Springfield, Illinois, In Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois. The Museum is to the left, the Library is to the right

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017, continued

After my visit to the Lincoln Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery and a quick stop to drop off my luggage at the room where I’ll be staying, I continue my Springfield journey downtown at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, 112 N. Sixth St. It’s a large complex, the two public buildings each stretching the length of one city block along N. Sixth. It has a very late-1990’s – early 2000’s style, neither particularly handsome nor offensive in my view, just… generic. I associate it with municipal buildings such as city halls, libraries, and large post offices, perhaps because so many were built in this general style in my native California throughout my teens and my early adulthood.

I start with the Museum at the northeast corner of N. Sixth and E. Jefferson. After passing through the foyer and security entrance, I step into a large central room, with very tall ceilings and a life-size family grouping of the Lincoln family. I find I’ve neglected to take pictures of this, I think because I don’t like the sculptures much. For the most part, I don’t care for sculptures that attempt to recreate historical figures in a hyper-realistic way. These ones look like giant dolls: the hair looks like cheap wigs; the postures are stiff and slightly unnatural; and the face paint is a little off, like not-quite-successful funeral-parlor makeup. This one of those sorts of things like playing the bagpipe or the violin, I think: you need to get it just right or the result is unpleasant. The overall effect of these figures, to me, is a little creepy and more than a little campy.

‘Satire on Slavery’ exhibit featuring ‘Fragment on Pro-Slavery Theology’. In these 1858 notes, Abraham Lincoln mocked pro-slavery arguments. On exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Springfield

Still, overall, I like the museum well enough, and I do enjoy most of the life-size, walk-through dioramas of imagined scenes from Abraham Lincoln’s life. The figures within them look better in the low light and they are surrounded by original and recreated interiors, structures, and artifacts of interest, so they are properly illustrative and educational for a museum. They do also have something of an amusement park quality but, hearing the reactions of the visiting children and the discussions following their questions, they appear to be effective in sparking interest in Lincoln’s history.

‘President Abraham Lincoln is blamed for the Civil War’s huge human toll and for deflecting the issue with his notorious storytelling in this 1864 cartoon by Joseph E. Baker.’ – Image and its caption courtesy of the Library of Congress. I don’t remember that a reproduction of this particular cartoon is displayed in the ALPM, but it’s representative of the sort of cartoons on display in the Whispering Room exhibit. As you may know, or may remember from one of my earlier accounts, Lincoln was notorious, for good or ill, for his penchant for storytelling

Pocket compass and sundial which belonged to Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather of the same name. He was a Revolutionary War captain and moved from Virginia to Lincoln’s native Kentucky in 1782. ALPL&M, Springfield

There’s one exhibit hall which I find particularly creative and interesting: it’s covered with reproductions satirical political cartoons critical of Lincoln’s real and fabricated opinions and policies. It’s an effective way to reveal the political issues and contrasting beliefs of the time, and the ways in which our nation was so deeply divided, just as we are deeply divided now. Comedy and satire, then as now, are two of the most efficient ways of communicating the nuances of issues that otherwise can be difficult to clearly explain. I did hear one grandmother use this as a teaching moment to tell her grandchild that, see, it’s not nice to make fun of presidents, just like people are making fun of Donald Trump today! I think she may have missed the point of the exhibit a little.

I also find many of the original artifacts on exhibit particularly interesting and I wish there was more space dedicated to the exhibit of these than to dioramas. There’s a tiny and delicate looking pocket sundial and compass set belonging to Captain Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s grandfather. They must not have been so delicate, however, since they traveled with him from Virginia to Kentucky in 1782, quite a rugged trek in those days.

Original front door key and deed of sale of the Lincoln family home in Springfield, on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

An original plaster model by Gutzon Borglum for his 1908 marble bust of Lincoln is also on display. The bronze bust of Lincoln at the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield and the other smaller one in Peoria Heights are also derived from this plaster cast. As you can see, and as the accompanying placard in the museum describes, Borglum left the left side of Lincoln’s face unfinished and without an ear. He explained that he thought the right side of Lincoln’s face was fully developed and much more expressive while the left side was ‘immature.’ However, when he sculpted Lincoln into the Mt. Rushmore National Monument, Lincoln’s head is positioned so that the left side of his face is more readily seen. But there as here, his left ear is unsculpted. I wonder how long it took Borglum to decide where to place Lincoln’s head among the others on Mt. Rushmore, given that he preferred the right side of his face. In Borglum’s original model for Mt Rushmore, the left side of Lincoln’s face is fully sculpted, ear and all. But Mt. Rushmore is unfinished. It was even less finished when Borglum died, but his son, whom he named Lincoln, by the way, completed the sculpture to the point we see today. I also wonder if Lincoln Borglum decided not to finish carving the left side of Lincoln’s face based on this plaster cast and on his father’s remarks.

