thomas loaded his family and belongings into an ox cart and left the rich forested land of Indiana for the prairies of Illinois. It would be a move that would change the fate of Abe Lincoln and the nation forever.



Abe would soon turn 21 and could have struck out on his own long before this as most men did; however he chose to help his family make the arduous 225 mile trek over the rutted and sometimes nonexistent trails. They settled near the town of Decatur on the north bank of the Sangamon River, a river that would play a major role in Lincoln’s destiny. After helping his father build a cabin and with the family settled, he went back to piloting flat boats this time on the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers, making more money than he’d ever seen. And, on one fateful day on the Sangamon River, his life would be forever changed. (The Conestoga wagon transported thousands of settlers across the western lands.)

A new town and new opportunities

This map shows how the Sangamon River connects the Lincoln's farm (lower red circle) to New Salem (upper red circle) and the Illinois River and beyond. Springfield, the capitol, is a short distance away.


In 1831, as he and his companions piloted his flatboat down the Sangamon River with a load bound for New Orleans, their flatboat got stuck on a mill dam next to the newly settled town of New Salem. He drew a crowd as he skillfully maneuvered his boat over the dam. Impressed by his ingenuity and competence in getting his boat unstuck, the town invited him back with an offer of a job.

(Reproduction of the gristmill.)



Something very profound happened that day. Was it just the welcoming spirit of the town that encouraged him to settle there or did he just happen to catch the admiration in a pretty young lady’s eye as well? A promise of what may be...Whatever it was, Lincoln would make the long trek back from New Orleans, 180 miles of it on foot, to make New Salem his new home. Perhaps he saw that here he could start a new life as a man standing on his own two feet.

The town of New Salem has been carefully reconstructed and is now a heritage site.

Over the next 6 years living in New Salem, he grew confident in his abilities. He bought an interest in a general store, but instead of sufficiently attending to it, he preferred to socialize with his customers and keep them in stitches with his funny stories. He had partnered with a man by the name of William Berry whose poor management coupled with Lincoln's inexperience eventually forced its closure.

However, the failure of the store cemented his aspiration for a career in politics. He read constantly to improve himself. He learned the proper use of grammar and read and memorized every law book he could get his hands on, all while working a variety of jobs. He became the Postmaster, and worked as a surveyor, finally winning election to serve in the Illinois legislature. His hard work paid off and after six life changing years in New Salem, he moved to the Capitol of Illinois in Springfield to begin serving his first real term in office.


This is how Abe Lincoln's store may have looked like. We can imagine Abe doing
more chatting than selling!


Abe's partner in the store, William Berry, obtained a liquor license by forging Lincoln's name.(Abe didn't drink.) The cost of the whiskey and poor management made the whole investment "wink out" according to Lincoln. 

Lincoln in love?

There are many reasons why New Salem was remembered so fondly by Abraham Lincoln. One reason, I believe, is that he fell deeply in love for the first time--with Ann Rutledge. Historians argue to this day whether Abe had a relationship with her or not. (Ronald White, Jr., author of A. Lincoln avoids even mentioning her name!) Past biographers interviewing some in Ann's family quoted them as saying, “Yes, they were a couple.” and others said they saw no evidence of it. So what is the truth?

Let’s start with the facts: When Abe met Ann, she was engaged to a wealthy New Salem merchant, John McNamar. McNamar left town to attend to business somewhere in the East and as time went on, it became apparent he may never return. He had even stopped writing to Ann. Ann did not want to break off her engagement until she could confront McNamar in person. During this time, Abe became a very frequent visitor to the Rutledge home. I believe he had fallen desperately in love with Ann and would have married her, but was restrained from overtly courting her because of Ann's continued commitment to the engagement. The most telling observation came from one of Ann's aunts, Mrs. Wm. Rutledge. She thought that Ann’s heart really belonged to McNamar and would have married him if he ever came back. She never had that chance. She died at the age of 22 from typhoid, and Abraham Lincoln spiraled down into a suicidal depression for months.

They may not have had a mutual love relationship, however I think she liked the tall, gangly young man and appreciated his attentions. As for Lincoln's feelings? They are best expressed by the answer he gave to his good friend, Isaac Cogdal, when he asked whether it was true that Lincoln had fallen in love with Ann. Lincoln replied: "It is true--true indeed I did. I loved the woman dearly and soundly. She was a handsome girl--would have made a good, loving wife...I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often, often of her now."

To have lost someone we love is heartbreaking, but to never to have had that love returned is devastating. Abe, like so many of us, was a victim of unrequited love.

