Road Trip: Springfield, Ill.
State capitols are rarely destination points unless you're a politician or lobbyist. But there are exceptions, such as Austin, Texas, and Springfield, Ill.
Stephen Spielberg's film “Lincoln” has reignited America's never-dormant interest in its 16th president, who came to the personal and professional maturity that propelled him to the White House during the more than two decades he lived in Springfield.
The newest of the Lincoln attractions is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which opened in 2005 and combines scholarship with showmanship using modern technology. Undeniably popular, its dioramas and other popular elements go too far for some scholars, but others academics admire its use of visual displays to reach a wide audience.
Other projects have restored the Old State Capitol building Lincoln knew so well and his nearby office, in addition to his home and the homes of his neighbors, which also are open to visitors.
Springfield began a History Comes Alive program of re-enactment events in period costumes in 2010. They run daily this year from June 7 through Labor Day in the historic downtown district where Lincoln worked, beginning this season with a Civil War medical encampment.
Springfield also is home to one of the best preserved of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings, the Dana-Thomas House, and a campus of the University of Illinois, a botanical garden, zoo and other urban amenities.
Pittsburghers will find themselves thinking of Primanti Bros. if they order Springfield's famous horseshoe sandwich because it features french fries and melted cheese over the meat.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Planning for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum began in 1991 and culminated in a dedication ceremony in 2005, which attracted 25,000 people including President George W. Bush and future president Barack Obama. It has already been seen by 3 million visitors.
Museum planners wanted it to be entertaining and included interactive exhibits, theaters, a children's area called Mrs. Lincoln's attic, and a “holavision” presentation of ghosts interacting with live actors.
The library draws on more than a century of work collecting Lincoln materials and includes the original copy of the Gettysburg Address, more than 3,000 photographs and prints and memorabilia such as his traveling shaving mirror and a son's toy canon.
Details: 800-610-2094 or www.presidentlincoln.org
The first of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's “blank check” commissions, the Dana-Thomas House was built in 1902 in his early “Prairie” style. It has 35 rooms on three floors, 12,000 square feet of living space in all.
The house includes what is said to be the largest collection of site-specific art glass and furniture designed by Wright. The increasing spaces going into the house served, among other functions, to display socialite Susan Lawrence Dana's enthusiasm for Japanese art, which was shared by Wright. The original mural by George Niedecken in the dining room draws on a sumac motif, which also inspired the architect.
Details: 217-782-6776 or www.dana-thomas.org
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The future president purchased the only home he would ever own in 1844. There, Lincoln and wife Mary built their life and coped with the death of one of their four boys.
The mundane can be extraordinary in this context. Walking up the stairs, seeing the small desk at which Lincoln worked and studied, and looking out the windows he did, all can evoke emotions which complement the grand scale of his words and achievements.
Oak Ridge Cemetery
Second only to Arlington National Cemetery in number of visitors, Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery receives more than 1 million people every year.
Lincoln's tomb there was dedicated in 1874 and is the final resting place for the president, his wife and three of their children.
The large structure includes a rotunda with plaques featuring excerpts from Lincoln's speeches, including the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural, along with flags and sculptures.
The 137-acre cemetery also has memorials for World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Details: 217-789-2340 or www.oakridgecemetery.org
Old State Capitol State Historic Site
Lincoln played a role in moving the state capitol of Illinois to Springfield, where the capitol building he knew was built in 1837. It held both chambers of the legislature, the governor's office and the state supreme court.
In addition to serving in the legislature, Lincoln argued cases before the court in this building, where he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 1858 with his “House Divided” speech.
In 1876, Illinois opened a larger statehouse four blocks away, with the old building then serving for the courts. The Old State Capitol was completely renovated starting in 1966, stone by stone, to the appearance Lincoln knew.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Office State Historic Site
Lincoln's only surviving law office faced the Old State Capitol. It was in a large brick structure built in 1841, which also housed a post office and U.S. district court.
The unpretentious office included a small desk, table, sofa, plain wooden chairs and a small bookshelf. Lincoln was in the office only half the year. The rest of the time, he was traveling for cases in circuit courts in eastern and central Illinois.
In 1872, part of the building was demolished, but Lincoln's office was preserved. In 1985, it became a state-owned historic site and has been restored to its 1840s appearance.