Plaster cast by Gutzon Borglum for 1908 marble bust now in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building. On display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

After touring the Museum, I cross the street and step into the Library to see if there are any more interesting artifacts on exhibit. There are only a few, and none that I find that are directly linked to Lincoln. The Library’s soon to close, so I’ll return another time to explore it more fully and to get some writing done.

Old State Capitol Building at 6th and Adams Streets, Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln had many associations with this building and its predecessor, a brick courthouse in the center of the square which was torn down to make room for this one

I head south for one block, turn right, and enter the Greek Revival Old State House to my left. It’s a handsome, classical Doric-order building in natural, textured cream and pinkish-tan stone with a smoothly painted off-white tall, narrow, red-roofed dome that looks as if it’s been stuck on top without concern as to whether it will match or not. Nevertheless, the effect is good: it all works together, somehow. It was mainly built between 1837-1840, completed in 1851, and then reconstructed in the 1960’s. It stands by itself among a large grassy lawn and gardens in the public square bordered by E. Washington St, S. 6th St, E. Adams St, and S. 5th St.

Parts of the structure we see here today are original, but much of it had been changed drastically over the years: in 1899, the entire building was raised to insert a new ground floor underneath, and a new dome replaced the old to better harmonize with the building’s changed proportions. The building had quickly become too small to accommodate the staff and the public in this rapidly growing state capital. Even with the addition of another floor, the administrative needs of the city outgrew the old state house and it was moved to a grand new capital building. In 1876, this building became the Sangamon County Courthouse. In the subsequent years, the building survived every successive move in and out of the various county bodies that had been assigned to it. It was the scene of so many great historic moments, especially those associated with the life and death of Lincoln, that all motions to tear it down were firmly opposed and defeated. Finally, in the 1960’s, the historic value of the building was fully realized in a complete restoration. What I see here today is a faithful manifestation of the original design and decor; examinations of old photos reveal that both the interior and exteriors appear almost exactly as they did in Lincoln’s time.

Old State House, Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois, by Clark Bullard for the Historic American Buildings Survey, July 13, 1935. Public domain via the Library of Congress. Notice the ground floor and larger dome that had been added in 1899-1900.

Lincoln had many connections with this site, in the 1831 red-brick courthouse that stood in the middle of the square, and in the state house built here over its former location. In 1901, historian Henry Douglas Giger wrote:

‘The brick court house stood in the middle of the square, and was completed in 1831 at a cost of $6,841.00. It was a two‐story square, brick building, with a hip roof, and cupalo on top, similar to the court houses peculiar to the Mississippi valley at that period, and from the time it was built all the business of the town centered around the square, and the old town on Jefferson street began to decay. The row of small shops on the east end of the north side of the square was called “Chicken Row.” In the fall of 1835 a young man fresh from the prim and dignified courts of New York arrived in Springfield. He wandered into the brick building standing in the center of the square, and saw the judge on his bench with his chair tilted back, his heels higher than his head, a cob pipe in his mouth, his hair all awry, and before him stood a small dark man with long black hair pleading his case. Attentively listening sprawled a long sombre form on the low platform used for the judge’s rostrum. The room was filled with men laughing and smoking. The judge was Stephen T. Logan, acknowledged to be the greatest lawyer Illinois has ever produced. The little man was Stephen A. Douglas the “Little Giant,” and the form on the floor was that of Abraham Lincoln, destined in the years to come to be the two foremost characters in the most formidable crisis the Union ever knew.’

Six years after this scene that Giger described took place, Lincoln would become Logan’s law partner. More on that to come. And as you know, Lincoln’s public debates with the ‘Little Giant’ Douglas 19 and then again 23 years later would catapult him to the national stage. Lincoln attended many court sessions in the old brick courthouse that stood here while he was studying to become a lawyer in the mid-1830’s. After he earned his law license in September of 1836, Lincoln would have argued his early cases here, and then in the larger, grander brick courthouse that was built in 1845 across the street where the building at 104 N. 6th St stands now. That was the county courthouse until it moved back here to its original location in the public square in January of 1876. That second brick courthouse was torn down shortly after that.