New Salem Recreated

Like Brigadoon rising out of the mist, New Salem only existed as long as Lincoln lived there. It’s as if once it served its purpose of shaping a young man into a great statesman, it disappeared. The hoped for use of the Sangamon River as a major river passage to the Mississippi didn’t pan out and the town was virtually abandoned by 1840. By that time, Lincoln had relocated to Springfield to become a lawyer and a rising star in politics.

The town has been painstakingly recreated and during the summer months is alive with docents clad in period clothing and fun activities. We arrived in New Salem on a snowy November day, so we had the town all to ourselves. The docents had gone home for the winter and a spare 2 or 3 people manned the visitor’s center. One of which was the curator who was more than happy to answer all our questions.


We have William Randolph Hearst to thank for purchasing the land and then conveying it in trust to the Old Salem Chautauqua Association who oversaw the rebuilding and preserving of the town.


In 1931, 12 log buildings were reconstructed forming the heart of New Salem. Originally there were around 24 buildings including a tavern, general store, gristmill, doctor’s office and various residences.

For more information on Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site:

www.LincolnsNewSalem.com

To see while in the area:

THE CAHOKIA MOUNDS 

In Illinois, just east of St. Louis, Missouri are remnants of a sophisticated Indian culture. The structures are huge spanning several acres of land. The main mound rises several stories. (See the tiny white car on the left?) When we were there, the day was very cold and rainy and the wind strong and icy, so Thomas and I stayed inside the visitor's center while Timothy braved the weather and climbed to the top. (If you look carefully, you can see the steps leading to the top.) He said the view made it all worth it. It really is worth seeing. I only wish it had been a better day!


The largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico, the original mounds covered about 4,000 acres and included at least 120 mounds. It is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark and is worth the visit!

For more information:  www.cahokiamounds.org

NEXT TIME: SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS AND THE LINCOLN PRESIDENCY


Monday, November 16, 2020

ROADTRIPPING WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN (PART 2) INDIANA FARM

 Oh, Starbucks where art thou?!

We began our third day of following in Abe Lincoln’s footsteps with a desperate search for a decent cup of coffee. No offence to our friends in Kentucky and Indiana, but your coffee is to our Western tastes utterly awful! At first I thought it was the motel coffee that was to blame. Percolated sawdust could be excused as a cost saving measure, but as we found out, everywhere we stopped the coffee had the same horrible taste. We were reduced to eating chocolate covered coffee beans in desperation!

Now, we come from a land where there’s a Starbuck’s on every corner so we are used to the luxury of a $5 brew of gourmet coffee beans picked at the peak of perfection and then caressed into heavenly sensations upon the tongue. So we were completely baffled as to why whole states seem to prefer this ghastly taste! We stopped at every likely cafĂ© along the way, hoping against hope for something at least resembling the aromatic caffeinated pleasure we are accustomed to, but nooooo. It was in Illinois that our frantic search was finally rewarded with steaming cups of Seattle’s Best, which we sipped with heightened appreciation of life’s little pleasures.

Map of our journey on Day 2

Before driving to the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial, we planned to see as many of the other interesting sites as we could along the way. After a quick hop across the border into Indiana from Kentucky, we stopped in New Albany and marveled at a fabulous street of meticulously restored Victorian homes, then on to an eye-popping resort out in the middle of nowhere called The French Lick Resort, built to take advantage of natural hot springs. We then headed south, stopping in Ferdinand and toured a lovely Monastery. Being the only visitors, it was nice to just wander around and have it all to ourselves.  Finally, our last stop of the day was the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial Park. (More on these sites plus links at the end of the blog!)

# 4 LINCOLN BOYHOOD MEMORIAL PARK

 “My childhood-home I see again,

And gladden with the view:

And still as mem’ries crowd

   My brain,

There’s sadness in it too.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1845

After losing his court battles to save his Kentucky farm, Thomas Lincoln, his wife Nancy and children, Sarah and Abe, packed up their belongings and headed to Indiana to a 160 acre claim near Little Pigeon Creek. Here in Indiana, he would have clear title to his land and the slavery he abhorred was prohibited. Abe was 7 years old and would spend the next 12 years helping his father turn that acreage into a productive farm. The first two years went smoothly until his mother Nancy contracted milk sickness while helping a neighbor with the disease and died on October 5, 1818. It took physicians years to understand this deadly disease that took so many lives. They discovered that cows eating a plant called “white snakeroot”, which contained a deadly toxin, passed it on in their milk. It somehow didn’t hurt the cow, but was fatal to those who drank their milk. Abe was only 9 when he had to help bury his mom. It was a huge loss to the little boy who was as sensitive as he was intelligent. “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. God bless her.”

