Looking for Lincoln in Springfield

Originally posted Aug. 8, 2009

Monday morning my family embarked on a quintessential Illinois road trip, our first visit to Springfield, but we almost didn’t make it out of the driveway.

“You got any change?” my husband Todd asked.

“A little, I guess, why?”

“For the tolls,” he replied.

“Tolls? We don’t have any tolls, I don’t think…” I wondered, consulting the MapQuest printout in my lap.

But he’d been poring over his atlas before I got in the car and had his own ideas. “Yeah we do, for a few miles on 88,” he said.


“Alright,” Todd said, through clenched teeth, “Let’s see your directions.” He was indulging me, but he wasn’t happy.

I wanted him to be happy.

“Hey, let’s let her decide,” I quipped, gesturing toward the Garmin Gps on the dashboard, which dispenses directions with that trademark persnickety female voice. My gift to Todd for Father’s Day, it would be her first test on a real road trip.

He conceded and I had to suppress a smile when it became clear that the Garmin lady agreed with me.

Isn’t it amazing that such a classic marital trouble spot, the vexing issue of directions, can be arbitrated by a simple electronic device? If only we could get the Garmin lady to pipe up during our other debates. She could issue that testy “recalibrating” comment whenever one of us gets cranky, but I digress.


The Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield was our first stop. Noah was particularly moved by the diorama of wax figurines depicting a slave auction, especially the heavily muscled and scarred back of a shirtless man in shackles. Todd appreciated the balanced view that was presented regarding the politics of Lincoln’s time and I was amazed to see Lincoln’s blood-stained gloves from the night of his assassination. We all got a kick out of the holographic special effects during the ‘Ghosts of the Library’ show.

We also visited the Lincoln – Herndon Law Office, the only one of Lincoln’s offices which still stands today. We learned that visitors from around the world still make teary pilgrimages to Lincoln’s law office to pay homage to the ‘great emancipator’ and to take off their shoes and ‘walk where Lincoln walked.’ This prompted little Holly to kick off her – flip flops and do the same.

The highlight of our trip, as far as the kids were concerned, was the hotel. We were guests of the Springfield Hilton, a cylindrical skyscraper and easily the tallest building outside Chicago at 30 stories, located in the heart of the historic district. We really appreciated being able to leave our car in the hotel garage while we explored on foot. With its comfortably appointed rooms and modern amenities (the kids couldn’t believe there was even a Starbuck’s in the hotel lobby), the Hilton provided a nice complement to all of the 19


century sites we visited. Another plus? Whenever we looked up we could spot our hotel. It was like a beacon for my tour-weary troupe. There was no need to consult a map.

Hence,no debates about directions once we finished touring Lincoln’s home and neighborhood. Bliss.

The kids had been clamoring for the hotel pool for hours that first day, so Todd indulged them after we had dinner at Saputo’s Italian restaurant (a lucky find which we stumbled upon during our walk back to the Hilton) – but not before they took a gander at the view from our room on the 24


floor. After the kids stopped jousting with the bolster pillows on the beds they pressed their noses against the huge window.

“I have tingly toes,” Holly giggled, as we spotted Lincoln’s neighborhood far below, but it was the stunning view of the new capitol building that really wowed us, particularly after dark when it was all lit up.


The next morning, after a fabulous buffet breakfast at our hotel, we braved the rain to visit Lincoln’s tomb at the beautiful Oak Ridge Cemetery three miles away where we inquired about paranormal activity.

“Yeah. Lincoln and I play chess every night,” the tomb guard said gamely, as he pulled up a stool on his side of the velvet rope inside Lincoln’s burial chamber and sat down.

After he had his fun with us he reported that tomb staff actually does report hearing a strange knocking sound every now and then, but that’s about it.

The drizzly rain and curious story didn’t deter Noah and me from exploring the temporary tomb at the bottom of the hill which first housed Lincoln’s remains, but it wasn’t long before a clap of thunder sent us scrambling back up the hill and back to our car like the scaredy cats from the Scooby-Doo gang.

Later we strolled through New Salem, a living history museum located 20 miles northwest of Springfield, which depicts life in the simple settlement where Lincoln’s passion for a career in law blossomed before he moved to Springfield. Other things blossomed there too, including his feelings for Ann Rutledge; his reportedly unrequited first love who died of ‘fever,’ about whom historians remain conflicted. I couldn’t get enough Lincoln lore, but by then the kids and Todd had, so as I continued ‘looking for Lincoln’ they ditched me in favor of ice cream cones and souvenirs at the gift shop.

It was time to power-up the Garmin lady and go home.

The morning after our trip I awoke with a cramp in my calf. Too much walking ‘where Lincoln walked,’ but I don’t regret it.

What I do regret is that we only spent one night in Springfield. We never made it to Lincoln’s Presidential Library, the old and new Capitol buildings or even to the legendary Cozy Dog Drive-In, reputed to be the home of the first corn-dog and a popular stop on the famed Route 66, so we’ll just have to make another trip someday.

But not without better walking shoes -and the Garmin lady.

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