The AC 2nd Travelogue: Antietam

Prof. Magnuson is our resident expert on the subject, but as a Civil War buff, I had to take a couple hours out of my East Coast trip to visit the site of the single bloodiest day in American military history: the Antietam National Battlefield.

Two weeks after General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia crossed into Maryland in 1862, it met General George McClellan’s vastly larger Army of the Potomac near the village of Sharpsburg, along the banks of Antietam Creek. Combat began early on the morning of September 17th, near the church used by local German Baptists. By midday, the worst of the fighting turned a sunken road into “Bloody Lane,” with the Union forces suffering some 3,000 casualties in just over three hours, to 2,600 Confederate losses.

By the end of the day, nearly 23,000 men had been killed, wounded, taken prisoner, or gone missing at Antietam. Among those buried at the nearby military cemetery are 10 members of the 1st Minnesota, which suffered far worse losses ten months later at Gettysburg.

As in many battles of the Civil War, recent immigrants played a key role. Several Union unit memorials near Bloody Lane feature a clover leaf, including one honoring New York’s famous Irish Brigade, whose Catholic chaplain granted absolution from horseback as he rode along its lines. The same state’s 20th Regiment was called the Turner Rifles — for the German “Turner” (that is, gymnast) clubs that supplied most of its manpower. Its survivors dedicated a German-language memorial “to the memory of our fallen comrades.”

Thanks to late-arriving reinforcements from Harper’s Ferry, Lee’s army beat back the final Union assaults. But the Confederates were forced back into Virginia, and President Abraham Lincoln was emboldened to issue the Emancipation Proclamation several days later.


Nelson Menjivar Named to INCE Museum Fellows Program

Nelson Menjivar ’19, a Bethel History major and Philosophy minor, was named to the 2018-2019 cohort of the INCE Museum Fellows at the Minnesota Historical Society. The program includes a fall course at MNHS, a site visit to museums in Chicago, a paid internship next spring, and ongoing mentoring after the program concludes.

Nelson MenjivarIn addition to letting students explore museum-related careers, the INCE program

is designed to engage students in studying the challenges related to the underrepresentation of communities of color and American Indian Nations in historical organizations and public history graduate programs. Communities need to “see themselves” in the work of cultural organizations in order to identify with their missions.

A native of West Saint Paul, MN, Nelson currently serves as a teaching assistant with Bethel’s Christianity and Western Culture program. He says that he was particularly excited about the INCE program because it offered “the chance to work with museums and professionals who not only study history, but also find a way to present it to the public… I’m excited to get the internship started and use the valuable tools I’ve picked up at the Bethel History department!”

Congratulations, Nelson!

The Significance of Public Memory

Yesterday Prof. Gehrz joined Art professors Michelle Westmark Wingard and Ken Steinbach for a conversation about memorials and monuments moderated by Bethel digital librarian Kent Gerber. Entitled “The Significance of Public Memory,” it covered everything from debates over Confederate memorials and the memory of the U.S.-Dakota War to examples of European memorials from our World War I trip (coming again in January 2019).

You can watch it at YouTube:

My Internship with… The Minnesota Historical Society

Today we revive our occasional series of interviews with Bethel History majors who have interned with local organizations. Last fall Lauren Gannon ’17 helped the Minnesota Historical Society prepare for this year’s World War I centenary. Lauren was part of the 2015 edition of our WWI travel course with Prof. Gehrz, who will be taking a group of 25 Bethel students to the Minnesota History Center this Saturday for the grand opening of the new “WW1 America” exhibit.

WW1 America exhibit logo

Only about half of our students actually come to Bethel declaring a History major, but you made that change a little later than most. Can you tell us about your decision to double-major in Media Production and History?

I became a History major by happy accident. I came to Bethel as a Media Communication major, hoping to minor in history, and other subjects if I had room. I didn’t necessarily intentionally take History courses at first; I just took classes I was interested in, and they just happened to be history courses. I have always liked history, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that these classes interested me, but I was surprised spring of my junior year, when I realized that I only needed three more to have a History major. I was ecstatic when I discovered this because I felt that I had made great relationships with professors and students in the History Department, and it felt nice to belong there. I also like the challenge of mixing my two majors in different projects, like making films on a historic topic or adding a film aspect to my history projects and research.