Thomas married again a few months later to Sarah Johnston, a widow with three children he had known in Kentucky. That may sound a bit fast by our standards, but without a helpmate, life would have been impossible in that sparsely populated and raw land. Thankfully, she was a kind and loving mother to Abe and encouraged his love of reading. He read constantly from the crate of books she brought with her. It proved to be an education in itself since he only had one year of formal schooling during the 14 years he spent in Indiana.


In 1828, when he was 19, his beloved sister, Sarah, died, inflicting more scars on his heart. It was time for him to strike out on his own and that same year got a job piloting a flat boat down the Ohio River to New Orleans. Seeing a slave auction for the first time, it was something that greatly disturbed him and he never forgot the sight. However, his piloting experience would lead to a huge turning point in his life just a few years later when the family pulled up stakes and moved to Decatur, Illinois.  (Next blog!)



Abraham Lincoln's Boyhood Home and Memorial, Lincoln City, Indiana


#1 NEW ALBANY AND VICTORIAN SPLENDOR

Founded in 1813, New Albany’s wealth built quickly in this beautiful setting along the Ohio River, starting with ship building and furniture making to producing power. William Culbertson became the wealthiest man in Indiana with his utility company. His mansion, which is beautifully preserved, is the crowning jewel on a long street of Victorian jewels. (Culbertson mansion upper left)

#2 WEST BADEN, INDIANA and THE FRENCH LICK RESORT

This place will knock your socks off! It is something so unexpected and opulent. Besides golf and mineral spa, there are acres of scenic beauty to wander in and enjoy. I don’t know anyone who has ever heard of it, and yet here it is, in the middle of nowhere, serenely tucked into the trees like a surprise gift under the Christmas tree!  For a relaxing get-a-way, this would be top on my list! www.frenchlick.com


Video of Lobby. You have to see this!



Tim and I in their vast lobby. They were just setting up for Christmas.

#3 FERDINAND, INDIANA and the SISTERS OF ST. BENEDICT


Founded in 1867, the Sisters are one of the largest communities of Benedictine sisters in the US. Dubbed “The Castle on the Hill”, the monastery grounds cover 190 acres of peaceful Indiana landscape. We were invited to wander around and marvel at the beauty and peace. www.thedome.org

NEXT TIME:  LINCOLN COMES INTO HIS OWN IN NEW SALEM, ILLINOIS


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

ROADTRIPPING WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN (PART 1) KENTUCKY BEGINNINGS

We consider him one of our greatest presidents. He was one of us—born in a one room log cabin yet rising to the highest office in our country by the sheer will of his determination; a giant of a man both in stature, spirit and heart.

(Three friends (Timothy, Thomas and I) embark on a roadtrip to trace the life of this great man, from the simple log cabin where he was born to his burial place in Springfield, Illinois. A journey no more than a few hundred miles...)

After sightseeing in Louisville, Kentucky, we rented a car and headed south on Route 65 to visit Mr. Lincoln’s birthplace. The farm site where he was born and his boyhood home in Knob Creek are beautifully preserved in an Historical Park just a few miles away from Louisville. We spent a glorious fall day between the two parts of the park, remembering and honoring the memory of one of our greatest presidents.

BIRTHPLACE: Sinking Spring Farms, Kentucky

His grandparents and parents were true pioneers, settling in Kentucky territory opened up by Daniel Boone just a few years before. Thomas Lincoln, Abe’s father, settled in Elizabethtown, buying property and working as a carpenter.  However, before Abe was born, he and his wife Nancy decided to try farming and bought Sinking Spring Farm a few miles away. It was here Abe was born in a log cabin on a knoll near the spring.  (Born on Sunday, February 12, 1809, he was named after his paternal grandfather.) The original cabin doesn’t exist anymore, but one much like it is preserved in his memorial close by.

Abe Lincoln's parents: Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln (There are no pictures of Nancy Lincoln. This portrait of her are from descriptions of people who knew her.)

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park preserves two separate farm sites in LaRue County, Kentucky where Abraham Lincoln was born and lived until he was 7. He was born at the Sinking Spring Farm and lived there until the family moved to the Knob Creek Farm about 10 miles northeast when he was 2 years old. the Sinking Spring site is the location of the park center.

