Published: Jan/Feb 2004

Top: The Lincoln Home looks as it did in the mid-1800s. Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein photo

Below: Bill Shea has turned his extensive collection of Route 66 memorabilia into Shea’s Gas Station Museum. Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein photo

Related Items
For more information, contact the Springfield Illinois Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-545-7300 or www.visit-springfieldillinois.com

To plan your Springfield trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides.

Lincoln Legacy
The Spirit of Lincoln lingers in Springfield, Ill., where a variety of sites preserve the history of abe’s storied political and personal life.

By Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein

In Springfield, Ill., they’ve managed to bring the essence of one of our most beloved presidents to life. I felt his presence everywhere and kept expecting to bump into him. The spirit of the tall, gaunt Abraham Lincoln in his stovepipe hat haunts the city in the most delightful way.

Lincoln in New Salem

A 22-year-old Lincoln came to Illinois when he moved to New Salem Village (20 miles northwest of Springfield) in 1831. After a series of diverse jobs, Lincoln said it was here that he developed from an “aimless piece of driftwood.” He lived here until 1837.

The historic village has been reconstructed. Visitors interact with costumed interpreters. Walk winding paths to inhale the aroma of fresh-baked bread, listen to the blacksmith’s beat, watch candlemakers and spinners at work.

Lincoln’s neighborhood

Lincoln’s neighborhood in Springfield is a National Historic Site. Two years after marrying Mary Todd in 1842, the young couple bought a small cottage. As Lincoln prospered and the family grew, they enlarged the house. In 1856, they literally raised the roof turning the 1 1/2-story house into a two-story.

“Lincoln’s oldest son Robert sold the house for $1 to the state,” park ranger Christy Lindbergh said, “with the contingency that they maintain the property and give free access to the public.”

The ideally located, if dingy, third-floor law offices of Lincoln-Herndon have been restored. An easy walk to courthouse and Capitol, the building also housed the post office. The town’s finest hotel was across the street.

With the federal courtroom below his office, “Lincoln could lift the trap door and hear when his cases were called,” guide Chet Rhodes said.

It’s easy to visualize tobacco-using politicians gathered around spittoons in the Old State Capitol.

“The Law Library in the evenings was like a gentleman’s club,” Rhodes said.

In the Hall of Representatives, visitors imagine Lincoln proclaiming his immortal words “A house divided against itself cannot stand…”

The Lincoln Tomb

An imposing monument in Oak Ridge Cemetery serves as the final resting place of our 16th president, his wife and three of his children (son Robert is buried at Arlington National Cemetery). Following the tragic assassination, Lincoln’s remains were sent to Springfield where he had lived from 1837 to 1861.

On Tuesday nights in the summer, a special Civil War Retreat Ceremony is held. Members of the 114th Illinois Volunteer Reactivated Infantry don Civil War uniforms to demonstrate military drills and execute a flag retreat. Mesmerized children tag along behind the volunteers.

Quintessential Lincoln Complex opening soon

Both buildings of the $115 million Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Complex will open in 2004.

The opening of the library was delayed by problems with climate control. It’s now scheduled to open in summer 2004. We visited the resplendent building that will house the Illinois State Historical Library. The 46,000-piece renowned Abraham Lincoln Collection, including Lincoln’s most significant documents and artifacts such as the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation, will be located here.

Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s David Blanchette took us through the building.
“The Library is not in itself a tourist destination,” he said, “It’s a working library for scholars and researchers.

“Our staff went to every presidential library to find out what works and what doesn’t,” Blanchette said.

Highlights include more than six miles of modern compact shelving, archival facilities, multipurpose rooms, classrooms and reading rooms. Inviting public spaces will be used for special events and private parties.

“It’s a public building,” Blanchette said. “The public should be able to use it.”

The museum

Opening in late 2004, the museum’s half of the complex is a tourist’s delight. You could spend days enjoying hands-on participatory exhibits.

First, stop by “The Gateway” in the 1890 Union Station for orientation. Then enter the museum’s plaza, a magnificent space punctuated by a breathtaking 70-foot atrium. From here, take one of the entrances into journeys through Lincoln’s life. Journey One covers the period from childhood to his election as President. Journey Two spans Lincoln’s Presidency to his assassination.

Visit the Special Effects Theater to see “Through Lincoln’s Eyes.” Three screens and surround sound draw audiences into the drama of his turbulent presidency.
A children’s area, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic,” allows youngsters to dress up in period clothing, play with reproduction historic toys and take souvenir photos with life-size models of the Lincoln family.

The SBC Holavision Theater sounds intriguing. A live actor will interact with holographic images to present a magical program, “Ghosts of the Library,” which illustrates the work that researchers do.

While the Lincoln story is a large part of Springfield’s allure, there also are other attractions to enjoy.

All is Wright at the Dana-Thomas House

This is the place for Frank Lloyd Wright proponents to see his early Prairie-style architecture at its best and most elaborate.

In 1902, socialite Susan Lawrence-Dana commissioned Wright to design a residence that would encompass her existing family home. The lady liked to entertain and the 12,600 square-foot showplace that emerged was the place to do it.

What a thrill it must have been to dine at the Wright-designed dining table that opened to seat 50 and listen to the musicians playing from the balcony. Don Hallmark, site manager of the State Historic Site said, “Musicians loved to play here. Almost perfect acoustics.”

In 1944, the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Thomas for their publishing firm. They respected the architectural and historical integrity of the structure by preserving it basically intact.

Illinois purchased the house in 1981. It included more than 100 pieces of original furniture and 450 art glass panels, doors, windows and light fixtures.

“Whenever feasible, the basic tenets of restoration were adhered to,” Hallmark said. “It is better to repair than replace.”

Route 66 kicks

Visit Shea’s Gas Station Museum to view his eclectic assortment of gas station memorabilia and meet proprietor Bill Shea. At this popular Route 66 stop, you’ll see everything Shea collected through 40 years of pumping gas. The man has stories to tell and he loves to tell them.

“We don’t sell anything and we don’t charge anybody to come and look around,” he said.

Sample Route 66 food at the Cozy Drive In, where Ed Waldmire and his family have served a signature corn dog for more than 50 years. The hot dog is dipped into a secret ingredient batter, then deep-fried. It’s still as delicious as ever.

Another Springfield favorite is the “Horseshoe Sandwich.” The cardiac-arrest delicacy starts with two pieces of toast on a warm platter topped with meat. The platter is loaded with fries, then drowned in rich cheese sauce. They’re served all over town. We gulped down a hamburger Horseshoe at the popular Maldaner’s, centrally located in a downtown historic building.

Inn place to stay

Indulge your fantasies at The Inn at 835. We luxuriated in the timeless elegance of The Rose Suite with antique furnishings and modern conveniences. The bathroom contained a shower and a Jacuzzi built for two. Fill the Jacuzzi with herbal essences, grab the supplied rubber ducky and relax. We climbed into the king-size mahogany canopy bed. A TV and VCR added technological touches. At bedtime, they hung a basket of freshly baked cookies on our door.

Full gourmet cooked-to-order breakfasts were included. Late afternoons, guests gathered for complimentary wines in the cozy sitting room.

Springfield brilliantly mixes small-town hospitality, a lively political scene and fascinating history.

Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

^ to top | previous page


Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.