Lincoln likely visited that first brick courthouse which stood on this site a few years before he heard Logan argue that 1835 case. On March 26th, 1832, there was a celebration for the successful voyage of the steamer Talisman up the Sangamon River, while Lincoln was running his first political campaign for state legislator when he was 23 years old (he lost that one). He was a shop clerk at the time, with less than one year of formal education, and he hopped on board to pilot the Talisman through this section of the river. Lincoln was an experienced boatman at this point and knew this river well.

Interior of the Hall of Representatives, Old State House, Springfield, Illinois

On October 3rd and 4th, 1854, Lincoln and Douglas held their first debate here at the State House in the Hall of Representatives. It was not a scheduled debate. Douglas was on a cross country campaign to garner public support for his Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-drafted with President Franklin Pierce, which effectively overturned the Missouri Compromise. The 1820 Compromise prohibited slavery in all new territories and states north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri. The 1854 Act would leave the issue up to the individual states and territories to decide for themselves. Douglas, as we’ve seen, defended the Act as an instantiation of popular sovereignty on the principle that people have the right to govern themselves. Lincoln, by his own account, was drawn back into politics by the passage of the Act and his opposition to Douglas’ arguments and tried many times to schedule a public debate with Douglas, but the proud Senator refused to share a stage with this homegrown lawyer and minor ex-politician.

Douglas was originally scheduled to speak outdoors at the Illinois County Fair on October 3rd, but the speech was moved indoors because of the rain. After he delivered his speech in the Hall of Representatives, Lincoln loudly announced that Douglas’ speech would be answered in this same hall the next day, and Douglas could respond if he chose to do so. Douglas apparently felt he had no choice this time, and he appeared on the stage the next day. Lincoln’s three-hour speech on October 4th covered most of the same ground as his Peoria speech delivered two weeks later. It was an effective speech on this occasion, and much more so when he delivered a refined version on the front portico of the old Peoria courthouse on October 16, 1854.

As I was growing up and even still today, I often heard that the Civil War was not really about slavery, it was about states’ rights. The South just wanted to stand up for the right of the people to govern themselves, it was said. It was not just Southern sympathizers and states’-rights proponents who perpetuated this idea, very many American historians did as well. As a child and a young adult, I accepted that received wisdom. But it’s quite clear from the texts of the Lincoln and Douglas debates and from the history of the public controversy surrounding the Dred Scott case, the Missouri Compromise, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, that this was not the case at all. It’s so clear that it’s not, in fact, that I still wonder why anyone believed it then or believes it now. Fortunately, most historians no longer accept that view.

Abraham Lincoln, September 1858, photographer unknown

A key reason why all of these compromises and acts failed to avert the Civil War was that Southern states were often in favor of allowing new territories and states to allow slavery if they chose, but they were not at all in favor of states deciding for themselves whether slaves taken into their territories automatically became free, or of states deciding for themselves whether to enforce federal fugitive slave laws. So, the Southern claim to be on the side of ‘states rights’ was selective, limited to allowing, protecting, and promoting slavery, and nothing else. Otherwise, they insisted that it was the duty of the federal government to protect slave-property rights of Southerners in all states and to enforce fugitive slave laws in free states as well. In short, it was all about slavery, and Douglas’ doctrine of popular sovereignty came to be recognized as the non-solution it was. Lincoln’s election to the Presidency was the signal that the federal government was not going to enforce the right of slaveowners to own human beings against antislavery laws in free states. Therefore, most Southern states seceded from the Union.

Lincoln, having made a careful study and examination of the issues and history of race-based slavery in the United States, knew very well that no number of compromises and acts would effectively resolve the inevitable conflicts between free and slave states. The principles of liberty that the North and hypocritically, the South called upon to defend the rights of their states to defend or counteract slavery were incompatible with that institution. Since that same desire for liberty appears to be a constant in human nature, slaves would always escape to freedom in the North, inevitably leading to those same old fugitive-slave-law-conflicts between the states. And at that time, there was no reason to believe that slavery would just die out anytime soon, given the Dred Scott decision, the compromises that pleased no one for very long, and the constant expansion of the country that kept disrupting the balance of political power between slave and free states. So, at the State House, in the Hall of Representatives where he first confronted Douglas face to face, candidate-for-state-senator Lincoln delivered his famous ‘House Divided Speech‘ on June 16, 1858, in which he clearly and succinctly made that case. He lost the race for the Senate seat to Douglas, but in this case as it so often happened in his political career, Lincoln lost the battle but won the war. Douglas’ platform lost popularity as Lincoln’s reputation grew, and just two and a half years later, Lincoln was elected President of the United States.

