ILLINOIS: Land of Lincoln and lots of Corn

May 21, 2020

After leaving the Hoosier State we decided to visit the last of the Great Lake states: Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  

 

 

Our first stop was Illinois. We discovered that this is a state with not much to see, but a lot to talk about. In fact, if you could carve out Chicago (as is the wont of many Illinoisians), there is only one reason to visit and that is to walk in the footsteps of our 16th president: Abraham Lincoln.

 

So we found a campground in Peoria, IL., a four hour drive away from our previous site in Indiana. The campground we chose was Millpoint RV Park.

 

 

 

Nestled against the Illinois River, this rustic campground (we give it 3.5/5.0 stars), was a little run down, dirt roads and pads, and apparently subject to flooding every now and again (hopefully more "again" than "now"). All in all, not a great place to stay but not bad if you're passing through.

At our first opportunity, we decided to drive into Springfield, the State's capital, to get a lay of the land.

 

After driving past mile after mile of corn fields..

 

..And whatever crop this is [my default guess is beans. It's always beans]....

 

...you reach the city, looking as if it was dropped from an aircraft into the middle of farmland.

 

 

Okay, so the above sign is not found in the actual city of Springfield. This is more like it:

 

 

For some reason, I always expect the capital of a state, the seat of government, the fount of its political power, to be a bustling metropolis. Vibrant. Large. Busy. Exciting. Important. Lots of well dressed power-brokers walking briskly between urgent appointments. But many of these mid-western states have unimpressive capitals. And, unfortunately, Springfield is no different. It is a rather sleepy and forgetful place. Aside from the capitol building, it is indistinguishable from any other mid-western town. Its architecture was a bland mix of the old and.. the not so old. It reminded me a lot of Cleveland, only much smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The total lack of foot or automobile traffic on these unretentive streets really came as a surprise. The above pictures were taken on a Tuesday afternoon around 4:00pm [well before the "lock down"] and nobody was around. The only open eating establishment we found was in the lobby of a small hotel. Not much else was going on. I guess folks have gone home to tend to their fields.

And now, on to the good things about Springfield.

 

Here is the Mecca of American history:

 

 

The homestead of Abraham Lincoln from 1844 to 1861.

 

 

If only these clapboards could talk..

 

 

This is the only home Lincoln ever owned, and the house he was living in when elected President. We wondered how many times he walked up and down these steps. How many times did he look up, from the spot we are standing and think he had done well for himself? How many times did he stop at this gate to watch his children play, wave at passersby in their horse-drawn wagon, or perhaps yell at his neighbor for letting their dog run in his yard (he was human, you know)? Like I said, if only these clapboards could talk.

 

Below are a few pictures of the interior:

 

 

 

 

 

It was a short commute for the future president to his place of employment. A few blocks away was the building that housed his law practice.

 

 

His practice was on the third floor of this building from 1843 - 1852, which was located right across the street from the (former) capitol building.

 

 

 

This majestic Greek-Revival styled building, is constructed of locally quarried yellow Sugar Creek limestone and used from 1840-1876. 

 

In this building, Lincoln served eight years as a state lawmaker; pleaded cases before the state supreme court; made his famous "House Divided" speech in June, 1858; and, tragically, in May 1865, was returned to lay in state prior to his final burial in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery.

 

 

[interesting tidbit: In 1876, grave robbers broke into Lincoln's unguarded crypt and attempted to steal his remains.. but more on that later in this blog]

 

Another interesting fact about the old State Capitol is that from these steps Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the president of the United States.

 

 

Here are a few pictures from the interior of the building:

 

The House chamber.

 

The Senate chamber under the watchful eye of the Marquis de Lafayette.

 

The Supreme Court chamber.

 

The polished lobby of the building, still looking regal after a hundred and fifty years.

 

 

In the lobby hangs the flag carried by the 95th Illinois Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. This regiment served from 1862-1865 and fought under General Grant during the Vicksburg campaign.

 

Also standing in the lobby is a statue of this jolly fellow:

 

Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas. This attorney turned politician, was one of the Democratic Party nominees for president in the 1860 election which was won by Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. Douglas had previously bested Lincoln in the 1858 Illinois election for the United States Senate, which is famously known for the Lincoln–Douglas debates which focused on state's rights and slavery.

 

Not far away sits the new and improved State Capitol building.

 

 

Its tall central dome and tower roofs, are covered in zinc to provide a silvery facade which does not weather. With a total height of 361 ft, this building is the nation's tallest non-skyscraper capitol, even exceeding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

 

No building in the city is allowed to be taller.

 

 

Here are some interior shots:

 

 The House Chamber.

 

 On the third floor looking down upon the ground level.

 

That's a lot of steps!

 

The ground level.

 

 

 

Another view of the lobby.

 

 

[interesting tidbit: when this building first opened it had water-powered elevators]

 

After a while, many of these capitol buildings begin to look alike. Plenty of shiny marble.. Greek-Revival.. Statues of long-forgotten politicians.. Columns.. yadda yadda yadda. But this building was uniquely elegant in its blending of colorful marble, a grand staircase, sparkling chandeliers, silvery dome, and copper-clad exterior doors.

 

[Another interesting tidbit: I was corrected by our tour guide when I carelessly called this building the "state house". Its proper name, as I was instructed, is the State Capitol building. I later learned the difference between a "State House", a "Capitol Building", and a "Statehouse" (one word).

 

It seems the building that contains the office of governor is "technically" called the Capitol building. The building where the legislature meets is the State House (which may not always be on the same campus as the capitol building). If they both work under the same roof, its can be called either a State House, a Statehouse, or the State Capitol. Of course, there is always one state that refuses to play by the rules; my home state of Delaware. They call their seat of government: Legislative Hall.

 

Of the fifty states:

39 use the term State Capitol;

8 use State House;

2 use Statehouse; and

1 has something completely different.

 

So the rule is.. there are no fixed rules when it comes to capitol building designations.

 

There's more information about this interesting topic at this Wikipedia page.]

 

LINCOLN TOMB STATE HISTORIC SITE:

 

Located at the Oak Ridge Cemetery is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife and three of his four sons.

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the bronze prototype casting of the statue that sits in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

 

 

 

The interior of the memorial is constructed of marble from Minnesota, Missouri, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Utah, Italy, Spain, France, and Belgium.

 

 

It is an interesting place to visit and see how our 16th President and most of his family have been memorialized.

 

ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM:

 

Wow!

 

I almost hate to use the word "museum" to describe this place. While most museums are dry and dusty sanctuaries of historical artifacts. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is more of like a Disney ride through the life of Abraham Lincoln.

 

 

It pulls you through as no other museum I've visited.

 

 

From his humble beginnings (the cabin is actually a life-sized version of his boyhood home)..

 

 

To his difficult climb to the White House, his life story unfolds before your eyes.

 

 

His family life and the heartache that he faced..

 

 (I think we've all had days like this)

 

 

To the issue that gripped the hearts of many and tore the nation asunder..

 

 

He and his administration faced the herculean task of destroying one leg of the institution without shattering the whole.

 

 

The many weighty decisions he faced during the Civil War aged him noticeably.

 

At the war's end, taking the break from the burden of "binding the nation's wounds", he enjoyed an evening of relaxation at the Ford's Theater.

 

 

Unfortunately, we know how this play ended.

 

 

The last exhibit is a somber recreation of Lincoln's coffin as it laid in state at the Illinois Capitol Building.

 

The great thing about this museum is the use of special effects. The "Ghost of the Library" presentation uses Holavision® to magically bring an interactive Lincoln and his story to life (a truly amazing show). Special lighting, sounds of cheering crowds, chilled air, and pouring rain are used throughout to touch your heart and engage your emotions.

 

One exhibit I particularly enjoyed was a four minute retrospective of the fluid battle-front during the civil war. You can watch as the Confederacy swells and contracts over the course of the war along with the growing casualty count.

 

 

Young or old, if you have even a passing interest in Honest Abe, make time in your schedule to visit this museum.

 

[FYI: I found out later that this museum was designed by BRC Imagination Arts a creative arts design company. They designed the experience first then built the museum around it. Well done, BRC!]

 

I picked up this t-shirt at the museum bookstore:

 

 

It garners the most interesting responses from people across the political spectrum!

