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Posts Tagged ‘Springfield’

FINDING LINCOLN

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My grandson and I finished gathering everything together in order to check out of the motel in Anderson, Indiana on the morning of July 18. He went to get a rolling cart so we wouldn’t have to make more than one trip from the room to the car and back. One final look around, and we were out the door to complete the final day of our trip before reaching home later that evening. I pushed open the door to get to the car and stopped – it was pouring down rain! Several things ran through my mind: I have to get gas in the rain; it is still dark and won’t be daylight for awhile; and I don’t know what drivers are like in the rain in Indiana. It really didn’t matter – we had to get back on the road if we wanted to be in Springfield, Illinois as early as we could.

By daylight, the rain had dwindled to sprinkles. We moved right along into Illinois. At one point, the rain came down so hard and fast that the wind blew it sideways. I was having a difficult time seeing the lanes of the highway plus so much water on the road made it difficult to navigate. I kept telling my grandson that I needed to get off the road. Finally, I saw an exit with a sign reading “Gas.” If you have ever heard my story about finding a gas station in Illinois, you know where this is going already! (Many years ago when my youngest daughter was about 4, we needed to find a restroom quickly and followed a sign reading “Gas” for about 10 miles before realizing it was a joke – not really, but we never found a gas station. My husband always said it was the only way for Illinois to get people to live there – to confuse them enough until they stay!) Anyhow – I made sure I followed the directions to where “gas” would be located and drove at least five miles or more down a narrow road off the highway. In the distance, I saw a water tower and knew a town would be there. Sure enough, itty bitty town with its lone gas station was right there. With no parking, I just pulled beside a gas pump. Time for restroom break and then to get snacks and something to drink. By the time we walked back outside, the rain was gone!

Onward toward Springfield! That place has been on my list for quite awhile and even more so after our stop there in the summer of 2008. We missed the tour of Lincoln’s home, and the tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery was closed in order to make ready for Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday celebration. This time, I wanted to get to the home tour early enough in order to get on the list before the day grew late.

If you have been to Springfield, you are aware that you must pay for parking before entering the visitor center. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to predict how long the tour or the wait will be so that is like fortune-telling. I decided that we wouldn’t be there longer than two hours no matter what and paid for parking. Luckily, we arrived five minutes before we needed to meet our tour group in one of the historic buildings by the Lincoln house.

Since the home and the other buildings there are part of the National Park system, a Park Ranger led our tour. He was entertaining and knowledgeable. If there was one thing we all learned – keep your hands and feet on the blue carpet! Word of advice – if you can get away with carrying your money/license/credit cards in a pocket – do so. At least take a small purse with a strap to put over you. You can not lean on or bump the walls in the Lincoln home with your body, hands, purse, or objects. That is how they can keep it preserved. After the initial instructions, we were ready to enter the building.

Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president. I am still learning more and more about the man and his presidency. So to stand in the same rooms where he and his family lived, was awe inspiring for me.

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Scenes in the photo (above): the front of the home and front door; the front parlor where Lincoln found out that he had secured the nomination for President in 1860; the dining room table and the sideboard; the stove in the kitchen; the kitchen table; the fireplace in the sitting room; the carpeting in the sitting room; Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom with his bed, wash basin and writing desk; Mary Todd Lincoln’s bedroom; Robert Lincoln’s bedroom; Willie and Tad’s bedroom; the hired girl’s room; and the apple tree in the back yard. I do believe that the wallpaper in Lincoln’s bedroom would have kept me awake all night!

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My grandson in front of Lincoln house

In the Charles Arnold house located across the street from the Lincoln’s, we were able to see displays of items found on the Lincoln property; architecture and building material information; portraits of Mary and Abraham; a diorama of the Lincoln house; campaign banners; campaign medals; and other items. The Visitor’s Center also had a diorama of the streets and buildings of Old Springfield.

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 Since the tour of the home doesn’t take very long, once we were finished looking at the displays in the Arnold house, we had plenty of time before we had to get the car out of the parking lot. We walked along the historic roads, and I captured photos of the homes.