Picture of Abraham Lincoln’s lying-in-state canopy in the Hall of Representatives, Old State House, Springfield

Lincoln’s Funeral at the Old State Capitol 1865. Springfield, Illinois. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Almost seven years later, in 1865, Lincoln’s assassinated body lay in state here in the Hall of Representatives. He was no longer the fiery, energetic lawyer and politician seen in this Hall on so many occasions. Lincoln had guided the country through the most horrific war the States had ever seen, freed the slaves (at least on paper; race-based slavery de facto would not be ended until black codes, convict leasing, and other like practices were outlawed well into the twentieth century), saved the Union, and lost a beloved son. He had suffered much and therefore aged much in the few intervening years. I like to think he did not die in vain, but I’m not quite sure what that phrase means. Lincoln could have achieved what he did and not died, and therefore could have achieved much more, so his death was a great waste of potential as well as a great injustice. It’s true that he went from being a hero to many to being a martyr to even more, and many who were doubtful about his legacy became so no longer. The great Frederick Douglass was one of those. And it’s true that his perceived martyrdom went on to inspire many more people to do good in their own lives.

When researching this piece, I discover that our first black President, Barack Obama, chose to announce his candidacy for President here at the Old State Capitol building in February of 2007. I think it’s quite fitting.

To be continued…

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Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Online: Lincoln Timelines and Highlights

Allen, Eric. ‘Creating Cartoons: Art and Controversy.’ Library of Congress Blog, June 2, 2015

Brink, McCormick & Co. ‘Springfield Township, Springfield City.‘ from Atlas of Sangamon County, 1874.

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Giger, Henry Douglas. ‘The Story of the Sangamon County Court House.’ Via the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk website, originally published Apr 29, 1901

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Sangamon County, Illinois; Together with Sketches of its Cities, Villages and Townships … Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens. Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co.,  1881

Jackson, Nicholas. ‘Picture of the Day: Mount Rushmore as Originally Planned‘. The Atlantic, May 16, 2011

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

Looking for Lincoln: various historical/informational placards throughout the Springfield, Illinois and surrounding areas about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln at their associated sites

Old State Capitol (Sangamon County Courthouse).’ Historic Sites Survey, prepared by Stephen Lissandrello for the National Park Service, Apr 28, 1975

MacLean, Maggie. ‘Elizabeth Todd Edwards: Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.’ Civil War Women blog, Jul 28, 2013

Sangamon County Courthouse (Old State Capitol).‘ National Park Service Historic Site nomination paper, prepared by Charles  Shedd, Sep 14, 1961

Athens and Springfield, Illinois, Part 1, In Search of Abraham Lincoln

E. Hargrave and Main Streets in Athens, Illinois

Journal: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois, Monday morning, July 31, 2017

Here I am in the handsomely designed, nicely lit, spacious reading room of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I don’t at this moment require any research materials from the collection, but as I often do, if I find myself with access to a grand space dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge, such as the Reading Room of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building or the National Library of Scotland, I feel the urge to go inside and do some thinking and writing just because I can. So here I am.

On Saturday evening, a sudden weariness and blueness of mood took me by surprise, and for the first time since I left home two weeks ago, I suddenly felt lonely. I realized I had been traveling at an unrelenting pace and it was time to rest. So over the weekend, I did a lot of strolling and lazing between bouts of purposeful touring and research. I watched Allied, a World War II romantic tragedy starring Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt, and enjoyed it very much. I talked to family and friends on the phone, sometimes while walking through grassy parks under tall green trees whose resident cicadas made quite a racket. I wrote postcards, and drank beer, and feasted on a delicious local specialty called a horseshoe, an artery-clogging concoction made from Texas toast, french fries, a sprinkling of vegetables if you so choose (I chose yes), and ground meat topped with a sort of cheese sauce similar to that on a Welsh rarebit. I ordered mine spicy, so it came with hot sauce to pour over it.

