Monday, July 8, 2013

The Land of Lincoln

Dear Husband and I recently accompanied his parents on a day trip to Springfield, Illinois, for all things Lincoln. One thing I learned was that Springfield is the third capital of the state: the first, Kaskasia (18909-1818), was abandoned because of constant threats of flooding from the Mississippi River. From 1819 to 1839, the specially founded town of Vandalia hosted the state government (including a young Abe Lincoln). Springfield finally got the job as a large, centrally located city due in no small part to the advocacy of Lincoln, among others. (Wikipedia tells me that the town was originally named Calhoun for the South Carolinian politician, until his popularity with the public dived and the locals renamed the place for the Silicon Valley of the early 19th century: the textile manufacturing town of Springfield, Massachusetts.) In 1844 the Lincolns purchased this house in a new "suburb" of the growing municipality.

The 16th President of the United States of America spent the happiest 17 years of his life in Springfield. He and Mary Todd Lincoln lived most of that time in this two-story house, which they had bought from the minister who married them and expanded twice: once to add a back parlor on the ground floor and once to raise the attic roof to make a proper second floor with five bedrooms.

Our tour guide was fond of reminding us that the Lincolns had sold all their furniture and household goods when they moved into the White House. A railroad bigwig bought the house and some of the furnishings, which returned to Chicago with him in 1869 and disappeared in the Great Fire of 1871. The rest of the pieces had been bought by friends and neighbors and came back to the house once it became a historic site. So Abraham Lincoln actually used the desk and chair in the photo (right).

The wall paper is a busy French blue design Mary picked out. I was a big fan of the woven floor covering until I asked the the tour guide how they kept it clean (being familiar with both rug beating and the anachronicity of vacuum cleaners). It  turns out that every spring they had to move the furniture, pull up the carpet tacks along the walls, cut or rip the stitches holding the pieces of cloth together, beat each piece outside over a line, and then roll them up for storage over the summer. In the fall, these were pulled out, unrolled, re-sewn, and re-tacked. Definitely a luxury only the family of a lawyer and legislator could afford!

By chance we all wore our Union blues that day.
Robert Todd Lincoln sold the house to the state of Illinois in 1887 for $1 and the promise that they keep it up and admit visitors for free. This they tried to do will into the 20th century, when it all just became too much. There was too much development around the home: a Piggly-Wiggly across the street, souvenir shops in people's living rooms, and a proposed motel on the next corner. So the National Park Service stepped in, bought up the properties on four blocks, and turned the neighborhood into a pedestrian zone. A few of the houses are used for museum purposes and the rest as Park offices.

We also visited the Abraham Lincoln Museum, where we saw both the regular exhibits and a special display on Civil War weapons and medicine. We had just enough time to stop by the Lincoln Tomb. It was closed, so we couldn't go inside, but we could rub Abe's nose for good luck!

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