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Descriptions of the homes from left to right, top to bottom are as follows. The Allen Miller house was built in the mid-1850s and is named for the Allen Miller family who lived in the home after 1860. The Dean house was the home of Mrs. Harriet Dean and her son, Frederick. The Charles Corneau house was built about 1849. The Henson Lyon family rented the house in the early 1860s from Lemuel Ide. The Dubois house was built about 1858 and the Jesse Dubois family resided there until 1864. The Henson Robinson house was built about 1859-1860. The Sprigg house was the residence for Mrs. Julia Sprigg, a friend of Mary Lincoln, from 1853 until 1869. The Beedle house – named after William Beedle – was built about 1841. The final house was built in the early 1850s and was rented by Mrs. Sarah Cook, a widow, in the early 1860s.

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While we were walking through the historic Lincoln neighborhood, we saw a wagon, the Politics in the Neighborhood Log Cabin display, the Underground Railroad display, and the stone in front of the Henson Robinson house. Then we ventured to the Visitor’s Center and gift shop. My grandson found a Lincoln pocketwatch while I bought three books, magnets, and some postcards. To read more, please go to Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  Then it was time to head toward Oak Ridge Cemetery.

As we entered the cemetery, I told my grandson that we were not going to be able to miss the monument. We drove until we saw this.

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We found a parking lot next to the tomb and made our way toward it. As we walked, the structure seemed to get larger and larger.

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As we entered, I was struck by how solemn it was. This was a burial location for the man I believe was this country’s greatest President. It was a place of quiet reflection, honor, and respect. As we circled through the building, there were several displays.

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The inner room is not as big as one would think it should be but on the other hand, it almost feels cavernous due to the flood of emotions that comes from standing at the final resting place of a beloved President, his wife, and three of his sons.

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After paying our respects to the President and Mrs. Lincoln, we left the burial chamber and the tomb. Outside in front of the monument, is the famous Lincoln “head” that many use to rub Lincoln’s nose for luck. There are beautiful flower gardens surrounding the building.

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And just like that, our road trip had come to a close. It was time to finish our journey back to the farm twelve days after we had started.

In summary, I was able to see just about everything I had set out to see. I found almost all of the graves that were on my list. I had taken care of my father’s wishes and made sure that all went according to plan with the interment of his ashes. I felt as if there were new bonds formed with my cousins. I met cousins that I’d long communicated with only online. Most importantly, I believe that it was a time for my grandson and I to make memories together. And in the end, it really was great to get home.

If you would like to start at the beginning or re-read any of the previous installments, please go to:
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part FourPart Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, and Part Nine.

(Photo of Abraham Lincoln: Wikimedia Commons, public domain. All other photos copyright Wendy Littrell, address for private use.)

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Along with many others – and a nation – I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon the life and honor our 16th President – Abraham Lincoln.  We all (should) know the story of the child born into poverty in Kentucky and who lost his mother at a young age; that his family moved to Indiana and then to Illinois where the young man, who didn’t have much of an education, went on to become a successful lawyer and a Senator. 

My “Lincoln” path began when I was in adolescence and first read a book called “The Death of Lincoln” by Leroy Hayman, first published in 1968, which I purchased through the school’s Scholastic Book Fair after 1972.  In my 7th grade History class, the students were required to teach a subject for one week culminating in a test given to the class.  My friend and I chose this particular area of history as our subject.  We took pictures of the photos in the book and wrote our “curriculum” for the week.  The instructor returned a slide carousel filled with the pictures we had taken to be used as illustrations.  Our report received an “A” and the teacher sent a note to my mother praising our report. 

I would watch anything on television that had anything even remotely assosciated with Lincoln, his presidency, the Civil War, or his assassination.  I read articles about his life and studied some of his speeches.  In another History class in high school, I had to memorize and then give the Gettysburg Address. 

And I wondered – what would history have said about Abraham Lincoln had he not been killed soon after his second term began?  Would he still be remembered as the Great Emancipator?  The President who had saved the Union?  One of the greatest presidents our nation ever had?  What would his life had been like?  Would Mary Todd Lincoln had been able to maintain her sanity?  What would the reconstruction of our torn Union have been like had Lincoln been around to oversee it?  How would history have been changed?

Answers are speculatory and self-serving.  I would hope that everything would have been better had President Lincoln continued his service to our country.  Would he have remained as melancholy as the States formed one complete Union again as he had been through most of his life?  Would there have been another crisis he would have had to face immediately had he lived?  Would he have remained great in the eyes of a grateful nation?

