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 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.
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
(*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