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27.317 hours in Lincoln's Springfield

Updated: Jul 6

If you're not a fan of the man who saved the Union, freed the slaves, and invented the Buoying Vessels Over Shoals, then maybe give the capital of Illinois the go-by. Otherwise, it's worth just a little more than 24 hours.


Wednesday


1:24 pm

Transited 90° West Longitude while inbound the Flower City.


3:00 pm

The Dana-Thomas House is the third largest Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house that is tourable.¹ It's a classic example of Prairie School style architecture, with all the touches of a Wright design: strong horizontal lines, built-ins and furniture that look very uncomfortable, beautiful stained glass windows, a complete lack of storage, and a leaky roof. The owner Susan Lawrence Dana wrote Wright a blank check to design her a masterpiece, and he delivered. It was designed for her to live in a grand second-floor master bedroom with her mother living on the first floor - which could help explain all the stairs in between.

Dana-Thomas House

4:41 pm

Then raced over to the Lincoln Tomb to inspect the final resting place of the first Republican President of the United States²; his wife Mary Todd Lincoln; and three of their four sons - before the 5:00 pm closing time. It's a beautiful set-up with the tomb set in the middle of a sylvan Oak Ridge Cemetary.


The tomb itself is an interesting design with what appears to be the Washington Monument setting atop a large pedestal with Civil War service members at the corners (infantrymen, artillerymen, cavalrymen, and sailors), of course with a statue of Lincoln above them all. Nice, though a little too derivative of the tomb previously built for Lincoln's political nemesis and original sovereign citizen Stephen Douglas.


Inside the tomb are at least eight statues of Lincoln depicting the various phases of his life: soldier, circuit lawyer, ranger, president, etc. Some are originals, some are reproductions, some are artistic, and some are not. On many of the sculptures, the left foot of Lincoln is shiny due to "mourners" rubbing it for good luck. I guess this is a thing, as Wikipedia has a whole page on it, though it sounds a little disrespectful (and just a little morbid), though far more hygienic than kissing the Blarney stone. The best is the bronze prototype casting by Daniel Chester French of his 1920 sculpture in the Lincoln Memorial - it has a guardrail around it to prevent "rubbers."


In front of the tomb is an extraordinary bust of Lincoln sculpted by the guy who sculpted Mount Rushmore. As this is a bust, there is no foot to rub so . . . people rub his nose.

Douglas Tomb - Lincoln Tomb

A trip advisor reviewer mentioned it was "One of the best presidential resting places," which I also didn't realize was a thing.


5:45 pm

Where would Lincoln go for dinner? My cursory research determined it would be Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery & Eatery. It has a tenuous connection with Lincoln, as it's located on a property where Lincoln's children once played with the current owner's great-great-great grandchildren (or something like that). While the building's outside is in Second Empire residential style, on the inside it looks like a tired TGI Friday's. I had a bad vibe and immediately left. When I pulled out of the parking lot, my brakes went out. So . . .


5:59 pm

Where would Lincoln take his 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT to have its brakes repaired? I'm pretty sure it would be to the Firestone directly across the street from Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery & Eatery.


So when Mrs. AAR deemed the coast was clear the parking brake was disengaged and the car rolled backward into 6th Street. A delicate application of first gear was employed to stop the car's rearward motion. And after a few more minutes in first gear, the car safely coasted to a stop in the Firestone parking lot. Keys were deposited in the night slot with a description of the issue ("brakes don't brake") and . . .


6:22 pm

For some unknown reason, Obed & Isaac's Microbrewery & Eatery had grown on me and dinner was taken there, though at the slightly more authentic bar. Much like New Orleans is known for the Muffaletta and Porto is known for the Francesinha, Springfield is known for its very own sandwich. The Horseshoe sandwich is an open-faced sandwich consisting of thick-sliced toasted bread (often Texas toast), a hamburger patty, French fries, and cheese sauce. It tastes much better than it sounds, though fries and a sizable application of cheese can rescue any culinary affair. All washed down by a tasty but unfortunately named Hefenator Hefeweizen.


7:00 pm

Walked around downtown Springfield where I reviewed numerous statues of our 16th president, which included on the corner of 6th and Cook Street, what has to be the worst statute of Lincoln ever sculpted.

They didn't even get the hat right! (and what's with Little Orphan Annie?)

Thursday


8:00 am

During the previous night's downtown walkabout, I reconnoitered two coffee places. One called Custom Coffee looked promising but appeared to lack comfy seating. Also, I'm not entirely sold on drinking a cup of coffee brewed just for me based on my personality (unpalatable at best). While I still kick myself for not getting that custom-made sports jacket in Hong Kong, I figured I may need to allocate some of my bespoke coffee funds to Firestone.


The other named Moxo Cafe did a fine job getting me a hot cup of joe and a less than fine one getting the Missus a cappuccino (it was pure foam). Both enjoyed al fresco on Adams Street.


09:30 am

Lincoln practiced law in Springfield, from 1836-60, and for much of that time out of the third floor of a building on the corner of 6th & Adams Streets with partner William Herndon. A facsimile of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices has been constructed on the first floor while the third floor is being renovated. Until the renovations are complete the public restrooms may be the best part of this attraction.


10:30 am

Toured the Lincoln Home where the Lincoln family lived from 1844-61. Ranger Nat did a good job informing us about the house and its occupants using a very . . . memorable . . . staccato . . . delivery.


