Springfield, IL - Nov 18
Nov 18, 2011
|November 18, 2011
We got up early this morning as we had a bit of a drive from St Louis and we also had something we wanted to see this afternoon. We got packed up and we made the most of the free breakfast at the hotel before getting on the road to Springfield, Illinois – the home of Abraham Lincoln. The drive didn’t take too long and the weather was fairly clear although it was certainly cold. When we arrived we headed straight for the national park visitor center and managed to get on a tour of the Lincoln home for 10am. There was a big school group in the shop and visitor centre who were really loud and annoying and in trying to avoid them we found ourselves being accosted by the weird guy working in the shop who kept interrupting us to speak. I kept my distance but he still kept chatting away to Elizabeth, even trying to make fun of her about St Louis beating Texas in the World Series. Given that we weren’t even in St Louis and Elizabeth doesn’t care about baseball she thought it was pretty pathetic. When we finally got to look around, the visitor centre was quite interesting and included a model of the town during Lincoln’s time and this included showing certain routes Lincoln would’ve taken from his daily walk to work to the route his funeral procession took.
Our tour met at the Arnold home, one of the many buildings around here owned by the National Park Service. The NPS had bought out around 4 blocks of this area and had restored the buildings to look like they had in Lincoln’s time. Inside the small Arnold House, across the street from the Lincoln house, were displays about the restoration process and even included some old repair work which had been left on display. The Lincoln home itself was previously a one storey house but had been converted to two stories and the entire house was painted tan colour with dark green trim. As the story goes, Lincoln’s wife Mary did the decoration while Abe was on the road and when he returned he had to ask a neighbor where his house was! Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham’s son, had taken over the house after his father died but as he didn’t want to live there he was leasing it out. When he found out that his tenant was charging people to look around ol’ Abe’s house Robert sold it to the government for $1 with the promise that no one would ever have to pay admission in future to visit.
Despite the requirement for a tour ticket, the tour was actually self-guided. The tour consisted on us and an elderly couple. I don’t know how the husband was able to survive without his wife constantly telling him how wrong he was! The first room was the parlour which had bright red carpets with white flowers, small black sofas and it was here that Lincoln was told he had won the Republican Party nomination for president in 1860. The dining space showed where Mary cooked most of their meals but the funniest room was the living room. Here the furniture was really small and as a result Lincoln would often sit on the floor. Upstairs saw the guest bedroom, Lincoln’s room which was connected to Mary’s and the children’s bedroom. Lincoln’s room included a small writing desk which Lincoln actually used to write many of his speeches. The children’s bedroom was very typical of most kid’s rooms and the Lincolns were very lenient with their children much to the dismay of their friends.
The house was pretty interesting despite the moany old couple and the large group of school children just ahead of us on the tour who slowed everything down to a stop. We’ve seen quite a few president’s houses, libraries, etc. now and although each one was interesting in a different way, there were lots of things which I just wasn’t interested in. This continued unfortunately at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a short walk away from his house. It was quite a sunny day but was very cold with high winds and it was a relief to get inside the museum even though we passed the really cool building of the old state capitol with weathered stone building blocks as well as the new state capitol, with its large silver dome, on display in the distance.
The Lincoln Library was a bit of a disappointment to both of us and it wasn’t like the other presidential libraries we had been to which told the story of the president’s life. This one was just a regular library with a special exhibit that didn’t really interest us. We hoped that the museum was in essence the “presidential library” but even that wasn’t up to much. The museum cost $12 each and it felt like they were just trying to make money out of this association the town had with Lincoln. We had enough trouble just trying to get into the museum – first we had to hear about the annual pass which we could buy, then the woman at the desk kept questioning whether we qualified for discounted rates, even peering into my wallet and asking if my UK driver’s licence was a military ID. She then continued to question us both on our accents before the security guard asked us about checking our coats, had drinks, etc. Finally, another woman sitting about 5 metres from where we’d just paid was waiting to inspect our wrist bands to let us have entry. It was a bit ridiculous.
It didn’t get much better as when we got inside we realized that quite a few of the exhibits were quite child-orientated and there were very few real artifacts on display, with most things being copies or re-creations. The central rotunda area had a re-creation of the front of the White House with creepy wax figures of the Lincoln family in front of it.
There was an exhibit about Lincoln’s initial presidency and the commencement of the Civil War. IT talked about how he chose to surround himself with the brightest leaders of the Republican Party even though most of them hated him, and each other. Most of them believed that they themselves should have been elected president and this made his selections seem quite weird. The first major decision of his presidency was whether to aid Fort Sumter in South Carolina and order war against the newly formed confederates. Lincoln had promised that the Union wouldn’t be the first ones to fire a shot in the war and he kept that promise and his decision meant that the Confederates gained control of the fort but as a result started the war.
Whilst that exhibit was quite interesting, it appeared that the majority of the museum was taken up by a large gift shop and a Subway. A mock-up of the house Lincoln lived in as a boy including more wax models and some general things about his life were the most I really got out of the whole thing.
There was a painting of Fort Sumter which showed the start of the Civil War and a gallery which showed cartoons which mocked and criticized Lincoln, showing him as a monkey and a vampire amongst other things. It did show quite a human side to Lincoln though as it told the story of a lavish party celebrating the redecorating of the White House. At the time his son Willie was really ill and during the party he’d taken a turn for the worse and Abe kept leaving the party to go and see him. After Willie’s death, Lincoln would spend every Thursday in the boys room, whereas Mary wouldn’t ever go in it.
