Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bloggers go Looking for Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois

The Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois was the designated meet-up site for last Saturday's Springfield Blogger Extravaganza! The weekend event was co-sponsored by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and welcomed many central Illinois Bloggers.

Hey anytime I have an opportunity to do something fun and educational with the kids, count me in! Just a short one hour and twenty five minute drive from Peoria, we arrived before the kids even had a chance to say "Are we there yet?"

Upon our arrival we were met by the youthful, friendly faces of our hosts, representatives from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Department of Tourism. They couldn't have been any nicer and were a lot of fun. They gave us Press Passes (including the Kids) which allowed us access to all the Historic Sites. I couldn't help but giggle thinking back on how District 150 threw me out of a press conference for not having a "press pass" so I think I'll save this one for posterity.

The Museum has an open inviting plan that flows with the natural sequence of events so you never find yourself wondering "where should I go next?" We began our journey at "Lincoln: the early years", a log cabin exterior that enticed the visitor in with a vignette of a young Lincoln learning to read by the fireside. As we moved through the sets we observed a young slave family being sold off individually at a slave auction. A little boy younger than the age of our son hangs on to the skirt of his anguished mother as the slave auctioneer physically pulls them apart. The helpless father is shackled nearby and witnesses the departure of his wife and young son. Ugh, such a disturbing mental image that I won't soon forget. This vignette left the visitor with the clear impression that it was scenes such as this that shaped the young Lincoln's unshakeable views on slavery.

The image below is a scene from the Lincoln-Douglas debates where a young Lincoln, running for the Illinois state Legislature, debates his opponent on the morality of slavery. The life-like quality of the characters is downright eerie.

After we completed our tour of "The early years", we moved on to "The White House Years". A frowning Lincoln family greeted us from outside the facade of the White House.

In this portion of the museum, the visitor moves through scenes from Lincoln's life as President. One particularly moving scene depicted their son, William dying of typhoid fever in a bedroom adjoining the East Wing of the White House as the sounds of revelry could be heard from a ball in progress beyond the doors. The Lincoln's lost 3 out of 4 of their sons before they saw adulthood. Many suspect that this is one of the reasons why sadness is so prevalent in Lincoln's eyes.

The visitor then moved through the Civil War scenes and memorabilia, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln's Assassination at Ford Theatre, and most dramatic of all, a recreation of the funeral scene where the body of Lincoln lied in state in the rotunda of the old Capitol Building. Upon leaving that room, the children were absolutely silent. They definitely grasped the significance of this great man.

At the museum, we saw two shows. The first one was "Ghosts in the Library" that merged a human actor with laser technology to simulate a museum collections specialist interacting with ghosts as he opened new boxes of Lincoln artifacts. The second movie, "Lincolns Eyes", was a very insightful and emotional piece that attempted to impart Lincoln's emotions upon the visitor. The kids liked this one in particular because it had some special effects including vibrating chairs that made it feel like you were right in the middle of the war scenes.

We only had 2 hours to spend at the museum, but we could have easily been there all day. From the museum, we hopped a trolley and took a brief tour of the downtown and historical sites.

Lunch was included in the days events and our trolley took us to a really bizarr-o Pizzeria where the pizzas were so huge they were delivered on cranes. This Pizza fed our entire group with plenty to spare.

The afternoon activities included a tour through Lincoln's family home, where Abe and Mary Todd raised their family in the years immediately preceding his Presidency. The house sits at the exact same location and has been staged to appear exactly the way Lincoln left it. Some of the furniture is original to the home, and as you hold the stair bannister going up, the visitor is touching and using the exact same handrail that Lincoln used 170 years ago.

Our final stop was at the Old Capital. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington DC, his body made the long journey to Springfield for burial by train,and made many stops along the way. When he arrived in Springfield, his body lied in state for public viewing here in the rotunda of the old capital prior to his burial at the Lincoln Tomb.

Here is an exterior view of the Old State Capitol. The front steps you see in the photo below are where Barack Obama announced his bid for the Presidency and returned once again to announce his choice of running mate. It is hard to imagine that 30,000 people filled the space around the capital.

Our final stop was a visit to Pease's candy on the Capitol Square. All the bloggers received gift bags that contained books, mugs, pens and miscellaneous Springfield mementos that excited the kids as well as their Mom.

It was sad to say goodbye to our friends, but the Kids were tired and eager to check in to our downtown Springfield Hotel. We had such a wonderful time, and the experience was not only fun and educational, but emotional as well. To think that we had spent the day walking where Lincoln walked, touching where Lincoln touched.. it was all so humbling. I can't help but compare the issues of his time to the issues we as a nation face today. In the 1830's, it was our nation divided n the fight against slavery. In the new millennium, thanks to the strength and convictions of Abraham Lincoln our 16th President, we stand united as one country in our fight against International Terrorism.


Lynn said...

Diane, I have been meaning to take Nigel to The Lincoln Museum since last spring. I will definitely make plans for that now that I've read this. Thanks for the extra push I needed to make it happen.

PeoriaIllinoisan said...

Do they still have the Meet The Press style analysis of the election by Tim Russert or did they remove that after he died? That was one of my favorite parts. The other is the civil war in 2 minutes (or 4 minutes, or something like that)

I see you didn't make it to the Lincoln Tomb. Shame...

Diane Vespa said...

Lynn - We'll have to have a group caravan down there and spend the night.

PI - We had planned to go to the tomb on Sunday, and turns out, its not open on Sunday. I was soooo bummed!! Yes they still have the Tim Russert feature, and they still have the Civil War in 4 minutes. That was my son's fav part because he was able to see all the explosions (signifying the battles). I couldn't think of how to describe it and that is why I didn't mention it. Thanks for bringing it up!

tls1995 said...

Can we go withyou?!?!

Growing up in the Springfield area I tend to take the Lincoln Attratctions for granted.

My brothers and I used to ride our bikes around Oakridge Cemetary (where the Tomb is) after school and I have spent more days than I can count wondering around the Lincoln Home Area and the "Old" State Museum. I haven't had a chance to go to the New Museam yet.

Diane Vespa said...

Absolutely tls. My Mom wants to go too. I think I might even organize something yet this Fall! I'll post the details on the forums.