Saturday, Anne and I drove up the 55 to Springfield, IL. Our mission was to visit the “new” Lincoln presidential library and museum. In this sesquicentennial anniversary year of the man’s death, new here is a relative term. This new library is actually ten years old, but it was new to us and it was newer than our last visit to Springfield, which was back when our Dan was still in high school. When we went to Chicago last month, we passed Springfield, twice and it put the bug in my ear to do this trip.
I’ve only visited one other presidential library. That one was Reagan’s. Anne’s uncle Lou took us there. This was years ago, because I remember that the boys were still quite young then. It sits atop a hill in Simi Valley and has a great view of the surrounding countryside. The building is circular in shape. In we walk and right inside the threshold Lou announces in a booming voice, “I didn’t like him as governor and I still don’t like him now!” Later, after we left Lou and LA behind, we passed highway signs for the Nixon library. Anne jokingly suggested stopping, but we both agreed that two Republican presidential libraries would be two too much.
Fast-forward twenty years and we find ourselves in the first Republican president’s library. I joked that he was not only the first, but the best Republican president and that it has been downhill since him. In full disclosure, we got lost trying to get there. We ended up parking in front of the municipal Lincoln library. We ended up walking the few blocks from there to the presidential Lincoln library. Also, we didn’t actually visit the library, but rather the adjoining museum. I’m not even sure if the library is open to the general public and especially on a Saturday.
It is a nice museum. The building has a huge rotunda at its center, with wings radiating out from it that are arranged chronologically through Lincoln’s life. Pictured is a diorama portraying young Abe. The collection is a mix of historical memorabilia, dioramas and audio-visual displays. We spent a good three hours touring the museum. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at a local combination coffee shop / restaurant / bar. Then it was back onto the Lincoln trail. Across the street from the Lincoln museum is the old rail station. It no longer serves its original purpose, but is now an adjutant to the museum. It featured sets and costumes from the Spielberg movie, Lincoln. This movie centers on Lincoln’s greatest legislative achievement, the Thirteen Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery. I found no mention of that other famous Lincoln movie, Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.
We rounded out the day at the old Illinois statehouse. It is a compact, functional building that in its day housed all three branches of state government, all under one roof. In this building Lincoln worked as a lawyer, appearing before the state supreme court. He even argued before his future rival, Stephen Douglas, who was a justice then. Later, he moved across the hall and sat as a state representative. It is there that he made his famous ‘House Divided’ speech.
More recently, in 2008, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president on the front steps of this building. Doing so was more than just a hat tip to his Lincoln’s legacy. Barack eventually became our first black US president. I tried to get Anne to pose on those same steps, but she wouldn’t oblige. I guess that I’ll have to look elsewhere for the first woman president. How about another person from Illinois?