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Report from the Land of Lincoln

Ever wonder what goes on at those Lincoln events and historic sites you read about on Abraham Lincoln Online? Mike Morrell, an ALO viewer from Columbia, Maryland, shares this report on his trip to Illinois and Indiana during February 1997:

By way of background, I've long been interested in trying to really understand what it was that made Abraham Lincoln such an incredible person. I've not had time to do much beyond reading most of the major books pertaining to him as they've come out over the years.

I recently took the opportunity to take the kind of trip I've long dreamed of. I spent ten days and devoted them almost entirely to visiting places prominent either in Lincoln lore or possessing excellent exhibits relating to him. The trip took me to Chicago, Springfield, elsewhere in central Illinois and finally Ft. Wayne with the highlights being the Chicago Historical Society's special display and being able to attend several events in Springfield on his birthday.

What follows is a rough set of notes pertaining to each of the stops. They'll necessarily be incomplete and, in fact, were written primarily to serve as memory aids to me. I'll attempt to supply key names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses where applicable along with other things I'm guessing others might find useful. Please feel free to contact me should you want any elaboration on anything. I'll do all I can to help. While many will, of course, have had the opportunity to have long since visited these places, others won't and they are the ones who will be more apt to find anything of interest in what follows.



Chicago Historical Society, Clark St. at North Ave., Chicago, IL 60614-6099; 312-642-4600 - They HAD a marvelous display which they called "The Last Best Hope of Earth" which unfortunately ended during the week of Lincoln's birthday (1997) following a year's exhibit. They HAVE a permanent exhibition entitled "A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln".

"The Last Best Hope of Earth" - They had assembled a phenomenal collection of artifacts coming from the Huntington Library (San Marino, CA), the Illinois State Historical Society and the Taper Collection. More autograph letters and documents than I could count were displayed including letters to Generals McClellan and Grant, Alexander Stephens, Edward Everett's copy of The Gettysburg Address and one of the three copies Lincoln signed of the Emancipation Proclamation.

While the exhibit has been disbanded, it appeared a majority of it came from the Huntington Library and I'm guessing much of it will likely be assimilated back into their permanent collection. In any event, the Huntington Library has an outstanding publication which described the exhibit they showed in 1993 and 1994 before allowing it to be moved to Chicago ("The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America" by John H. Rhodehamel and Thomas F. Schwartz with a foreword by James M. McPherson, 1993) and you would be hard pressed to spend your money more wisely, particularly if you weren't able to attend the exhibit in Chicago. (It was also inexpensive; it cost either $5.95 or $6.95.)

"A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln" - It contains such things as an 1852 first printing of Uncle Tom's Cabin, John Brown's Bible, the table on which Lincoln reportedly drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln's deathbed and a commemorative copy of the Thirteenth Amendment signed by Lincoln, Vice-President Hamlin and members of the 38th Congress.


Lincoln Home National Historic Site (National Park Service), 413 S. Eighth St., Springfield, IL 62701; 217-492-4150; admission is free though donations are not rejected - The Visitor Center, 426 S. Seventh St., is the center not only for their own activity, but they're very helpful in suggesting other places to visit in the area.

I know from personal experience how helpful Tim Townsend, the Historian, can be as he gave me a lot of useful pointers before I left home. (His e-mail address is "LIHO_HISTORIAN@nps.gov".) They also have an excellent bookstore. In addition to the Visitor Center, the home itself is only a short block away and is part of a nearly four-square block area that is being restored.

Lincoln's Home - I had the luxury of a personal tour simply due to the fact it was a cold February day. They've done a nice job of restoring it and one comes away from it with a real sense of how the house must have been during the fifteen or sixteen years the Lincolns lived there. While admission to the house is free, tickets are required and can be obtained from the visitor center the day of the visit. A suggestion would be to pick one up early in the day before they're depleted. (A better one would be to visit them in the off-season.)