It has been reported that my great-grandfather, James Emory House, shook hands with President Lincoln; however, I’ve yet to find any documentation that places my great-grandfather’s regiment and Lincoln in the same place. I’ve also heard that one of my great-grandfather’s (or perhaps a 2nd great-grandfather) watched his train go by. I’m unsure if this was the train he took to Washington D.C. to be inaugurated as the 16th President or if it was his funeral train. My maternal great-grandfather, John Lafayette Johnson, who lived in rural Rush County, Indiana near Knightstown, would have been a little over 4 years old as the funeral procession came through.  He would have been with his parents.  His father, James Wilson Johnson, who was an adult at the time Lincoln was elected President, could have seen the inaugural train carrying the President-Elect toward Washington in February 1861 as it made its way through Indiana.

This past summer as our family was on our annual vacation to Missouri and then Ohio, we stopped in Springfield, Illinois to visit the Lincoln home.  As I mentioned in this post we weren’t able to take the tour but I did get photos of the exterior.

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Happy Birthday, Mr. President!  And may you eternally rest in peace.

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My family really doesn’t take vacations to exotic or even genealogical places.  We go where family is located – the places we called home at one time.  However, along the way we have periodically stopped to see a historical site or be tourists for awhile.

In the summer of 1994, I took a little over three weeks’ vacation back to my mom’s and a few days at my in-laws.  Just me and four kids!  On the way from Ohio back to Missouri, we stopped at Billie Creek Village located in Parke County, Indiana. If you enjoy stepping back into time and covered bridges, this is a wonderful place to see. Motoring on toward Missouri, we stopped in Hannibal (as we normally do to fill up with gas) and decided to see some Mark Twain historical sights. We toured the Haunted House on Hill Street Wax Museum, sort of. The Wax museum part of it was okay for four young children but as soon as we started into the Haunted area, with chains rattling and screams emanating from the dark, three of the four tore out of there. We walked down the street and took pictures of Samuel Clemens’ boyhood home and the Becky Thatcher House among others.

Two years ago when we reached Hannibal, we stopped so the youngest daughter (not so young any more) could go through the Haunted House.  During the Fourth of July Riverfest in Hannibal, the streets are packed with cars and the closest place to park would have been several blocks away.  With a dog traveling with us, one person would have to stay behind with her.  That’s when we stopped to turn around at a service station and noticed the Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum. (Molly Brown was a Titanic survivor.)  Daughter decided that was just as good as the Haunted House.  The home, as expected wasn’t much, but I learned a lot more than I ever thought I could learn about this woman.  We spent at least twenty minutes lingering over all the news clippings, studying the furnishings and listening to the guide explain how the small rooms were used by the family.

On the way from Missouri to Ohio recently, we passed through Springfield, Illinois.  I mentioned to my husband that “sometime we’ll have to stop to see Lincoln’s home”.  Then I began wondering where he was actually buried.  As a Lincoln history buff, I would surely have remembered!  So as we returned from Ohio retracing our path back to Missouri, as we got closer to Springfield, I asked my husband if we could just see how far the house was off the highway.  So we detoured into Springfield through the old part, following the signs until we got there.  Once again, we had the dog with us so our daughter volunteered to stay with her while the rest of us went into the Visitor’s Center to get the information we needed about walking through the house.  It’s a free tour, but not self-guided.  The tour didn’t start for 30 minutes, and I didn’t feel we should take that long with the daughter waiting on us.  The parking is $2 (basically on the honor system) which is a deal when you consider so many historical sights now charge for tours.  So we inquired about the tomb.  It wasn’t that far away – however, it was closed for three days while they did some cement work.  We were allowed to walk to the house, walk around the house, and see two other houses (inside too) that had been restored to their original condition.  It appears that the historical society is restoring several of the surrounding homes and buildings in that area.  You can go to Lincoln Home and Lincoln’s Tomb for more information.

The moral of the story is . . . if you even think you might get to stop at a historic sight or even a courthouse or cemetery on your genealogical quest – call, write or email to make sure it is open when you will be there, if there are any fees for parking or tours, hours of operation, what type of parking you can expect, and if there are any other festivals happening at the same time.

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