So here I am this morning, rested, happy, reconnected with my loved ones and my sense of adventure, planning my itinerary for the rest of today and the next. I’m also thinking about the many things I’ve learned and seen here in and around Springfield…

Abraham Lincoln’s Long Nine Museum, also known as the Rogers’ Building, Athens, Illinois. It used to house the post office and general store, both of which Lincoln somewhat frequently visited through much of the 1830’s

Athens, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017

I drive to Springfield from Peoria, about an hour south, and on the way, I notice a highway sign indicating the exit for an Abraham Lincoln historic site. As I did for the last one to Galesburg, I decide to take this Lincoln detour. A series of signs lead me through lovely green farmlands and tidy business establishments and houses to Athens’ old Main Street neighborhood where there are several sites associated with the life and political career of Lincoln. I park at E. Hargrave and Main, near the brick building at the corner with the ‘Old Milwaukee’ sign, and cross the street to a Looking for Lincoln placard with a Lincoln site map.

Historical placards for the Rogers Building – Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum, Athens, Illinois

Lincoln never lived here in Athens but he did visit, many times; he lived near here in New Salem, more about that later. Athens was a larger, more bustling community than New Salem, and mail delivery was more consistent, too. Lincoln was New Salem’s postmaster from 1833 to 1836, and he came to Athens to pick up the mail occasionally when the Sangamon River, which runs between here and New Salem, was in flood and prevented its delivery.

The post office in Athens, at this time, was located here in the white clapboard Rogers Building on Main St at Jefferson. This building now houses the Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum, which is closed as I peer through its windows.Some years after Lincoln’s stint as the New Salem Postmaster, he and the other eight members of the Illinois State Legislature were honored here with a celebratory dinner in the upstairs banquet room on August 3rd, 1837. The dinner celebrated their success in getting the capital of Illinois moved from Vandalia to the more bustling Springfield. This iteration of the Legislature, nicknamed the ‘Long Nine’ because of their average height of 6 feet, included Ninian W. Edwards, the husband of his future wife Mary Todd’s sister Elizabeth. Ninian and Elizabeth will re-enter my story later on during my Springfield journey.

Detail of Looking for Lincoln placard showing a 1870’s tintype of the Rogers Building. As you can see, the buildings, front and back, look essentially the same today, sans chimneys.

I continue south on Main St, cross Madison, then continue about one-third of the long block between Madison and Little Streets. The fourth house on the left is at 400 Main St, the site of the home of Robert Wilson, one of Lincoln’s fellow Long Nine legislators, according to the Looking for Lincoln map. Lincoln stayed here at Wilson’s place on many occasions when he was in town, even borrowing a horse from Mrs. Wilson in 1836 while on campaign. Perhaps Wilson, as a fellow ‘long’ man, had a bed that Lincoln could fit in!

Robert Wilson used to live at this site where Abraham Lincoln would stay sometimes while in Athens, according to the Looking for Lincoln map. This house doesn’t look original to me, I’m supposing the map marks the site, not the building.

In any case, as well as serving in the legislature together, they were fellow political campaigners and remained friends for a long time. During the Civil War, he joined the Union Army, then Lincoln gave him an appointment as a paymaster. In those days, it was common practice for Presidents and their administrations to grant government appointments to friends and political supporters. Hopefully, these appointees would have appropriate experience, but this was entirely up to the discretion of the one doing the appointing. At times, Lincoln did appoint people he believed had the experience and/or ability for the position; at other times, he traded desirable appointments political favors. As the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln accurately portrays, this was a key tactic that Lincoln used for getting enough votes to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, legally abolishing slavery throughout the U.S.. After the Civil War and the new depths of corruption in the administration of Lincoln’s next elected successor, his General-in-Chief of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant, the civil service was reformed so that, at least ostensibly, appointees were given the jobs solely based on merit and relevant experience.

One more thing: Wilson, in his 1866 description of Lincoln’s thought processes, made me aware of the word ratiocination. Nice. I like learning new words that are fun to say aloud.

Banks Hall’s Tavern site on the northwest corner of Mill and Jefferson Sts in Athens, Illinois. The house which stands here today retains parts of the original tavern, which was a remodeled frame house built by Abner Banks Hall’s father.

I double back on Main St and turn left on Jefferson St to my next destination at Jefferson and Mill. On the northwest corner, there’s a blue clapboard two-story house with white trim. This house incorporates the old Banks Hall’s Tavern, where Lincoln stayed and ate sometimes. The proprietors were Abner Banks Hall and Helen Jennett Francis Hall. Helen was Simeon Francis’ niece, and Simeon Francis came to have many close connections with Lincoln. I’ll return to that story when I’m in Springfield.

Banks Hall’s Tavern was the best place to get a bite to eat on that part of the stage route between Beardstown, New Salem, and Springfield. Perhaps he stayed here when he was a local surveyor as well; he surveyed the new Sangamon Town Road, which angled to meet Main St from the south and west, in 1834. He had become a surveyor as a likely way to supplement his meager living as a postmaster. His first two runs for political office had failed, his militia service had been brief and relatively uneventful, and his first foray into business as a shop owner had failed and left him in debt. Surveying was a skilled trade but one that could be self-taught for free, so thus Lincoln did. But he didn’t remain a surveyor for long. The pay was still not that great and his debts were substantial, so he began to teach himself law and again ran for state legislator. This time, he won a seat.

Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

I know that if I continue in the direction I was going, I would get to New Salem before long. However, the day’s getting on and I want to make some good progress exploring Springfield and gathering more information there first, so I pick up the car and continue south.

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017

After about a 20 minute drive, I reach my first Springfield destination: the Lincoln Tomb. I wind through the hilly cemetery with its granite monuments and headstones almost white in the summer sun, and park the car. I round the showy, castellated old caretaker’s building and cross the lawn.

I find that the Lincoln Tomb is absolutely lovely. It’s just about the most elegant, grand while neither overblown or fussy monument one could wish for. There are monumental sculptures surrounding the central towering obelisk which include fighting men, a rearing horse, and Lincoln himself, charged with drama and historical moment. The statues are well spaced and there’s not too many so the ones that are here stand out and invite study. Taste and restraint rule here as much as the desire to do great honor to the man buried below.

Gutzon Borglum’s portrait bust of Lincoln at the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery

There’s a bronze version of the same Gutzon Borglum portrait bust of Lincoln that I saw in Peoria Heights. This one’s larger, and its nose is shiny. I guess people rub it for luck; a giggling family was doing this very thing as I arrive. There’s a statue of David Hume with a shiny big toe on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it shines for the same reason. For some reason, I feel very differently about the Lincoln nose-rubbing than I do of the Hume toe-rubbing. The statue of Hume is on a public street, while Lincoln’s bust is at his tomb in a cemetery. The moment I see those kids jumping up, egged on by their mom with the dad taking pictures, I feel disturbed, even a little offended. My father’s strict injunctions against unruly and disrespectful behavior in the presence of the dead and other solemn places remain deeply instilled in me, I suppose. I feel like scolding them. It also feels disrespectful to mess around with the image of someone’s face, rather than a toe or a sleeve, especially when it serves to disfigure it in some way. It gives Lincoln’s bronze portrait the clownish look of a cartoon image of a drunk with a shiny red nose. Apparently, however, many thousands of my fellow citizens feel differently than I do about this.

Floor plaque showing layout of the Lincoln Tomb and the sculptures with their names and artists, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

I open the front door, which is a single one the size of an ordinary interior door, presumably because such a relatively small entrance is easy to guard against grave robbers, and enter. Yes, grave robbers. At least one attempt has been made to steal Lincoln’s body before, and history is rife with grave-robbing of the tombs of the rich, powerful, and honored dead. When Lincoln’s remains were moved to their final resting place in 1901, ten feet below the Tomb’s central chamber in a concrete-and-steel reinforced vault, the portion of the coffin lid that would cover the head and shoulders was cut open. After a brief view of the face to confirm identity, which was still recognizable after all those decades, the coffin was resealed.