The neighborhood - Ten or fifteen houses dating back to the middle 1800s comprise the rest of the historic neighborhood which is also administered by the National Park Service. Some are actually used as government offices today while others are being restored. There is also an interesting set of displays in the house immediately across Eighth St. from the Lincoln house.

Lincoln Depot (Great Western Railway Station), Monroe St. between Ninth and Tenth Sts., Springfield 62701; 217-544-8695 or 217-788-1356 - The spot from which Lincoln began his journey to Washington in 1861, it's only a couple of blocks east of the home. (The station is only open April through August.)

Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site, 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield 62701; 217-785-7960 or -7961; suggested donation is $2 - It's the only remaining site of the several from which Lincoln practiced law in Springfield and is administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. He had two offices there, both on the third floor.

The first was on the corner of the building from which he had a commanding view of the plaza and the second - and less prestigious - was down the hall as Herndon had moved it there during Lincoln's stint in Congress from 1847 to 1849. It's not known precisely when they left there though it is known to have been before late 1852. The second floor is also open and is the site of a courtroom and associated offices for U.S. district and circuit courts during the 1840s and the early 1850s.

My good fortune continued in two ways: I got another personal tour (off-season) and I had the opportunity to be hosted by Ms. Charlotte Oglesby. She was most helpful and patient. I'm sure the other guides are also good though they'd have to go some to beat her.

Old State Capitol, Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield 62701; 217-785-7961; suggested donation is $2 - The building has been reconstructed - twice, in fact, as the Sangamon County government actually raised it ten or twelve feet in the air when they took it over for a courthouse after the new capitol building was completed. The second one came over a century later. The Illinois State Historical Library is in the basement of the building.

I had another personal tour, this one by Don Anderson. The same comments as above apply; he was outstanding.

First Presbyterian Church, Seventh St. and Capitol Ave., Springfield 62701; 217-528-4311; free - It contains the Lincoln family pew. It's also open only from June through September.

New Salem State Historic Site, about 2 miles south of Petersburg, IL 62675; 217-632-4000; suggested donation is $2 - It was Lincoln's home for six years during the 1830s, already thriving when he moved in but dying out shortly after he left when Petersburg was established as the county seat in 1839. It was reconstructed primarily during the 1930s and 1940s though additional archaeological efforts have continued. About twenty buildings have been reconstructed. It's a most impressive site and represents, I suspect, an excellent approximation of what must have existed during the 1830s. New Salem appears not to attract many people during February.

Ann Rutledge's Grave, Oakwood Cemetery, Petersburg, IL 62675; free - There are only two kickers here: first, one must find the cemetery and then one must find the grave. The first is relatively easy if one turns left immediately upon entering town from New Salem (i.e., from the south), finds the sign that indicates the general direction of the grave and then turns left again in what I'm guessing is about half a mile. Continue going south until you find the cemetery on the right. Having done that, you can avoid doing the random walk as I did if you go about two-thirds of the way back and turn to the north. (A small fenced enclosure should have been a clue to me in the total absence of signs had I been more attentive.)

I'll not bother including the words inscribed on the plaque though you can get in touch with me if you're interested and I'll forward them to you. They read as though they were written by the local chamber of commerce, i.e., they go slightly beyond what most serious historians are willing to. ("I am Ann Rutledge who sleeps beneath these weeds beloved of Abraham Lincoln.") An added "bonus" in searching for the Rutledge grave was in finding Edgar Lee Master's.

Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site, Oak Ridge Cemetery, 1500 Monument Ave, Springfield; 217-782-2717; free - It contains the remains of Lincoln, Mary and three of their four sons. (Robert is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.) Construction began in 1869 and it was dedicated five years later. Two reconstructions followed with the first coming around 1900 and the second about thirty years later. It also contains a number of pieces of sculpture of both Lincoln and the Civil War era. I was fortunate in seeing it before some of the lowlifes of the world vandalized it recently.

