The Lincoln family stands together as life-size waxed statues to welcome at the entry plaza of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, USA. It’s a typical family portrayal with Mary Todd Lincoln standing in the centre wearing a gown and flowered bonnet flanked by her husband, the tall and lanky 16th President of the United States of America sporting his trademark full beard to fill in the sunken cheeks, and their three boys. A few metres ahead leaned against a pillar stands John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassinator looking at the family with a sinister gaze.
The city of Springfield has a crisp formal air about it. A midwestern historic city first settled by Europeans in the late 1810s, it moves at a quiet leisurely pace than the busy and bustling neighboring Chicago, even though it is the capital of Illinois State. Springfield is famous as Lincoln’s land, as his home even though he first came there well into his adulthood as a young 28-year-old lawyer. As his adopted home city, it hosted and witnessed the important midpoint of his life from 1837 to 1861 as a lawyer in the state’s law council and then his rise as a politician until he was elected as the President of America shifting to the White House in Washington D.C. If one has to take a historical tour of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, the man who changed America with the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery, no other city than Springfield does it better. Its proximity from popular touristy Chicago, a mere three-and-half hours drive makes it for a good day trip, though a rushed one but definitely a great weekend destination, especially for American history buffs.
Lincoln’s house, the only one he and Mary Todd were able to purchase in 1844, is preserved intact the way it was before the family shifted to the White House. It is open to public for free.
Springfield breathes Lincoln. Step outside the Downtown Train Station and Lincoln is there looking towards Washington D.C. in the east bracing himself against the wind with his overcoat flapping in a towering bronze statue titled ‘A Greater Task’. It refers to his farewell address to Springfield before he is to assume office as President. Many symbolic moments of Lincoln’s life in statues and busts’ dot the city.
In ‘Springfield’s Lincoln’, unexpectedly, on a cobbled pathway his wife Mary adjusts his coat as he holds a manuscript in his hand before he is to give a speech roused over the possibility of the extension of slavery in US territories.
Just ahead of the Lincoln Museum, in the Mead Statute he is holding the Emancipation Proclamation. One could even imagine having a tete-e-tete with a rarely relaxed looking ‘Lincoln’ on a bench in a corner of Union Park as he holds a copy of his second inaugural address in his hand.
A visit to Springfield is incomplete without seeing the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in the historic downtown section. An absolute treat, the much-awarded Museum tells the story of Lincoln’s life in one of the most well-displayed, detailed, innovative and interactive manners in a matter of few hours using technology, theatrics, high-fidelity figures, recreations along with scores of Lincoln and Civil War memorabilia, documents, artifacts and photographs. Apart from Lincoln’s professional milestones and trials, it also delves into the personal life of the Lincolns; sometimes even amusing trivia. Like Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady’s tenacious fight to gain social acceptance among Washington’s self-regarding elite as she was frequently pulled down for her “western vulgarity”.
The astounding special effects, theatrical sound-and-light shows titled ‘Lincoln Eyes’ and ‘The Ghosts of the Library’, leave one with goose bumps as Lincoln emerges almost alive and kicking telling the story of his life. So do some heartrending scenes recreated in life-size figures evoking a pall of gloom; Lincoln and Mary attending to their fever-gripped toddler Eddie while a lavish and politically important party is on in another room of the 19th White House, a heartbroken Mary after the death of Eddie on the verge of depression sitting by a window in mourning, the last moments of Lincoln’s life as he sat in Ford Theatre before being assassinated. Lincoln’s timeline always corresponding to a plethora of information displayed on the American Civil War.
Within walking distance of the Museum is the Old State Capitol, a beautiful Greek revival-styled historic building from where Lincoln served his final term as state lawmaker and later also announced his candidacy for the US Senate. Even though rebuilt extensively, the 1860-built Old State Capital’s public areas do manage charm with their vintage set-ups of how a public offices looked a century-and-a-half back.
For the purists, Lincoln’s house, the only one he and Mary Todd were able to purchase in 1844 is preserved intact the way it was before the family shifted to the White House. A modest double-storied structure; it was donated by Lincoln’s eldest son Robert to Illinois State in 1887 on the condition that it would be open to the public at no charge. The house is a vintage treasure of how a middle-class early 20th century American family lived. As volunteers take lead, one realizes the modest personal space of one of the world’s most respected leaders.
Lincoln’s writing table looks surprisingly cramped for a tall man like him who wrote extensively, often burning the midnight oil. Mary Todd’s bedroom is termed as her “sanctum” while she suffered from frequent migraine headaches. The informal sitting room of the Lincolns where their favorite pastime was seeing photographic cards turn into 3-D images in the stereoscope.
The big, beautiful and quite ornate cast iron vintage stove in the kitchen, though a luxury purchase for the family but extremely handy as they often hosted parties. The kitchen trivia speaks of Lincoln helping to milk the cows and fetching the wood, things he had always done while growing up poor in a log cabin.
And even though there is much more American history in Springfield to explore, a visit to Lincoln’s land would be incomplete without saying ‘Goodbye’ to him at the massive 117 feet Lincoln Tomb, his final resting place in the city where it all started.
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