Statue of Lincoln in the center of the antechamber at the Lincoln Tomb, a copy of the statue at his Washington, D.C. memorial

I step into a marble-lined, oval room with a bronze sculpture of Lincoln on a pedestal in the center, a smaller version of the Lincoln Memorial statue in Washington, D.C.. There are many such bronze statues throughout the tomb, smaller versions of larger statues in various places. They are placed in alcoves in corridors that surround the central square room. The burial chamber is in the interrupted-oval room at the north end of the structure, which is above Lincoln’s actual burial vault. A red granite symbolic empty tomb for Lincoln, called a cenotaph, stands in the center. Crypts behind the south wall of this chamber holds the remains of his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of his sons, Edward, William, and Thomas (called Tad). Lincoln’s oldest son Robert wanted to be buried here as well, but his wife decided otherwise. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, as he served briefly in the Union Army and then as the 35th Secretary of War under Presidents James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Lincoln’s only grandson, Abraham Lincoln II (called Jack), was originally buried here, but he was re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery after his father’s death.

Four sculptures from the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

Four more sculptures from the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

The Tomb is as beautiful inside as it is outside, with a very different feel. Outside, the pale granite gleams, and the monument’s structures and sculptures tower and rise. Inside, the marble and granite and bronze glow gently in the lowly-lit rooms, the golden honey atmosphere at least as much a result of the lights as it is of the materials. I suspect the warm tone of these electric lights was chosen to reflect the quality of light of the gas lamps and candles that lit interiors in Lincoln’s time. The mood is warm despite the cold stones and metal, and the place feels close and solemn: it wraps around you just as it does around itself, just as a shroud does the departed. No one rubs any of the facsimiles of Lincoln’s nose in here, though as you can see from the photos, they do rub the toes of his boots.

Abraham Lincoln’s red granite cenotaph in the burial chamber of the Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery

Receiving vault at the north foot of the Lincoln Tomb, the first resting place of Lincoln at Oak Ridge Cemetery, from May to December 1865

I pay my respects and look long at the sculptures and the architecture details, then re-emerge to the hot summer day. Down the hill to the north of the Tomb, there are two more structures of interest. At the north foot of the Tomb’s hill, there’s a pedimented marble vault with an iron gate. This was the initial resting place of Lincoln at Oak Ridge Cemetary in May of 1865, along with the remains of his son William, who had died in 1862, during Lincoln’s first term in office. The caskets remained here, under guard, until December of that year, until they were interred in a temporary vault partway up the ridge towards the Tomb here today. Lincoln, William, and his two other deceased sons were reburied within the unfinished Tomb in 1871.

Tower holding the large white stone slab upon which Abraham Lincoln’s casket first rested at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

The other is a castellated tower across the path from the receiving vault. It holds the original large flat stone, mounted upright and engraved, upon which Lincoln and his son William’s caskets were placed for the many months they awaited their temporary resting place on the ridge. The tower was built in 1900, the year before Lincoln’s casket was opened to confirm the presence of his remains, then re-interred in its permanent, secure resting place deep beneath the floor of the Tomb’s burial chamber.

As I leave Oak Ridge Cemetery, I wind among the lots before I find the way out. It’s a pretty and peaceful place and I would linger if I were a less restless traveler.

I continue south towards downtown Springfield and head for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I see so many interesting things here that I want to tell you about. Since this tale has already grown somewhat lengthy, I’ll continue the tale of my day’s explorations in my next installment of my explorations following the life and ideas of Lincoln in Springfield. Stay tuned!

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Sources and inspiration:

Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum website: Walking Tour Map and Lincoln’s Connection

Abraham Lincoln OnlineLincoln Timelines and Highlights and Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site

Brink, McCormick & Co. ‘Springfield Township, Springfield City.‘ from Atlas of Sangamon County, 1874.

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Sangamon County, Illinois; Together with Sketches of its Cities, Villages and Townships … Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens. Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co.,  1881

Illinois Ancestors.orgAbner Banks Hall and The Grandfathers Vol.I, The Hall and Overstreet Families

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. National Park Service website

Looking for Lincoln: various historical/informational placards throughout the Springfield, Illinois and surrounding areas about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln at their associated sites

MacLean, Maggie. ‘Elizabeth Todd Edwards: Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.’ Civil War Women blog, Jul 28, 2013

Robert L. Wilson (1805-1880)‘ from Mr. Lincoln & Friends: The Politicians by The Lehrman Institute

Robertson, Peggy. ‘The Plot To Steal Lincoln’s Body.’ American Heritage, April/May 1982

Robert Todd Lincoln‘ In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Rogers, Colonel Matthew Building/Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum.‘ National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Prepared by John R. Ede, Oct 1, 2004

Strange History Brought to Light‘ and ‘…And His Face Was Chalky White’ by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, Life Magazine, Feb 15, 1963