Last summer sisters Lynae (’08) and Dana (’12) Morrison kicked off our alumni/student travelogue series by recounting their trip to Kansas City, Missouri. Today we’re happy to share their latest historical travels in the Midwest! If you’d like to write for this or our other recurring blog series, please get in touch with Prof. Chris Gehrz.
It seems an annual summer tradition has begun. Another summer, another presidential library for the Morrison clan. Last year’s trip was to Kansas City, Missouri, to visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and the National World War I Museum.
This year’s road trip was to Springfield, Illinois, to visit the sites associated with Abraham Lincoln. Springfield was where he spent most of his life, moving there at the age of 27 to begin his law career up until the time he departed for Washington, D.C. to begin his presidency. The surprisingly small capital city (117,006) is extremely proud to claim Lincoln as its own.
Our first stop on our tour of Springfield was a somber one: the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Lincoln is entombed with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and sons Eddie, Willie, and Tad. (Oldest son Robert is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.) The obelisk of the tomb towers above the rest of the cemetery and inspires a sense of awe. Inside the tomb, a cenotaph marks the spot where Lincoln is buried ten feet below. In a sign of the times we live in, outside of the tomb there were people taking selfies and smiling for group pictures. It took away from the contemplative atmosphere that burial sites tend to convey. It felt more like a tourist attraction than a place to pay respect. Despite that it was a unique place to start our trip to remind us that he was indeed a real person.
The next day began with a tour of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. It was the only home that Lincoln ever owned. In 1887 Robert Todd sold the home to the state of Illinois for $1.00 with the condition that it would be free to visitors. Since the Lincolns sold most of their belongings before moving to D.C., most of the furnishings are not original to the house but are of the same time period. It created a quaint and cozy atmosphere.
One ranger shared a particularly humorous story. While Lincoln was out of town on the court circuit, Mary made significant renovations to the home, taking it from a one and half story to a full two-story house. Upon returning to Springfield, Lincoln had to ask a passerby if he knew where the Lincoln house was, as he no longer recognized his own home. It was fun to hear anecdotes about family life including many stories about the rambunctious Lincoln boys.
The next home we visited that day was the Dana-Thomas House, one of the earliest homes that Frank Lloyd Wright designed (between 1902-1904). His signature style of horizontal lines, expanding spaces, and brightly patterned glass are prominent throughout. A unique feature of this home is that it was built around an existing Victorian mansion, which was owned by socialite Susan Lawrence Dana. After Wright was commissioned to remodel to house, he proceeded to erase any existence of the former home, save one room at the heart of the home that Dana fought to preserve in the Victorian style.
The final day of the trip was devoted to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The museum utilizes traditional presentation with artifacts from his life, but also features technological and digital effects.
The museum is divided into two journeys of Lincoln’s life: the pre-presidential years and White House. The pre-presidential years takes the visitor through his childhood in Kentucky up until his departure from Springfield to begin the presidency. The White House Years follows the Lincoln story from his inauguration through his assassination. It pays particular attention to important milestones in his presidency such as the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address.
Much like we experienced at the Truman Museum the exhibit made the attempt to convey that despite the near-mythological status he holds today, Lincoln did have detractors and enemies as presented by The Whispering Gallery. The gallery included newspaper clippings, quotations, and audio recordings of unflattering and downright petty attacks on the Lincolns, from how Abraham was handling the war to Mary’s wardrobe choices. It served as a reminder how little politics has changed over 150 years.
In addition to the exhibits there were two theaters both featuring a technological spin on the traditional film experience. Using digital-projection screens and holographic imaging these shows reiterated the humanity of Lincoln, reminding viewers to distinguish the man from the myth.
A real treat for us was the special exhibit entitled Undying Words: Lincoln 1858-1865, which focused on some of his greatest and most powerful words. Artifacts included the presidential carriage the Lincolns used in Washington, D.C., the gloves Lincoln carried the night of his assassination, and the bed he died in.
For our final evening in Springfield we took a less academic, but no less entertaining, walking tour called Lincoln’s Ghost Walk: Legends and Lore. The tour blended the factual with the paranormal and touched on Lincoln’s spiritual side. Our guide pointed out the church the Lincolns attended while in Springfield. Lincoln was not a member of this or any church, but throughout his life blended Christian beliefs with the spiritual.
Our final stop on the walking tour was the Lincoln Depot where Lincoln departed Springfield for the last time. From this station he addressed the gathered crowd seeing him off to Washington, D.C. President-elect Lincoln left the well-wishers with a heartfelt and ultimately prophetic message:
Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return…
Thanks again, Lynae and Dana, for sharing your photos and reflections with us! And congratulations to Dana, who just moved back to North Dakota to start a new job as an interpreter at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan!