The last time I was in Springfield, I was much younger than I am today. My parents took me and my brother to visit Abraham Lincoln’s Home. (Interesting how certain memories stay with you for years.) David had never been to Springfield so we decided to stop there on our way west.
We began our exploration of Lincoln’s life and legacy at the Lincoln Tomb. This solemn resting place in Oak Ridge Cemetery, highlights his accomplishments. The 117 foot tall obelisk that sits atop a square platform is a symbol of the nation’s awe and respect for this man. On each of the four corners of the base are four bronze group sculptures of the Civil War military services: infantry, artillery, cavalry, and navy. Lincoln was a strong supporter of all of these military branches.
In front of the large monument is a bronze reproduction of the head of Lincoln, which is displayed in the U. S. Capitol in Washington D. C.
We were happy that we were allowed to enter the tomb itself. As you enter the south entrance, you step into a large rotunda with high polished marble walls. The interior hallways are also marble and there are smaller scaled statues of Lincoln. Embedded in the walls are excerpts from three of his most famous speeches: his farewell speech to Springfield, the Gettysburg Address, and his second Inaugural Address. As we walked the halls of the Tomb, there was an African American man who read the speeches to us and shared his interpretation of the speeches with us. His reading of these profound words added even more gravitas to his recitation. It was quite moving to hear Lincoln’s words and to listen this man’s reflection on his present day situation in our nation.
Larkin Mead, a renowned sculptor, designed this massive brick and granite monument. Construction began in 1868 but was not completed until 1874. During the construction phase, Lincoln’s remains were placed in a vault just down the hill from the tomb. You can visit that site also. When the monument was complete, the President’s wife, Mary, and three of their four children, Edward, Willie and Tad were also entombed there.
There have been two extensive reconstructions of Lincoln’s Tomb: one in 1900-1901 and the other in 1930-1931. The docent there told us that the second one called for deconstructing the entire building to shore up the foundation because it could not support the weight of the towering obelisk. At that time, they also installed the granite and bronze in the interior walls.
The Lincoln Tomb is truly an impressive site. Due to its importance, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Next, we headed to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in downtown Springfield. Next to the museum is Union Square Park. On one side of the park is the old Union Railroad Station that opened in 1898. It closed in 1971 and it was slated for demolition but the city chose to save it. This beautifully restored brick and stone building with its clock tower now houses the Illinois Visitor Center. The park itself is lovely and has two statues of President Lincoln.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum did not exist when I last visited Springfield. The museum opened in 2005 and is an experiential museum with high-tech exhibits, multi-media programs, and interactive displays.
When you arrive, you will see a replica of Lincoln’s boyhood home and the front of the White House as it appeared in 1861. The displays focus on two time periods: Lincoln’s early life and his time as president in Washington D. C. Instead of having static exhibits, you walk through the exhibits and get to witness history in the making. It is as if you are actually in the room when major events occur. As you “journey” through time, you will learn about our 16th president. His joys, as well as his trials, anguish, and disappointments are on full display.
In addition to the interactive exhibits, there are a special effects theater and a holographic theater. Both of these presentations add to your knowledge and your understanding of this gifted yet complicated man.
Notable historic artifacts from the Lincoln collection can be found in the Treasures Gallery. For example, there is the original hand written copy of the Gettysburg Address and the quill pen that Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is creative, entertaining, and informative environment. It is a “must see” when you are in Springfield. (When we visited the museum, admission was free if you showed your vaccination card. Also, museum parking was free downtown.)
Not far from the Presidential Museum is the building where Abraham Lincoln practiced law. He was a partner in the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office from 1843-1852. The first floor of the renovated building is now the location of the Springfield Visitor Center. Also on that floor is a replica of Lincoln’s law office and also a post office that was also in the building during Lincoln’s time there. It is worth a short visit to see this historic site.
We had an exciting day learning more about Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president. Although we had a full day, Lincoln’s Home and the Old State Capitol, where he gave his famous House Divided speech, were not open yet due to COVID. Rain also kept us from visiting New Salem and several other outdoor sites. Guess we will have to make a return trip to Springfield so that David can visit Lincoln’s Home.