DANA THOMAS (FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT) HOUSE:

 

Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet." --Frank Lloyd Wright

 

As many of my readers know, Lorraine and I enjoy visiting  Frank Lloyd Wright designed structures whenever we come across them in our travels. He was as prolific an architect as he was controversial.  His design style was organic and he believed that buildings "should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings".

 

His creative period spanned more than 70 years, in which he designed more than 1,000 structures, of which 532 were completed. Approximately 400 are still standing.

 

While in Springfield, we went to visit the Dana-Thomas House.

 

 

This impressive home was built in 1902 for patron Susan Lawrence Dana (heiress to a substantial fortune, including silver mines in the Rocky Mountains). It is located in the "Aristocracy Hill" section of the city. The home was designed to reflect the relatively flat landscape of the state of Illinois, and the Japanese aesthetic as expressed in Japanese art.

 

The home has 35 rooms and over 12,000 square feet of living space which includes 3 main levels and 16 varying levels in all. It had several novel conveniences that eventually became common place like electric lights.

 

 The back yard.

 

Taking pictures inside was forbidden. These photographs are courtesy of Andrew Pielage

 

 The dining room.

 

 

The sitting room.

 

 

The main entryway.

 

The "Flower in the Crannied Wall" Statue designed by FLW.

 

The great room used for entertaining guests.

 

FLW was a master of using space, natural light, stained-glass, and organic materials. Low-pitched roofs, overhanging eaves, and open floor plans are the hallmark of his style. And this house is no different. Every room, every corner, every stick of furniture, and every open space serves a particular purpose. He was a minimalist of sorts. Less is more. Clutter forbidden. Very few closets and no storage spaces. Rather sterile when compared to modern day designs, but its appeal is in its timelessness. A seamless integration of nature and function.

 

This tour was very memorable and we again were amazed (and transfixed) by the ability of Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home that pulls you in, sits you down, and tells you a story.

 

 

"No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”

 

THE KIDNAPPING OF LINCOLN'S BODY:

 

To wrap up this post, I wanted to mention one of the most interesting and bizarre true stories I've ever come across. Brazen in its purpose yet bumbling in its execution.

 

In 1876, Chicago police broke up a small gang of counterfeiters by arresting their master engraver. Left without their primary source of income, the remaining gang members decided to free their colleague. But how? Since grave robbing was all the rage around this time (to plunder the victim of valuables and sell their remains to medical schools), they thought to themselves, "go big or go broke". They decided to kidnap the body of Abraham Lincoln from his above ground crypt and use it as leverage. They would demand $200,000 in cash and a full pardon for the Engraver.

 

No groundskeeper on site. No night watchman. The only thing standing between Lincoln's body and the would-be grave robbers was a single padlock on the tomb's chamber door. Hard to believe.

 

 

Two members of the gang traveled from Chicago to Springfield and began staking out the cemetery.

 

(the perpetrators of the plot: Terrence Mullen and Jack Hughes)

 

They developed a plan: they would steal Lincoln’s body, load it onto a wagon, and, using relays of horses, speed it some two hundred miles away to the sand dunes of southern Lake Michigan. There they would bury the body and wait for the governor to meet their demands.

 

Having no grave-robbing experience, they decided to hire someone who did. But they made a significant mistake. Their new hire, was an informant for the Secret Service. Agents began tailing the men.

 

On the night of the crime November 6, 1876, the three men made their way to the Oak Ridge Cemetery. Here the comedy of errors commenced. Although skilled criminals, the two founding members were unable to pick the lock (apparently its not as easy as shown on television), and had to locate a hacksaw to cut it off.

 

Once inside the chamber, after lifting off the ornamental marble cover, they found the 500lb. cedar-and-lead coffin was far more cumbersome than they had expected. As they were considering their options, Secret Service agents descended and arrested the two men. 

 

Although I have been brief in my description of the incident, the actual story has far more unbelievable twists and turns. It is well worth your time to investigate further.

 

If I had to rate the attractions of Springfield in the order of interest, it would be:

 

1) Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum [two enthusiastic thumbs up!]

2) Lincoln's home

3) Dana Thomas House [if Frank Lloyd Wright architecture interests you]

4) State Capitol Building [just don't screw up the official name]

5) Lincoln's Tomb

6) Old State Capitol Building

 

I hope you enjoyed this blog entry. My next one will be about our travels through the land of Laverne and Shirley: Wisconsin.

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