Road Trip Destination: 'Lincoln Trail' in Virginia
You've got to be some kind of serious cinematic curmudgeon to not be swayed by “Lincoln.” Stephen Spielberg has always had his detractors among serious film critics — nobody can be that popular and good, right? And, historians can always probably find a nit or two to pick with the movie. Then, there's the folks who still blame ol' Honest Abe for that whole “The War of Northern Aggression” thing.
Haters aside, “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is filmmaking of the highest order. It's the kind of movie that should be shown in schools. Not for mythologizing a historic figure, but for the opposite — humanizing him, and for depicting the unwieldy sausage-making of legislating against an entrenched opposition that is the heart of American democracy.
The state of Virginia is gamely celebrating the larger-than-life man, and the movie, which was shot entirely within the state. It contains many of the war's most important battlefields, already a well-trod path for tourists. “Lincoln” was shot mostly in and around the state capitol (and erstwhile capitol of the Confederacy) Richmond, and key battleground Petersburg. (There are discounts for many of these attractions if the “Travel the Path of ‘Lincoln' ” offer is mentioned.)
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.
The stars of “Lincoln” holed up in this luxurious grand hotel while shooting. The Jefferson was built several decades after the Civil War, in 1895, and reflects the Gilded Age's opulence and refinement — particularly the multilevel lobby and grand staircase of polished marble, which already looks like a glamorous Hollywood set.
In addition to actors playing presidents, 12 actually have stayed at the Jefferson over the years.
The Lemaire Restaurant at the hotel was a favorite among cast and crew, and has added several “Lincoln”-theme items, like “President Lincoln's Famous Oyster Stew” and a “Milk Punch” cocktail (Lincoln loved milk, apparently), made with vanilla beans, sugar and apple brandy.
Details: 804-788-8000; www.jeffersonhotel.com
River City Segs
Segways are one way to get a sense of historic Richmond without working too hard, which is pretty useful.
River City Segs follows the “Lincoln” movie trail, Lincoln's actual impact on the city, and iconic Civil War locations, like the White House of the Confederacy and the Historic Tredegar Iron Works (which was kind of like the South's version of Pittsburgh at the time). Plus, the only statue of Lincoln in the South.
Details: 804-353-6105; www.rivercitysegs.com
The Maymont Mansion was built by James and Sallie Dooley in the 1880s, and the Gilded Age mansion opened to the public as a museum after Mrs. Dooley's death in 1925. Now, you can book a private carriage ride along the same road that was used in “Lincoln” for a key scene between the president and Mary Todd Lincoln.
A 100-acre estate surrounds the Maymont Mansion, which includes a Nature & Visitor Center and Japanese gardens.
Details: 804-358-7166; www.maymont.org
Virginia State Capitol, Richmond
A guided tour titled “Looking for Lincolns” draws parallels between the Lincolns (real and fictional) who walked here.
Here, visitors can see the rooms used to shoot scenes in the film, and see how sections of the Capitol were changed to become the 1865 White House and U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Petersburg National Battlefield
The Petersburg battlefield was enormous, and if taken as a single event, the longest battle of the war. Seeing the whole thing involves time and travel. City Point was a major logistics hub for the Union Army laying siege to the city, and gets screentime in “Lincoln.” Other than that, the Eastern Front Visitor Center and Park Tour Road is the usual place to start, and orient oneself toward the vast, armed struggle that took place around Petersburg. There's a motor tour available that includes important sites like Fort Stedman and The Crater.
Details: 804-732-3531, ext. 204; www.nps.gov/pete