How did you become an intern with the Minnesota Historical Society? Any advice for students applying for that kind of program?

To incorporate both my Media Production and History skills, I thought the museum environment would be ideal. I could incorporate visual storytelling with my love for learning and studying history. I had been encouraged by my parents, mentors, and friends to look at the Minnesota History Center since they have a great and organized internship program. Their positions are posted online and it is a relatively easy application process, albeit incredibly competitive. I applied in the summer of 2016 for about five position for the fall and was thrilled to be offered one of them: WWI Daybook Research Assistant!

Lauren in Trafalgar Square
Lauren (2nd from r.) in Trafalgar Square, the starting point of the 2015 WWI trip

I think what set me apart was my previous experience. I had studied WWI abroad with the History Department in 2015, and the memoir I wrote for the trip was published here at AC 2nd, so I had some experience writing and studying the topic. I provided a link to my memoir and described the trip in my resume and cover letter for the application, and my supervisor asked me about it in the interview.

So my advice for students applying for something like this is to not be afraid to show and elaborate on your personal interest and give examples of your work. This will set you apart from other applicants who are just simply “interested.”

What kind of work did you do for MNHS? What was most exciting or enjoyable about it? What was challenging?

As a WWI Daybook Research Assistant, I digitized historical documents and artifacts, and wrote short, descriptive blogposts for the WWI Daybook blog, commemorating the centennial of the event, that will publish every day that United States was in the war. I really loved handling the documents and getting to explore the collections of the MNHS. I especially enjoyed reading personal letters and accounts, learning the stories of these individuals from all over Minnesota and how they were impacted by the war.

Like all internships, there is an element of monotony. Finding and scanning a document, then writing a short blogpost, and repeating this day in and day out did get a little old sometimes. However, every time I felt my work getting redundant, I would remember that I am handling documents that were written by people who lived unique lives 100 years ago, and I would get excited again. If you are someone who loves that personal part of history, you know what I am talking about.

What did you take away from your experience as an intern?

MNHS logoI learned a lot about the museum as an institution and place of employment. If not the biggest, Minnesota Historical Society is one of the biggest organizations of its kind in the United States. People in Minnesota love their history. However, some Minnesotans’ stories are not often told by the museum. Therefore, I was also challenged to advocate for and tell the story of the people and communities that may not be represented by the museum, as well as challenged to make relationships with and gain the trust of communities that had been hurt by the museum. I am also encouraged by the effort that MNHS is putting towards doing these exact things.

Do I think I will work in the museum field one day? Perhaps. It was definitely worth exploring.

For another student’s reflection on a different kind of MNHS internship, click here.

A J-Term Photo Essay: WWI in Europe

Today we’re happy to share a photo essay by History major and department TA Connor Larson ’17, who spent Interim in Europe with Profs. Gehrz and Mulberry and nineteen other Bethel students. 

The J-term trip through Europe studying World War I and its effects on society and culture was a resounding success. Here is a glimpse at some of what we did.

The trip began with a layover in Iceland. Unfortunately that layover consisted of a brisk walk to the next flight.

England: Jan. 3-11

Upon arriving in London and passing through customs we quickly unloaded our luggage at the lovely Wombats Hostel and began our journey.


Although jet-lagged and disoriented the walking tour went well, fast-walking tour guide and all.

One of the amazing things about London is the vast amount of memorials and monuments for the numerous wars and events the country has been involved in throughout its history. Luckily for us that means there was no shortage of WWI-era memorials to examine.

For many of the memorials visited in London the students gave lessons on the importance of the memorial and influence of those honored both in the war and in the years after.

One of the highlights for many on the trip was a visit to the Imperial War Museum, and it was an experience many would never forget.

Imperial War Museum


Donavan Heide ’17, Accounting and Finance major and History minor, gives a lecture on the creation of the IWM

Our trip, while grounded in the First World War, spent an equal amount of time on the impact of war on society by looking at the arts (primarily fine art and poetry). Art and war are deeply connected, and through our museum visits we were able to see how the war affected society in a way that books and artifacts rarely have an ability to portray. I am omitting photos of this portion of the trip because I believe the impact of what we read and saw would be reduced in such a degree where it would be a disservice to attempt recreating it here.

