Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Springfield Visit

I went to Springfield, Illinois, last weekend.  Springfield tourism is about Abraham Lincoln, and that is why I went there. Springfield is the capital of Illinois, but political presence was not as evident as the remembered presence of the deceased President.  The city seemed quiet to me after living with the ongoing activity of Madison.

Lincoln reminders abound, especially statues. Other reminders include his home, his tomb, the presidential museum and library, the old state capitol building (Illinois now uses a different capitol building), Lincoln’s law office, and even a church pew that his family used.  A church pew in a different church than the family church and that Lincoln didn’t use was a bit over the top for me, so we didn’t try to find it. We left our car at the hotel and walked to everything except the tomb, to which we drove. It was a good but short adventure.

My daughter Dolores (a.k.a. Dede and Dori) and her boyfriend Tom came with me. My little Toyota Yaris was filled with us and our bags. It’s a small car. We made the best of it.

Tourist attractions are easy to find. Springfield has at least two visitor centers that were staffed with helpful people. We needed to buy tickets for the Lincoln home. No luck at the visitor centers; we had to go to the visitor building near the home to get them. We were given maps of the downtown area, so it was easy to find other places of interest.

The Lincoln home, a National Historic Site, is restored to what apparently was its appearance when the Lincolns lived there. That was our first stop and the beginning of what I called the B.S. factor emanating from tour guides. Our guide in the home had plenty of anecdotes to tell about the family, and some of it probably was true. The house was very interesting, with floral wallpaper and very colorful carpets. The historic preservation people even preserved the family’s outhouse. The sidewalk is a boardwalk. The street is gravel with blacktop showing through. Good attempts at showing how people lived in Lincoln’s time.

I enjoyed the Abraham Lincoln Historical Museum and the old state capitol building. The historical museum is composed of exhibits that include a replica of Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana, and the front of the White House as it formerly appeared, into which visitors proceed to see other display areas. We saw a very poignant replica of a slave auction. A few video clips were playing. I especially liked one that featured the late Tim Russert doing a television newscast of the 1860 presidential election campaign. He did it in the style of today’s campaigns. He told the campaign story and mixed in fake political commercials sponsored by fake pacs. I laughed a lot. It was a good way to bring the 1860 story to life. Needless to say, Russert recorded this before he died.

The old state capitol building shows the simplicity of government as it was in the 1860s. We didn’t stay with the tour guide, whose anecdotal commentary carried the B.S. factor pretty far and made the tour very  long. The rooms are furnished in the style of the period and are well labeled. Large painted portraits of famous people are there, including George Washington and his young companion LaFayette, who assisted in the American Revolution.

We had prioritized our visit so we didn’t see everything due to time constraints. We omitted the Presidential Library.  We walked past the governor’s mansion and skipped the tour of the Frank Lloyd designed home after hearing that the tour would take an hour. We found the Episcopal Cathedral but it was locked. Restaurants were satisfactory but not nearly as fascinating as the restaurants around the capitol building in Madison. We found no Occupy Wall Street demonstrators around the Illinois capital building. Our last stop was the Lincoln tomb, which is occupied by the family, with the exception of son Robert, who is buried somewhere else.

A stop on the way to Springfield was at Starved Rock State Park near Ottawa, Illinois . We climbed the rock. It had stairways that made the climb relatively easy for most people. The view at the top is worth the climb. I’m glad we stopped there.