I finally went on the most important pilgrimage a history buff must go on: to Springfield, IL, for the loads of Lincoln lore there.
First, I went with my dad to the Old State Capitol where Lincoln worked as a state legislator. Though mostly recreated, the building smacked of authenticity.
But the biggest and best place to be in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. Packed to the brim with memorabilia, the museum had a traveling exhibit of campaign gear from presidential elections past. The exhibit also displayed one of the three cameras used in the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960.
Next, a recreation of Lincoln’s early life locales: his log cabin home, the general store he owned for a bit, and the law offices in Springfield. My favorite part, however, was the walk-through of his White House years, where we saw Mary Todd’s dresses, a tableau of the famed “team of rivals” in the Cabinet room debating the Emancipation Proclamation, and finally the assassination at Ford’s Theater. Outside of that section was more memorabilia: locks of Lincoln’s hair, personal letters, and one of his three trademarked stove pipe hats which had two worn spots on the brim from when he would tip his hat to passersby.
I repeat: I saw Lincoln’s stove pipe hat.
Later we visited the Lincoln home. We walked where the man walked and touched the same banister. I know I’m nearing idol-worship here, but I appreciate the man more having been through his life a little bit. We also visited the Lincoln tomb, which was very solemn and reverant experience.
I’ve started reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. I’ve been meaning to get to it for a while, but now I actually have some motivation to delve further into the man’s life, having now been through it (albeit superficially).
With Lincoln’s 200th birthday coming up in February 2009, I’d highly recommend checking out Springfield, if only for a day. Make sure to get to the museum and the Lincoln home. They far exceed the worth of the drive.