I must admit when I think of Abraham Lincoln's house, a log cabin comes to mind. Though by the time Lincoln bought this home, his economic situation had changed for the better. Therefore it is a rather grand (for the time) two-story number with a large sumptuous parlor, horse hair couch, and extravagant wallpaper. He furnished it in style quite befitting a prosperous lawyer and Republican Party big wig. He left this home a few days before February 11, 1861, never to return, prophetically telling his law partner William Herndon "If I live, I’m coming back sometime, and then we’ll go right on practicing law as if nothing had ever happened."


11:00 am

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum starts out with a good overview film that includes a hologram, strobe lights, smoke, loud sound effects, and quite unexpectedly a vibrating seat. It also displayed, if I didn't know any better, what appeared to be actual Civil War film footage.


There was also a dated but interesting display that tries to show what the 1860 presidential election would appear like today. Tim Russert hosts an episode of Meet the Press that uses current political marketing techniques to showcase the four candidates. Interesting, but I wish they would have included some talking heads to give it a real contemporaneous feel.


I think there is a law that requires every presidential library to have a facsimile of the Oval Office, which is not a part of the Lincoln Library for the obvious reason. There is though an excellent facsimile of the President's Office with wax figures of Lincoln and his cabinet discussing the Emancipation Proclamation. It's a good primer on how Lincoln used his cabinet to formulate and execute policy (which no longer occurs) and the strategy behind the Emancipation Proclamation.

The President's Office

The rest of the place was rather underwhelming with no great insight into the man, or the challenges he faced. I would have appreciated a little more library and a little less museum.


As it was early afternoon I asked the guy at the mislabeled information booth, "Where would Lincoln go for lunch?" His reaction and subsequent answer led me to believe it was the first time anyone asked him that question. His recommendation "Ummm, The Feed Store?" was as bad as its name sounds (I mean come on, would the President of the United States visit a restaurant that only offered counter service?).


1:52 pm

Instead, I lunched down the street at Maldaner's. Not only is it the oldest restaurant on Route 66, but serves up a salmon salad with a large, fresh piece of salmon atop some mesclun greens and al dente rice noodles. The hoisin dressing on the salmon was a little too sweet, and the noodles too few, but who am I to complain?


What would Lincoln drink to wash down his Salmon salad? Lincoln was not a big drinker, but on special occasions would enjoy champagne so I decided to go with the champagne of beers.


2:30 pm

Passed the Old State Capitol enroute to the new state capitol. This is the location where the third greatest president announced his presidential bid. The site was currently being renovated, so it could only be viewed from a distance.


3:30 pm

Guess whose statue is prominently displayed directly in front of the Illinois State Capitol?

Illinois State Capitol

It was built in 1888 and at 361 feet is the tallest non-skyscraper U.S. capitol³, even exceeding the height of the U.S. Capitol. It was built in the Renaissance Revival style giving it a sumptuous and European feel. According to our guide Joel (excellent btw) this was done on purpose. In the late 1800s, Illinois was becoming the crossroads of the U.S. via its extensive rail network and canals that linked the Great Lakes to the Mississippi. And therefore lawmakers were keen on connecting with European trade partners.


Almost every state capitol displays a painting of every former governor, not this one though, as there is an empty space where the one of the 40th governor should be. Apparently, there is a law that prevents public funding of a portrait of the Honorable Rod Blagojevich who was impeached, removed from office, and convicted of 18 counts of wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy, and lying to the FBI. The law does allow private funding, which could enable his pardoner and fellow impeachee to commission one.


4:43 pm

The Firestone parking lot was cautiously exited. The car was $691 lighter but with six feet of new stainless steel brake lines.


Lodgings

Two months prior to this adventure, Booking.com generously offered me a $25 voucher, with the catch being it needed to be used almost immediately. Well, the joke was on them as I was currently firming up plans for visiting Springfield. As there were numerous lodging options, I did what I always do and created a Venn diagram. The Carpenter Street Hotel was subsequently booked for $82+tax (less $25) as it was the only lodging contained in the intersection of the sets of Price, Location, Habitability, and Cancelability.


It's the most nondescript hotel I ever stayed in. A three-story gray building with no signage except for a very modest sign marking the entrance to the parking lot. Friendly service, a clean, quiet room, with plenty of hot water. It came with the free tasteless breakfast that all such lodgings offer, which is not so much a benefit to be complained about, but a feature to be ignored.


Required . . .


Reading: While Team of Rivals is one of the finest and most readable biographies I've ever read, at 916 pages it may be just a little too much for a pre-Springfield background review. Therefore go with Abraham Lincoln (The American Presidents Series: The 16th President, 1861-1865) by George S. McGovern. Concise and engaging, plus you get a fair amount of information on Lincoln's time in Springfield.


Watching: While Lincoln, the 2012 movie may be one of the finest biopics ever made about a president (once Daniel Day-Lewis dons the hat, the beard, and the voice, he just disappears into the role), it only deals with a very short amount of time just prior to Lincoln's death. Abe Lincoln in Illinois may be a more relevant option.



Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.


¹ The Darwin D. Martin House (Buffalo) and Wingspread (Wisconsin) are larger than the Dana-Thomas House (and also tourable).

² Lincoln was a Republican. Not that many people know that.

³ The Nebraska State Capitol and Louisiana State Capitol are taller but have a tower as part of their design.



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La Pk
La Pk
Jun 05, 2023

This was a good read and interesting, too. I like the capitol building and the skinny sculpture outside.

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