The Saturday of the Tennessee game, Tony and I decided to make a road trip to Springfield, IL. We had a groupon for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library that was expiring, so we decided to make the 90 minute drive to Springfield. Due to a few delays (Tony), we didn't leave as early as I had hoped. I had tried to explain to Tony that this would be a large museum, but he was just thinking that we were going to some library with a bunch of books and a few artifacts.
The town of Springfield is absolutely beautiful. It's a very old, historic town that exudes the vibe that history was made here. As we approached the museum, Tony noticed the large signs advertising a special exhibit called "The Boys in Blue." After entering the museum, he proceeds to ask one of the greeters where the boys in gray were. I should have known then that he planned to be a troublemaker!
As we approached the ticket counter, a sweet, older lady approached us. She was a volunteer for the museum, and wanted to talk to us about a special that they had to offer. It was for one of the museum groups where you pay one membership fee, and receive entrance to several museums across the country. This one had more than 50 included in the grouping. As her and I were chatting, Tony was looking at the brochure that showed all of the museums. They were arranged by state. She had just asked me where we were from, and I replied that we currently lived in St. Louis, but were originally from South Louisiana. Tony, overhearing us, also noticed that Louisiana was not listed on the brochure. He proceeded to say "Well, you just left Louisiana right out. What? You didn't want a Confederate state as part of your program?" I about died of shame right there! Luckily, she just laughed uneasily and we made our way to the ticket counter.
After purchasing your entrance tickets, you arrive in a very large rotunda. All of the different wings of the museum are entered by way of the rotunda. The Lincoln family greets you, and is a popular spot for photographs.
Before I continue, I should say that we did not allot nearly enough time for this visit, and we will be returning soon. We only got to maybe half of the exhibits, and we were rushed.
We first started in the Illinois Gallery which is home to traveling exhibits. For this trip, it was Team of Rivals: Lincoln's Cabinet at the Crossroads of the War. Since I loved the book by the same name, I really enjoyed this area.
Our next stop was to the Pre-Presidential Years Hall. You enter this area through the recreation of the woods and cabin where Lincoln grew up. A young Lincoln is sitting on the stump reading a book. Inside the cabin, you learn that Lincoln, his father, stepmother, and five other family members all slept in this one room cabin. The back of the cabin then leads to another large exhibition hall that we didn't have time for since I wanted to see a show that was starting soon.
"Ghosts of the Library" is a dramatic and magical special effects presentation that uses Holavision to explain exactly what a presidential library is. It strives to show the visitor the exciting sense of discovery that scholars and curators feel as they approach a great research collection. The technology the ghosts of Lincoln and his contemporaries to appear and disappear, their transparent images drifting through the "Library" while they tell their stories. At one point, a quill pen even rises from a library table and begins to write in the air, in Lincoln's handwriting. The objects and stories told during the show connect us to the people and events of history and events make them real. For a moment, we are part of their world.
One of the things that I found most impressive about this museum was their use of modern technology to bring history to life. As you walk through The Whispering Gallery which is a twisting hallway, you hear the brutally unkind things said about the Lincolns during their early months in Washington. On the walls are cruel caricatures and political cartoons attacking the Lincolns that were popular during the day. The Civil War in 4 minutes is a very moving display created with modern technology. For me, I think that area that made the most impact was The Telegraph Office. It is a mural showing a sad and grieving Lincoln as he receives casualty counts from the front. Voices would tell you the numbers as they were projected onto the mural. The room also includes photos and bronze castings of Lincoln to show how the war aged him. You can even touch the life masks.
After that, you enter a re-creation of the Presidential Box in Ford's Theater as it was on April 14, 1865 including wax figures of the Lincoln's and John Wilkes Booth approaching from the back.
Next is The Funeral Train gallery where you see a map of the route of Lincoln's train along with the advertisements inviting mourners to pay their last respects. The most interesting item in the room was the long-lost final photo of Lincoln. It was taken as he was lying in state. All copies of the photo and the negative were thought to be destroyed, but many years later, a 14-year-old student found it.
From there, a visitor enters the Lying in State gallery. It is almost a full-scale re-creation of the the Hall in Illinois' Old State Capitol where Lincoln lay in state. You file past the closed casket as though you are paying your last respects.
As I said before, we only had time to visit maybe half of the museum, and we do plan a trip back soon. It is an expansive museum. I have hardly touched on all of the things that we saw during the time that we were there. On our return, we also plan to visit the State Capitol, his family home, and his tomb.
Across the street from the museum is an area known as Union Square Park. The Illinois Visitor Center is located there as well as a Lincoln statue. The park is home to many free events and performances throughout the year including Civil War re-enactments.
While rushing home to the Tennessee - LSU game watching party, we got stuck in traffic on the bridge due to road construction. For those of you who know Tony, you can imagine how stressful this was for him, but we did manage to take some great pictures of the city and the Arch!