In December 1808, Thomas Lincoln purchased a 300 acre farm known as the Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgen's Mill (present-day Hodgenville), Kentucky where Abe was born on February 12, 1809. The family only lived there until Abe was 2 years old because a dispute over the title of the land drew Thomas Lincoln into a legal battle that forced them to move.

(Kentucky land titles at that time were, frankly, a mess. Who owned what and where was unclear because the law hadn't caught up with the influx of immigrants being sold land often times without a clear title. Thomas Lincoln lost two farms [one he bought and one he rented] only to be evicted from both. That and Kentucky's pro slavery stance eventually drove the Lincolns from the state into Indiana in 1816.)




SINKING SPRING:  Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin just a few feet from here.

I took a long time stilling myself and imagining Lincoln in this place:  father and mother tilling the soil while older sister Sarah took care of baby Abe. Standing among the whispering trees, I listened to the birds and felt the breeze knowing that it was in this place that started the journey of a truly great man; a journey that would end just a few hundred miles away from where his life began.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN MEMORIAL BUILDING


The Memorial was meant to look like the Parthenon in Athens.

Just steps away is a stately memorial building dedicated by former President William Taft on May 30, 1922. It contains an actual log cabin, similar to the one Abe Lincoln was born in. A tiny shelter with dirt floors, it is hard to imagine that these were the dwellings our pioneer ancestors lived in to be able to forge a new future for themselves.




A typical log cabin, about 18'x16', one window, covered in parchment, and one door.


Typical interior of a one room log cabin of the era.

VISITORS CENTER

Before leaving the area, we stopped at the adjoining Visitors Center. Because we traveled in chilly November, we had many of these places to ourselves, which is a great advantage! No crowds and plenty of opportunity to talk to the docents and curators who were more than willing to give us a wealth of additional information.

Pioneer Family, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, their daughter Sarah, and their son, Abraham, who was born on Sunday, February 12, 1809.(Tim couldn't resist donning a Lincoln style top hat for the occasion!)


KNOB CREEK FARM

While ownership of the Sinking Spring Farm was in question, the Hardin County Court ordered the Lincolns off the land. Forced to move, Thomas Lincoln leased 30 acres of land ten miles away along Knob Creek where the family lived for the next five years while continuing his legal battle to regain the Sinking Spring Farm. In August 1816, Thomas lost his court battle for the Sinking Spring Farm and was soon served with an eviction notice from Knob Creek as there was a dispute over the ownership of that land as well!

"My earliest recollection is of the Knob Creek place." The Lincoln family lived on Knob Creek Farm from the time Abraham was two and a half until he was almost eight years old. Here he grew big enough to run errands and chop wood. He vividly remembered much of that time, recalling the surrounding hills where he picked berries and how he  watched his mother’s face while listening to her read the Bible. Lincoln could also remember the baby brother who was born and died on the Knob Creek Farm.


Simple grave marker for Thomas Lincoln, Jr. Born around 1812, living only a few days.




He remembered one occasion when he and his sister, Sarah, had planted the garden; Lincoln said he planted pumpkin seeds in every other hill and every other row while Sarah and others planted the corn. The following night a big rain in the hills sent water rushing into the creek, the creek flooded the fields and washed away their garden.

It was also at Knob Creek that the young Abe saw slavery first hand. He witnessed a shackled group of African - Americans being marched down the old Cumberland Road, to be sold as slaves. He and his family attended an anti-slavery church and he never forgot the sight.

Lincoln once wrote that while living on Knob Creek he and his sister, Sarah, were sent for short periods to an A, B, C school, which Lincoln called “the Blab School” because of the emphasis on rote memorization and then reciting or "blabbing" it back! These were subscription schools and lasted only a few months. Free schools did not come to Kentucky until the 1830s.

Forced to leave the Knob Creek farm because of another title dispute, the family decided to leave Kentucky altogether in December 1816 and move to Spencer County, Indiana. One could own clear title to their land in Indiana and there was no slavery allowed.


OTHER PLACES TO VISIT WHILE IN THE AREA:



    Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, Kentucky
Stephen Foster, composer of the song, "My Old Kentucky Home"


Great places to eat while in Bardstown, Ky. 
Top: Kurtz Restaurant, 418 E. Stephen Foster Ave.
Bottom: Old Talbott Tavern, 107 W. Stephen Foster Ave. Great Pies!! Even the cow agrees!


NEXT TIME: The Lincolns move to Indiana

MUST READ:  Recommended by the Lincoln Library:
I read it cover to cover and couldn't put it down. It reads like a novel. Excellent!