On our free day many of us went and stormed Dover Castle. Here is our journey.

All joking aside, it was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to learn about both medieval and modern history, as the castle and town played an important role in both World Wars.

To wrap up our time in England here are some more photos that are neither educational nor related to World War I.

Belgium & Northern France: Jan. 11-13

The few days spent exploring the front lines of the war were the climax of the trip for most, if not all, of us. Despite our enthusiasm none of us were ready for the emotional toll this portion of the trip would have on us. Reading about casualties and statistics pales in comparison to seeing the hundreds of grave sites scattered around Belgium and Northern France, let alone the front lines throughout the rest of Europe. Here, for example, are some photos from the former military hospital near Poperinge, Belgium.

Langemark was the first German cemetery we visited. Where American deceased were sent back to the states and British troops given individual graves in the field where they fell, German soldiers were given a much different burial. German soldiers were soldiers for their fatherland first, individuals second. Individual graves were time consuming and costly to the war effort, meaning that mass graves were common behind the German front lines. This is not reducing the individual to nothing but rather putting the state in front of oneself, an important distinction to make.

The central open area is a mass grave of 30,000 soldiers. The names of each soldier etched on the tablets seen above.
Each gravestone represents 5,000 German soldiers.

As we went from one grave site to another many of us had trouble fighting off the inevitable desensitizing nature of witnessing the aftermath of so many lives. As difficult as it was to witness the amount of lives lost we would rather feel that weight than have those emotions watered down in the face of incomprehensible numbers.

We visited various memorials during our time in Belgium and Northern France as well, including one honoring the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers in the war, specifically at Vimy Ridge.


Along with the beautiful memorial pictured above, the Canadian government, when given the choice to do with this land what they wished, opted to preserve the landscape, keeping it in the same condition as it was immediately after the war. The only changes were in trees that had been transplanted and grass that has been grown there.

Here we see a man outstanding in his field.

We were given the opportunity to walk through recreated trenches at Vimy Ridge, giving a feeling for the distance one would have had between the enemy and themselves.

While we visited numerous other memorials and cemeteries in our time we had to move on, visiting somewhere completely different, both physically and mentally.

Paris, France: Jan. 13-18

To say that Paris was a shock after travelling the French and Belgium countryside for the past few days would be an understatement. On top of the new city and transportation system to learn, we struggled with a language barrier, general travel fatigue, and the mental drain of visiting and seeing all that we had in the past few days.

A chilled sunrise over Paris.

Much like our time in London, Paris occupied our time with walking tours of famous monuments and visiting various museums located throughout the city. Our museum and transit passes (included in the trip) filled our stay with fine art and exploration.

Yet again, not all of our time was devoted to the history of Europe. Much of our time was also spent enjoying the city.

There is one last thing that we did which has a special place in the hearts of everyone who was on this trip: The Handball Tournament.


Both Dr. Gehrz and Prof. Mulberry mentioned this optional outing while we were touring Belgium and Northern France. After everyone decided to go, they feared that an overstatement was made in how great it would be. If their visions of grandeur were anything, it would be understated. Handball is easily one of the most fun sports to watch, and although the stadium was mostly empty we certainly made enough noise for everyone who was absent.


We had no ties to either team playing, confusing those around us as we cheered for everything that happened. Many came out without a voice and the events that went down in that stadium will never be forgotten.

Munich, Germany: Jan. 18-23

If one thing prepared us for coming home during our last week in Europe it was the weather. Munich was by far the coldest location we visited, although not as cold as the Twin Cities while we were away. Our standard walking tour, while cold and windy, gave our tired feet a brief respite; snow is much softer to walk on than cement.

Obligatory walking tour photo

Despite the weather Munich was a beautiful way to end our time in Europe. The food was delicious and cheap, people were nice (generally speaking), and our free day was a blast. Many of us decided to take a train to Salzburg, Austria and witness hills alive with the sound of music (spoiler alert; the hills were, unfortunately, not alive regardless of the state of music in said hills). We explored yet another castle and came closer to grasping the true meaning of the term “winter wonderland.”

