I’m back! Did you miss me? Let’s see what kind of trouble I can get myself into today!
Picking up where our fateful tale left off, our handsome adventurer was in Springfield, Illinois on Tuesday, November 23. I made the stop here, as it’s one of the many places that claims to be Abraham Lincoln’s home – the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Springfield is where he lived the longest in one location (17 years, I believe). It’s also where he became a prominent lawyer, started his family, kicked off his political career, and, ultimately, is buried after John Wilkes Booth wrecked an evening out on the town.
Given the two presidential home tours I’ve taken, this one fit nicely in between the other two (Truman and Grant) – it was renovated and maintained like Grant’s house was but still had some authentic artifacts from the Lincoln family like Truman’s house. The fact that they had some authentic items was pretty impressive. Lincoln’s story is a little bit different than most other presidents’ stories though. I asked the Ranger how the government ended up with his house and he told me that since Lincoln was assassinated – and given his political prominence with the Civil War – his house was essentially handed over to the state of Illinois after he died. So it has been preserved since his death, whereas other properties pass hands like any other home and the government ends up having to buy it back.
The tour was pretty cool though. And it’s free. You can never, ever beat free! Especially on a trip like this. We walked through the sitting room, where Lincoln was informed of the news the Republican party was nominating him for President.
The living room where he used to play with his children. There was also a bonnet or something similar that Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary, made herself. Again, the fact that something is authentic, real, and right in front of you just makes the whole experience that much more rewarding and educational to me. You can always read history anywhere. You can’t always see it.
Next were the bedrooms upstairs. We saw both Lincoln’s and Mary’s bedrooms. It was kind of funny because one of the girls on the tour (maybe in middle school? early high school?) asked why they had two separate bedrooms. The adults kind of laughed and shot looks at each other while the Ranger struggled to come up with an answer. I think he settled on the notion that Mary was the only girl in the family (four sons and a male dog to go along with Abe himself) and needed her privacy. The desk in Lincoln’s bedroom was actually his and chances are good that he wrote some of his speeches (at least the campaigning ones) at it. Just cool beyond words. In Mary’s room, the toilet was really hers. I’m not sure how cool or disgusting that is – but hey, I got a picture!
From there we saw the boys’ bedroom, the housemaid’s room, and headed back downstairs to see the kitchen. Here the stove was authentic. Apparently the story behind it is that Mary had gotten so used to cooking on it, she wanted to take it with them to Washington DC. But Abraham convinced her to leave it behind, telling her that there would be accommodations already made for them.
And that ended the tour! From there, I went back to the visitors’ center to try and get a food recommendation from the rangers. My experiences with this have been so frustrating though. It goes like this:
Rangers: “Hey there! Do you have any questions or something I might be able to help you with?”
Me: “Actually, would you have any good recommendations for somewhere close to grab some lunch? I’m looking for something local that’s good, but not a chain.”
Rangers: “Well, here’s a map that lists every restaurant we have in the city. We’re here (circles a spot on the map and hands it over). Everything’s good. It just depends on what you want to eat.”
Me: “Uh, thanks.”
So much for a recommendation. I wound up at a place called The Feed Store because I think it’s really just a cool name. Take note current or future business owners. I just picked out a place to eat and spend some money as an out-of-town tourist based on a name. I was pretty bummed after I got there though. It was cold outside and french potato soup sounded absolutely amazing. And then I was informed they were all out for the day (what?!). So I settled on “The Prairie Turkey” sandwich – “hickory-smoked Turkey Breast, smoked Gouda cheese, Boston lettuce and our special homemade Thousand Island dressing stacked on a flaky all-butter Vie de France croissant.” Delicious!
So after being stuffed, I grabbed directions to Lincoln’s tomb and headed that way. It’s in a city cemetery and pretty impressive. I think the information guy said there were four governors buried in there as well. I know I passed at least two on the way in, as the mausoleums stood out over the regular tombstones. And then I came over the top of a hill and Lincoln’s tomb blew the mausoleums out of the water. It was massive! 115 feet from the ground to the top, I believe one of the plaques said.
It was a very somber place though. He’s buried inside, behind the marble block, 10 feet in the ground, encased in steel and concrete. The reason being is because not long after he was buried in the tomb, several people tried to steal his body and hold it for ransom since their boss had been arrested and they didn’t have the money to bail him out of jail. Up until that point, he was in a sarcophagus and his oldest son decided to fix that by burying him and surrounding it in the steel and concrete mix. His entire family, except for the only son who grew to be an adult, is buried here. The oldest son, Robert, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The quote in the room is from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton when Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. It’s odd, yet somehow fitting. He pronounced “Now he belongs to the ages.” It all was just a cool experience. I’m coming to the realization that learning about the presidencies of these guys is pretty bland to me – a basic history lesson. But seeing the personal side of their lives is amazing. You see how normal they were, the activities they did, how they were thrust into prominence. It’s almost like a behind-the-scenes tour of someone’s life. So much more interesting than just learning about treaties and policies of the president’s office.
From there, my day got interesting. I grabbed my map, a seat on my tailgate, and went to work finding out where to stay. I wanted to try for Evansville, Indiana but it ended up being 4 hours away and I wasn’t up for driving that much. So I picked a little town called Effingham, Illinois and left town. About 10 miles down the road, southeast of Springfield, my aunt, Angela, from Iowa gave me a call. She asked where I was and it just coincidentally happened to be about 3 hours away from Bettendorf, Iowa. She said I was more than welcome to come for Thanksgiving, if I had the desire to. Once I said sure, she also mentioned that her niece was also visiting. And she just happened to be single. To which I shook my head, laughed, and went along for the ride. Thanksgiving turkey, football on tv, and matchmaking in Iowa. How’d you spend your Turkey Day?
The visit in Iowa was good. It gave me a few days to relax some, meet new people, and just enjoy the holiday. Wednesday, the whole group of us (my aunt Angela, uncle Tommy, their niece Lauren, their nephew Stephen, his wife Carol, their son Elijah) just visited during the day, went and walked the mall in the evening, and went out to eat at Osaka – a Japanese hibachi grill. Thursday we did the Thanksgiving thing for lunch. Everyone pitched in, so we all helped out in some way. The food was amazing. And everyone pretty much crashed in front of the football games for the day and grabbed a nap. That night, Angela, Stephen, Lauren, and I stayed up chatting in front of drinks. And cigars. I got to hear a bunch of stories from a side of their family I’ve never really met. Just good to shoot the breeze and sit around visiting. After that, Angela and I stayed up talking until 2 about any and everything – religion, faith, afterlife, my trip, what I’ve learned, the failure that was Boston, her failed attempt at matchmaking, how I’ve changed. Just good, fun, solid chats. Here lately, I almost learn more about myself than the person doing the talking learns about me. And that’s never a bad thing.
I left there yesterday, drove throughout the afternoon and evening, and wound up in Evansville, Indiana for the night. I’m planning on Lincoln’s Boyhood National Monument today with an outside shot at trying to do Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky after that.
And you better believe I’ll be in a hotel room with ESPN2 tonight by 7:00PM.