Elsewhere in central Illinois

Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park, south on County Road 27 from exit on I-72, Macon County, IL; free - An unattended and small state park, it marks the site of Lincoln's first home in Illinois where he lived for a short time around 1830. The setting is quite striking as it sits on a bluff perhaps fifty feet high on the north side of the Sangamon River. There are no buildings, reconstructed or otherwise; the site is simply identified with a couple of plaques.

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, Lerna, IL 62440; 217-782-4836 for information; suggested donation is $2 (I believe) - It is the site of the 1840's home of Thomas and Sarah Lincoln. While the home was reconstructed by the CCC because the original cabin was taken to the Chicago World's Fair in 1891 and subsequently lost(!), it nevertheless claims to be an accurate portrayal.

The barn is not a reconstruction; it is an actual barn dating back to about 1850 though moved here from somewhere in southern Illinois. There are volunteer interpreters who play the roles of Thomas and Sarah Lincoln as well as neighbors seven days a week in June, July and August and on weekends during May and September.

Graves of Thomas and Sarah Lincoln, Shiloh Cemetery, Lerna, IL 62440 - The cemetery is two or three miles west of the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. It is well marked.

Lincoln Room, History Library, Main Library Building, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; 217-333-1091 - Open to the public during weekday afternoons, the collection stemmed originally from a gift donated to the university by Dr. Harlan Hoyt Horner and his wife Henrietta. It has since acquired a large collection of period pamphlets, a presentation copy of the Lincoln-Douglas debates signed by Lincoln, a printed copy of the Second Inaugural, the papers of William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, on microfilm and printings of Lincoln's early speeches and numerous other items.

I found Patricia Clark (pclark@uiuc.edu) to be most helpful in showing me what was available. I'm sure you'd find her just as pleasant and willing to help. She told me the History & Philosophy librarian, Martha Friedman (mfried@uiuc.edu) and the library assistant, Jody Seibold (seibold@uiuc.edu) would be just as accommodating.

Ft. Wayne, Indiana

The Lincoln Museum, 200 E. Berry, Ft. Wayne; 800-331-4852; $2.99 on down (and free parking) - Well known, I'm sure, to many, it was nevertheless my first opportunity to visit and was well worth it. A series of exhibits leads one through Lincoln's entire life. Included are several well done videos totaling about an hour. The longest runs for almost half an hour and consists of Gene Siskel and David Herbert Donald discussing four films made on Lincoln over the years. My time ran out as I had to drive to Maryland that afternoon, unfortunately, and I subsequently was unable to visit the library downstairs though I've heard good things about it. (Their literature states they have 18,000 books and 5,000 photographs.) Next time!

That's it as far as the places I was able to visit. I'll conclude this tome with a brief description of how one can spend a February 12 in Springfield.


Both the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Abraham Lincoln Association had scheduled a number of events. I'll briefly summarize what I observed using the itinerary I set for myself.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site's George L. Painter Lincoln Lectures - Formerly known as the Lincoln Heritage Lectures, they featured two talks, each lasting for forty minutes or so. Both speakers signed copies of their books in the lobby prior to the talks. They made for an interesting pair.

"Lincoln's Photographs and His Photographers" by Lloyd Ostendorf - Ostendorf gave a thorough rendition of the photographers and some of their better known works during Lincoln's life starting with the first known daguerreotype right up to the ones taken shortly before he died. While it's risky attempting to summarize anything in one sentence, I left with the feeling that while Mathew Brady was clearly a prolific photographer as well as a shrewd and aggressive promoter, Alexander Gardner can truly claim the title of "Mr. Lincoln's photographer". The lecture concluded with Ostendorf showing a number of photographs from his collection.

"Retailing the Railsplitter, III: Lincoln as Posthumous Icon" by Professor Roger A. Fischer - In short, everybody wants to be "right with Lincoln". Fischer began his talk by saying something like "I want to follow up on some comments made by David Donald half a century ago" and then proceeded to show virtually everybody and his brother has jumped on the bandwagon. Included were some unlikely nominees. Fischer also showed a sampling of various paraphernalia he's collected over the years.