As the trip progressed my photography effort declined due to a combination of fatigue, overload, and a desire to be more fully enveloped in the experiences of the trip. As great as documenting a journey such as this can be you end up focusing more on getting the right shot rather than enjoying the right moments. There is a balance that I have yet to discover, but for now I am glad I can look back at everything we had been through and all that we had learned.

The flight home seemed to take twice as long as the journey taken a few weeks prior. As with all ends to great adventures the homecoming was bittersweet. I think we all were glad to be home, thankful for the experience, and sad to have it be over. I hope that as many people as possible get the chance to travel and expand their thoughts and horizons, and this trip was a great opportunity to do just that. We were able to learn more about ourselves, new cultures, and a pivotal moment in history that affected nearly every nation in the world.

HIS230L group at MSP airport

Summer 2017 Internships at the Minnesota Historical Society

One of the great things about studying history at a university in the Twin Cities is that you have access to the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), one of the largest and best organizations of its type in the country. For example, MNHS runs a significant internship program for college students and recent graduates, with cohorts recruited for the fall, spring, and summer.

If you’re interested in pursuing an MNHS internship for the summer, applications are being accepted all throughout the month of March, with intern orientation in May and jobs starting on June 1st. As usual, the program encompasses a wide variety of fields, with over twenty positions available in everything from digitization to web design, oral history to textile conservation, youth camps to special events.

Design Announced for New National WWI Memorial

It took a few days longer than planned, but the World War I Centennial Commission has announced the winner of the competition to design a new National WWI Memorial in Washington, DC:

Aerial rendering of the "Weight of Sacrifice" design
Aerial view of the design for the new WWI Memorial in Pershing Park, near the White House – WWI Centennial Commission

The Weight of Sacrifice” was designed by a team led by a young architect named Joseph Weishaar, who told the Chicago Tribune that he hadn’t even visited the nation’s capital before being named a finalist.

Normally I’m all about going and seeing a place and designing from there… And this was just one of those cases where it didn’t work out that way…. Just even making it to the second round of the competition was entirely overwhelming. It’s the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had in my life, and I’m enthralled to see where it goes.

Here’s how Weishaar and co-designer Sabin Howard, a veteran sculptor, explained the concept of “The Weight of Sacrifice”:

The allegorical idea that public space and public freedom are hard won through the great sacrifices of countless individuals in the pursuit of liberty provides the original design concept for this project. A memorial and a park built to represent this truth should pay homage to the loss incurred in securing these freedoms. The raised figurative walls visually express a narrative of the sacrificial cost of war, while also supporting a literal manifestation of freedoms enjoyed in this country: the open park space above. The urban design intent is to create a new formal link along Pennsylvania Avenue which ties together the memorial to Tecumseh Sherman on the West and Freedom Plaza on the East. This is achieved by lowering the visual barriers surrounding the existing Pershing Park and reinforcing dominant axes that come from the adjacent context.

Imagining of the central wall in the memorial, with a soldier standing at attention
Part of the 137-foot wall planned for the memorial – WWI Centennial Commission

About $1 million has been raised for the memorial, expected to cost anywhere from $30-$40 million (all in private funds — here’s how to donate). It’s hoped that construction will conclude in time for the 100th anniversary of the November 11, 1918 armistice that ended fighting on the Western Front.

Our own Prof. Chris Gehrz wrote about “The Weight of Sacrifice,” the four other finalists, and the larger WWI commemorative tradition in a recent essay for Books & Culture.

Modern Europe Journal: Collaboration and Resistance

Why did some Germans and other Europeans collaborate in the Holocaust, while others risked their lives to resist? Students in HIS354 Modern Europe asked this question last week, after having read Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, watched the 2005 German movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (about the arrest and execution of the students in the White Rose, an anti-Nazi resistance movement) and visited an online exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum entitled “Some Were Neighbors.” One of the many excellent responses came from History major Elizabeth Hynes ’16, who was kind enough to share this revised version of her essay with us.

