Without really setting out to we seem to get over to Springfield, Illinois every four or five years. The first time was with a 4-H bus trip. It was at a miserable time of year and we were supposed to sleep on floor of the gym at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in sleeping bags. It rained buckets and some of the sleeping bags got wet in the bus cargo area and we had to share the dry ones. It was a memorable trip. I had my Disc camera and took photos of every place we went from New Salem (a recreated village where Lincoln lived as a young man) to the Lincoln Home. Some of the places we went (like the wax museum) are no longer there. Some have been created since then (the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum). I took a photo of the Tower that stuck out over town on that first trip. It was a 30 floor skyscraper.
We’ve made several trips back to Springfield for Midwest Open-air Museum Coordinating Conferences, either held in town or nearby and that’s what brought us back in March 2013.
This time we didn’t have a lot of drive around time. But the day we arrived we hit both of our favorite Lincoln giftshops (both that are on at least their second generation of family ownership & you kind of step back in time when you go in, the one near the cemetery gate is the place with the cheapest postcards I’ve found in town). Then we headed out to the Cemetery – we hadn’t visited the Lincoln grave since our second visit, when my mom introduced us to the concept of rubbing Lincoln’s nose on the bust outside for
good luck. You can always tell when one of these statues has a similar tradition because the oil from people’s hand when they rub whatever part of the statue that is lucky keeps it brightly shining when the rest of the statue patinas. I enjoyed visiting the Lincoln tomb which was surprisingly busy. It was the first time back since watching Stealing Lincoln’s Body. The only problem was the apparently half trained guide who was giving her spiel to a school trip ahead of us. She had a couple of things I was sure were factual errors and couple more I was pretty sure weren’t right. She wasn’t very open to questions about the errors either. I took a
photo of each of the many statues on the inside this time taking you through stages of Lincoln’s life this time and we went around to the public holding vault around the other side of the hill that I had never seen before that was where Lincoln waited half the time while waiting for the tomb’s construction to finish. Then we checked into the Hilton Hotel which was the Tower I mentioned before. I never thought I’d ever stay there when I first saw it. We were on the 9th floor, but conference rooms were on both the Mezzanine and on the 29th floor, necessitating frequent use of the glass elevators (even after we got sort of stuck in a frozen one – it never did move but the doors did open again after hitting both the alarm and door open buttons). We had valet parked our car from arrival until departure due to the horrible parking situation in downtown Springfield (I swear it’s as bad as Des Moines right at the heart of downtown, although that changes quite a bit if you’re willing to park further out and walk in (and I’m talking a difference of maybe 3 or 4 blocks). A last thing about the hotel specifically, every conference MOMCC gets a hospitality suite which is open to all attendees at certain hours. It’s generally not a place I spend a lot of time, but this time I visited to poke around because they actually gave us a hotel room with a full kitchen, multiple seating areas, a dining room, and two floors. I’ve seen smaller houses. It even had an open staircase. I doubt we’d ever get anything like that again, but can I say WOW! It did impress. Normally it’s a normal room with 2 queen beds and most people sitting on the floor.
The reception was at the Lincoln Home which has the well informed policy of allowing photography within the house, even with flash based on studies of the non-determental after all flashes by Eastman Kodak. I always enjoy comparing the two parlors with the illustrations of the room that appeared in Leslie’s Illustrated News (which is available, along with loads of great books, in the Lincoln Home Giftshop). This time we had the actual director of the site doing the tour since it was after hours as part of the opening reception. My favorite addition from my last time was a full sized recreated campaign log cabin, like they built on wagons and used at campaign activities. Also, I learned that house on the corner that is used for their living history costume changes etc. is actually a recreation of the house that was a few blocks over that was Mary Lincoln’s house, where she lived in Springfield before she married Abraham and when she returned to Springfield after his assassination. The visitor center has also got a recreated 3D map of Springfield at the time and by pushing buttons you can follow the lighted track of things like where Lincoln went on the day he found out he was elected President. It was really fun. In case you are wondering Daniel Day Lewis did visit in preparation for making the movie, they closed down
the park to give him and the group of VIPs he was with a special tour. He wasn’t dressed as Lincoln yet though.
After the reception I joined up with the Lincoln’s Ghost Walk. It was lead by Garret Moffett who has written books including Haunted Springfield Illinois and Lincoln’s Ghost: Legends and Lore. He also is part of the living history program that operates in Springfield during the summer and says that a billionaire has recreated Lincoln’s funeral train car. They are planning on running it from Chicago to Springfield and filming the whole thing in 2015. They have had such an overwhelming response that they are now working on trying to raise funding to run it all the way from Washington, D.C. The actual furniture used in the funeral car is on display at the Union Pacific Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa. See it here:
Read more about the recreation of the funeral train slated for 2015:
The Ghost tour was lots of fun and would actually be a good way of kicking off a Springfield visit helping you realize where things were in relationship to each other including the Lincoln Law Office, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln family pew, the Lincoln Home and the Lincoln Depot. The Lincoln Depot is privately owned. A local lawyer has his offices on the second floor, but restored the main floor to its original appearance. It
had always confused me, but (if you can find a parking place) it is open to the public during business hours.
Most of the next day and a half were full of sessions on things like 18th century clothing, how to make 19th century shoes, the Donner Party, Route 66, Black Hawk: A Biography, etc. I didn’t present this time, although I have several times at past conferences. The big event Friday night is the ball. Although costume is not required, lots of people bring one of their “normal” period clothes and there is costume contest. Sometime there is a theme, but normally you get things like an 1830s gentleman talking to a 1940s WAC or a late 19th century laboring man talking to someone who might have gone down on the Titanic. It’s always a great time just to look around and see what everybody is wearing. This time they had an extra contest for being best connected with Lincoln. They had people doing everything from being the Lincoln Highway to being mourners as the funeral train passed through Cincinnati (complete with photo of “them” with the train) to the fireman on the funeral train (down to black smudges on his face). My favorite though was portraying Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, and she somehow begged, borrowed, or stole a glass of milk from the caterers to top it off.
I also stirred up a little fuss on the food history side of things that I will fill you in on as soon as I get my e-mail sent to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and get their response.
Word of a potential snowstorm got us leaving as soon as I gave the foodways resource group report to the MOMCC board, we headed out. My mother was traveling with me and she freaks out far from home in bad weather, but as it was we got all the way home before the first flake flew. I hoped we might get to stop at the National Surveyors Museum (which went through everything from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as surveyor to modern GPS systems), which is sadly shutting down and this was the last chance. The economy dived just when they were getting started and Surveyor income with it, they didn’t get the support they thought they would from the professional surveyor community. The museum is now closed and they’re planning on auctioning off the collection. The former director’s presentation on Lincoln as Surveyor was really fascinating. I learned a lot. He also got a statue placed at New Salem honoring Lincoln as surveyor (New Salem holds Lincoln’s original surveying tools).
It was a great trip. I enjoyed it and hope to get back soon. Next time I want to hit some more of the Route 66 stuff including an original Cozy Dog.
Burt Wolf Travels and Traditions
Springfield is known for:
Frank Lloyd Wright:
Unusual and Fun Ways to look around Springfield:
Historic Bus Step On/Step Off