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The Land of Lincoln

One of the best things about my job is that I travel to places that I would probably never visit otherwise. The typical workweek involves flying out on Monday morning and flying home on Thursday evening, so I most often only see the hospital or IT building, the hotel, airport, and if I’m lucky, a nice restaurant.  If I have an extended gig somewhere, or I support a go-live, I usually get the opportunity somewhere along the line to do a little sightseeing, and even if I’m somewhere only briefly, I can at least get the feel of the place and decide if I might want to go back someday.

I’ve been to Chicago on several occasions, and if it weren’t for my job, I probably never would have taken the time to further explore Illinois. It’s not that I wouldn’t have wanted to, but there are just so many other places to visit and a limited amount of time and money to visit them. A few weeks ago, fortunately, my job took me to Springfield and Jacksonville, and more fortunately still, I had to fly up on Sunday to be there on Monday morning, so I had a few hours on Sunday afternoon to look around.

The population of Springfield is only about 120,000 people, so traffic isn’t heavy and it’s easy to get around. It also happens to be the capital of our sixth largest state by population. Most of the live elsewhere. If you look up “things to do in Springfield Illinois”, at least half of them are associated with Abraham Lincoln. He and his family lived in Springfield for years, and he practiced law there. He left the city for the White House and his body was returned from Washington to be buried there after he was assassinated. It’s well worth a visit if you’re interested in history, Lincoln, or the Civil War period. With so much to choose from, I had to pick carefully how to spend my time as I only had a few hours on Sunday and would be working the rest of the week. I hope to be able to see more on future visits but that’s never a guarantee. I finally decided on the Lincoln Presidential Museum and his tomb.

The museum was really interesting, but I had to move through the exhibits fairly quickly due to time constraints and I didn’t get to see everything. They have a wonderful hologram presentation that explains the work of the library, and why it’s important to study historical records. Either one of the library’s historians, or an actor posing as a historian, does the presentation, and it includes fascinating images like holographic soldiers coming out of Civil War diaries and fading away into the mist of time. It was geared toward children, but I absolutely loved it. You can see the image I described on the museum website: https://presidentlincoln.illinois.gov/

There are galleries about Lincoln’s early life and influences, his years in Springfield, the presidential campaign, and the White House years. If you want a quick refresher course on laws and Supreme Court decisions related to slavery, this is definitely the place to get it. There’s a particularly good exhibit of the late newscaster Tim Russert describing the 1860 presidential campaign, and the positions of the four candidates, as if it were being held today. One of the most moving exhibits is “The Civil War in Four Minutes.” You can watch a map projected on a wall over the four years of the war, with one color for the North and one color for the South. Colors shift as territory changes hands, and small explosions mark each battle. In the lower right corner of the map, the death toll rises quickly. It’s sad and sobering.

I left the museum without having seen quite everything because I wanted enough time to go to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Lincoln is buried there with his wife and three of his four sons, two of whom predeceased him. I was allowed to go inside, but I only took pictures of the outside.

Although I stayed in Springfield, I actually worked the week in Jacksonville, which is about a 40-minute drive east. It’s a pleasant drive, with a giant wind farm and giant corn fields living together in perfect harmony. As I got off the interstate Monday morning, I saw a sign pointing in the opposite direction from where I needed to go, indicating an Underground Railroad historical site. I knew I wouldn’t have time to visit it, but I later looked up Jacksonville’s connection to the Underground Railroad. It’s quite extensive. The first college in the state to grant a degree, Illinois College, is in Jacksonville, and the president of the college in the years before the Civil War was Thomas Beecher, the brother of Harriett Beecher Stowe. (She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, if you’re a little rusty on the literature of that period.) There were at least a half a dozen homes in Jacksonville that were stops on the Underground Railroad, and several are open today for tours. I have shelved this information for later reference, as it’s entirely possible I may be in Jacksonville in the future.

Now if you look up “things to do in Jacksonville Illinois”, you’d expect to find the Underground Railroad on the list someplace. It’s not on there. There’s a bowling alley and a movie theater and a liquor store, but nothing about the Underground Railroad. This puzzled me, but PJ and I talked about it and came up with a theory. Jacksonville is pretty small, with a population of about 20,000 people. It’s likely not on the average tourist’s radar, even those tourists who are interested in that time period. The list of “things to do” was therefore probably created by locals, and Jacksonville locals, like locals everywhere, take their hometown sites for granted. They get caught up in day-to-day living and go to the movies and bowling alleys instead.

This isn’t a criticism of the good people of Jacksonville. I do it myself. I lived in Birmingham for over 30 years before I finally got around to visiting the Wedgewood collection at the Birmingham Museum of Art, which is, incidentally, considered one of the finest collections in the world. It was well worth an afternoon. We all do this. We all take our local sites for granted. What are you missing out on in your town?

4 comments on “The Land of Lincoln

  1. ray milton says:

    Glad to see you back writing!

  2. edwards home says:

    Definitely sounds like an area worth a visit!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    1. Absolutely. It would be well worth a road trip. Swing by Kansas City and St. Joseph while you’re in the neighborhood.

  3. Thanks, Ray! I haven’t had much to write about lately.

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