Browning, Ordinary MenStudying the events of the Holocaust truly pushes my limits of “imaginative understanding.” It is especially difficult for me to resonate personally with the millions of ordinary citizens in Germany and other occupied countries who seemingly stood by as Hitler and the Nazis carried out genocide on an alarming scale. The “final solution” was enacted with the precision of a well-oiled machine and required many civilians to tacitly aid in the disposal of thousands of Jews and other Nazi targets. Hitler’s success in implementing the final solution was contingent upon the fact that no one in Germany or other occupied territories would go to great lengths to stop him. In fact, scenes from Sophie Scholl: The Final Days almost seem to indicate that people may have been brainwashed into thinking that Hitler’s xenophobic vision wasn’t all that awful, or at the very least that his actions were a necessary evil: that Germany would never flourish without a bit of initial violence.  At any rate, a very large percentage of the population had to be complicit with Hitler’s actions in order for the Holocaust to happen.

It is almost impossible for me to put myself in these people’s shoes. I tend to look incredulously at people who seem to have so much hate in their hearts. I struggle to find common ground or empathize in any way with people who leaned out of a schoolhouse, cheering as hundreds of Jews marched by on the way to their deaths. As a Christian, I want to believe that people have the capacity to be good; I want to believe in the prospect of seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). But I’m finding it really hard to maintain hope in a world where people can be so complicit in the maltreatment of others, a world where hate often seems to prevail.

In light of this, I find that it is ever important to constantly recognize and remind myself of how my own biases could be coming into play. It is easy for me to say that if I lived in Europe during the reign of Hitler that I would have been like Sophie Scholl — I would have stood up and done something. With hindsight bias, it’s easy to point fingers at people and call them bystanders to murder and say that they should have done more. It is easier to pass judgment on others and point out the ways in which their actions are flawed than to admit the commonalities between their attitudes and my own. In an event as gruesome as the Holocaust, the line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” often seems so clear. However, after looking at the Some Were Neighbors online exhibit and reading Ordinary Men, I think that it’s entirely reasonable to come to the conclusion that there was more going on than just blind hatred or laziness: factors other than some intrinsic heroism or superior moral scruples may have been at play and contributed to complicity in the Holocaust.

As we saw in Sophie Scholl, direct force was one of the main tactics used by Nazis to quell potential resistance. People who stood up to Nazism usually wound up dead. This fact alone probably provided enough deterrence to quell most dissent. Normal citizens could not reasonably go about their daily lives or maintain any semblance of peace of mind without conforming to Hitler’s vision for society. As we saw in Ordinary Men, people could also be forced to contribute more passively to Nazi violence through threats and coercion; people were probably more likely to submit to Nazi activities if they honestly believed that their jobs and livelihoods depended on it. No one wanted to return to the post-Versailles days of economic oppression or abandon their leadership in wartime. Additionally, Hitler may eventually have been able to rely on more insidious forms of power. By 1942, when Nazi violence began to escalate, Hitler had already been in power for nine years. By that time, people in Germany especially had grown accustomed to that way of life. In the face of extreme violence, the natural human response is often to go numb, especially if the violence has a certain air of inevitability. I think this certainly applies in this case. Although some German civilians and other Europeans openly expressed hatred toward Jews and others, many more may have passively accepted anti-Semitism as commonplace.

Picture of Martin Niemoeller
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
(Image: Dutch National Archives)

The troubling truth still remains that not everyone was passive or complicit. A not insignificant amount of people in Germany and other European countries did stand up to Hitler, even in small ways. I cannot possibly make any judgment about why those people found the strength to do so, while so many others did not. If anything, I think the lessons that I can draw from this entire situation focus on something akin to Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came…” poem (see right). It is really easy to look at this situation and say that I would never be blind to such obvious evil or to passively accept such oppression of an entire people group. But, people at the time likely did not see themselves as conspirators to murder, and it may be unfair of me to look at them in that light.

However, though many were not intentionally taking part in the Holocaust, their thoughts and attitudes resulted in the necessary complicity for the Holocaust to happen. Sometimes society subtly tells us to think a certain way about a group of people and we absorb stereotypes and prejudices without even realizing it. People use all kinds of beliefs and social constructs to justify their judgments of other people and I think that the dangers of such thinking were just as prevalent in the 1940s as they are now. If society seems to be telling us to look skeptically at an entire people group, we should probably question why we are being pulled toward such thinking, even if there seems to be no immediate consequences for us in the quiet marginalization of others.