They of course had a re-creation of Ford’s Theater and details of his assassination although the room which included a coffin as Lincoln would’ve lied in state in Springfield was really creepy. I did find it rather amusing that the song being played as we walked through was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – not only a black slave song but also the England rugby fan’s own anthem! I found it hard not to burst into song!
The treasures gallery had a few real items in it including Mary’s photo album with her name inscribed, his son Tad’s toy cannon along with the note from Abe that he could have it, a playbill from the night of his and posters advertising the reward for his assassins. They even had Mary’s fan from the fateful night and you could see the blood stains. I’d hoped to see his top hat, as it was advertised as being here, but when we asked about it we were told it wasn’t on display all the time as it needed to “rest”. What crap!
Elizabeth was in a bit of a bad mood as she felt we’d been ripped off and the museum wasn’t worth the effort. She was pretty quick looking around the gift shop which is unlike her and so we decided to go and get some food. We found a small café called Garden of Eat’n and there we both had a tasty snack to tide us over. As we walked around the town back to the car we saw the Herndon Law Office, which had been set up by Lincoln and had a statue of the Lincoln family outside.
We drove out to Lincoln’s tomb next. We knew where the cemetery was but we hoped we wouldn’t have to walk around looking for the right one. We needn’t have worried as the signs all pointed the way and it was impossible to miss. It was massive with a rotunda and pillar including a full length figure of Lincoln with four military statues around each corner representing the different wings of the military. There was a bust of Lincoln in front of it and the nose was shiny where people had touched it for luck. Of course, we both gave it a rub! Inside the tomb were a number of sculptures including a smaller version of the Lincoln Memorial along with six other statues that represented Lincoln during different periods of his life. We saw the marble casket that Lincoln is buried 10 feet under and there were also the gravestones marking the grave sites of Mary Todd, his wife, and three of his four children. One of his sons, Robert, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
By this point we were a bit Lincoln-ed out so we decided to do something a bit different. We’d read about a place called Shea’s Gas Station Museum which was basically an old gas station along Route 66 which had been converted to a museum commemorating all things to do with the historic road. When we got there though, we didn’t know if we actually wanted to go in as it just looked like a junk yard. I had a look around and there looked like some cool stuff so we went in. We were greeted by an elderly gentleman who turned out to be a chap called Bill Shea who was a WWII veteran who came back from the war to work at his local Texaco station. He eventually bought it to run himself before moving to the current site, previously a Marathon gas station. This collection had been built up during 60 years of running the gas stations and was as eclectic as you could imagine. After meeting Bill and paying the couple of dollars entry fee his son came out and started to give us a tour. The first building, just outside, was an old restored 1920’s station office from Middletown, IL and this was really just used to store more stuff!
In this little office we were shown things that talked about how famous this museum was all over the world, from Germany to Japan to Korea and many places besides. Inside the main building the walls, cabinets, ceilings and floors were overflowing with brilliant paraphernalia. There were old orange Texaco gas pumps, a 1952 Airstream trailer, school bused, old Texaco uniforms, old military uniforms, a collection of police badges, gas filling pumps, route signs, a model of the old Texaco station and so many other amazing things! The family are even members of the Route 66 Hall of Fame!
Our next brief stop was the Dana Thomas House which had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Unfortunately the house was closed for renovation but we were able to walk around the outside and look at the typically Wright style stained glass windows. The bookstore was obviously open still though despite the house being closed and they had some cool Frank Lloyd Wright designed items although none which we felt we really wanted to carry around and risk breaking!
When we finally decided we’d had enough for the day we headed for our hotel and tried to check in. There was a new girl working there and she didn’t seem too sure of the system and tried to make us pay for the room, despite the fact we’d prepaid for it. I thought I’d convinced her that I had paid for it but when I popped down to the car a little later she stopped me and asked me to sign a credit card receipt. I had to explain again that we had paid and she just didn’t understand the system. Thankfully, I think I got my point across and we haven’t been charged anything extra! We hung out in the room while we waited for our hunger to kick in and while we did we saw an amazing sunset, without even leaving our room! By the time we were hungry, Elizabeth had already picked where she wanted to go to and we ventured out to the Cozy Dog Drive-In – who claim to be the original inventor of corn dogs. I’m not a fan of corn dogs so I had a chili cheese burger but Elizabeth got one of their speciality “Cozy Dogs”. The restaurant was along the old Route 66 like so many other things around here and even they had lots of old memorabilia around the walls. We stopped at Walgreens to get some sweets and (un)fortunately they were doing a special offer so ended up loading up on stuff we just didn’t need to be eating! As we paid we were asked if we wanted to make a donation to the troops (nothing specific, just the troops) and we politely declined. It seems to be quite commonplace in the US now to ask you if you want to donate to charity whenever you pay for stuff as we’ve had it at Hard Rock Cafés, national parks and now at Walgreens. It is quite annoying as I’m sure this practice ends up with many people feeling a bit guilt-tripped into donating and whilst it is only a dollar here or there, it soon adds up and people should be free to choose how and when and how much they donate and who to.