Abraham Lincoln Symposium and Annual Abraham Lincoln Association Banquet - The venue for everything except the banquet was the Representatives Hall, Old State Capitol, an ideal setting.

CD-ROM Demonstration of the Lincoln Legal Papers - I did not attend as it conflicted with the lectures cited above. In a nutshell, the Lincoln Legal Papers effort has been ongoing since 1985 and is nearing completion on a project to gather as much data as can be found that relates to Lincoln's legal career, one that involves something of the order of 6,000 cases in both the state and federal court systems. It's administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and cosponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Association and Center for Legal Studies, University of Illinois at Springfield and it's known formally by "The Lincoln Legal Papers: A Documentary History of the Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln, 1836-1861".

They intend publishing a multi-volume set of selected records as well as issuing a larger edition on optical disks. Their target date for the CD-ROM edition is 1998 and the scanning of documents is apparently still on schedule. I believe I heard the figure of $2,000 being cited as a ballpark estimate of the cost; whatever it is, what a boon it will be to serious scholars focusing on that sizable portion of his life! Libraries should have a field day.

Abraham Lincoln and American Law - Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian, presided and the session contained three addresses as well as a session devoted to comments pertaining to them. I'll not give many details of the talks, but I will cite the speakers and their topics:

"Law as a Public Profession: A Tale of Two Lawyers" by Paul D. Carrington, Duke University. (The other lawyer was Charles Sumner.)

"Dalby Revisited: A New Look at the Dalby Case" by William D. Beard, Lincoln Legal Papers [Dalby was roughed up by employees on the St. Louis, Alton & Chicago RR because of a dispute involving the fare he paid. The issue involved just who was responsible for the injuries Dalby sustained. The thrust of the talk, however, was that Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, in fact handled the case, not Lincoln as had been long supposed.

"The Heroic Mr. Lincoln? In the Matter of Jane, A Woman of Color Reconsidered" by Mark E. Steiner, South Texas College of Law (and formerly with Lincoln Legal Papers). Lincoln defended a slave owner in Charleston, Illinois. While Lincoln lost the case as the owner had no case to make (and not, as some have alleged, because he didn't try hard enough), the talk focused more on the apparent contradictions involving Lincoln's having taken on such a case given his well known opposition to slavery. Lincoln apparently said on a later occasion that it was a lawyer's duty to represent the causes of those whose causes of those who had hired him. The point I got from the talk was the belief Lincoln could only take on the case because he was able to suspend his moral judgment.

Comments on the above were given by James W. Ely, Jr., Vanderbilt University.

Roundtable Discussion

Cullom Davis, the director of the Lincoln Legal Papers project, moderated and six members of the project participated.

Banquet - It was held in the Renaissance Springfield Hotel. I'm guessing slightly over 300 people attended and I doubt anybody went away disappointed. Former Senator Paul Simon from Illinois was pressed into duty as the featured speaker as Herbert Mitgang, the intended one, underwent surgery, I understand, only days before the banquet. Simon gave a marvelous talk on Elijah Lovejoy.

If you're still awake, you'll likely realize how much I enjoyed my ten-day trip. While the desire to be in Springfield on Lincoln's Birthday was the driver in selecting the dates, an enormous side benefit had to do with going in the off season. I was told on numerous occasions how busy they were in the summer and how much more enjoyable people who were able to visit during the off-season found it.

I heard a similar story when I visited Ford's Theatre and Museum in Washington a few weeks ago. Both Ford's and the Peterson House were basically deserted. A ranger there told me they average several THOUSAND people a day in the summer.

The preceding simply represents what I was able to squeeze into one ten day stretch. Some obvious ones (e.g., Lincoln College) were missed and will have to await next time. Ditto for sites in Kentucky and Indiana. Further, one could spend days at each of a number of stops I was able to make.

Finally, I've omitted a number of details in an attempt to achieve some semblance of brevity. Feel free to get back to me should you want anything else and I'll do my best to oblige. (morrell@bayserve.net)

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