Lately on social media, there have been posts circulating that compare the refusal of many governors to welcome Syrian refugees to the refusal of the U.S. to welcome Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

This easy correlation is perhaps not entirely valid, but it is certainly something to think about. Too many people learned about the Holocaust in school and came away with the lesson that “Hitler was a bad man” but not much else. I think that we cannot lose sight of the fact the Holocaust shows us just how awful circumstances become when (for whatever reason) people lose sight of their common humanity with others. This timeless lesson is relevant both in the study of the past and in making sense of the present.

–  Elizabeth Hynes

On History and Parenting

Earlier this summer I devoted a post at my personal blog to reflecting on what I’ve learned about teaching history to our five-year old twins. I wrote about how children process the violence they encounter in the past, their ability to empathize with people in history, and their capacity for the “five C’s” of historical thinking — for example:

Our kids pumping water at the Oliver Kelley Farm…causation is right up the alley of kids who love to take things part and put them together. (As I write, they’re working on jigsaw puzzles.) I quickly realized that the single most helpful question I can ever ask at these museums and sites is one familiar from other contexts: “How do things work?” Or, “Why would people do ______ in the past?”

This worked best at the Oliver Kelley Farm, which recreates a miniature economy that was largely self-sufficient but also tied in to larger markets. For example, we came across a cart that had wheels with no rubber or metal. “Lena and Isaiah, why do you think they made the wheels out of wood?” It took about five seconds for their eyes to turn to the forest separating the farm from the Mississippi River.

But my most practical conclusion was that it’s totally worth the $75 a year it costs to buy our entire family a membership in the Minnesota Historical Society, which carries free admission to more than two dozen museums and sites around the state.

If you live in or near Minnesota, here are some kid-friendly options that come with an MHS membership:

  • Kids' activities book from the MN History Center
    And don’t leave the History Center without picking up your free kids’ activities book

    The Minnesota History Center is one of the best museums of its type in the country. The Then Now Wow space is kid central (especially the indoor playground disguised as grain elevator), but aspects of the Open House, Greatest Generation, and Weather Permitting exhibits are also engaging. On weekends and holidays kids can also watch performances by the History Players, and at certain times there are craft projects. And the museum’s café is excellent.

  • Mill City Museum tells the history of Minneapolis in a remarkable space carved out of the ruins of one of the city’s many flour mills. The 19-minute film by humorist Kevin Kling is fun, and the Flour Tower elevator ride gives a memorable overview of mill’s history and leaves you eight stories up to enjoy terrific views of the Mississippi’s St. Anthony Falls. Younger kids will especially enjoy experimenting with hydropower in the Water Lab and with play dough in the Baking Lab.
  • Historic Fort Snelling (next to the MSP airport) offers kids a scavenger hunt: find artifacts around the grounds and they can claim a prize in the fort’s store. There are often special events on the weekend (e.g., World War I Weekend is coming up), plus during the summer the fort hosts camps for kids.
  • Just outside Elk River, the Oliver Kelley Farm (mentioned above) is a functioning 1860s farm. (Note: it’s going through a renovation, with the visitor center closed until spring 2017.) Kid-friendly activities vary by season (it’s a farm, after all), but kids can pump water to fill the cows’ trough, give the tomatoes and beans a drink in the garden, or wash vegetables in the kitchen. There’s grain to be threshed in barn, chickens to be fed, and nature trails to be walked. (In this vein, also check out Gibbs Farm in St. Paul, Eidem Homestead in Brooklyn Park, and Gammelgården in Scandia — not part of the MHS package.)

– Chris Gehrz

What other historic sites have you visited with your kids? What have you learned about how children encounter the past?

The AC 2nd Travelogue: The Land of Lincoln

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.

Before leaving Oak Ridge Cemetery we visited the War Memorial State Historic Site. It included the Illinois Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as memorials for the Korean War and World War II.

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.

The Lincoln Family Home

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.

Dana-Thomas House

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.

Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

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…

Lynae and Dana Morrison with a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL

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!