Where: Springfield, Illinois, Midwest USA
When: Mid-nineteenth century
History: Hometown of one of America’s greatest presidents Abraham Lincoln who negotiated the Civil War and ended slavery
Best sights: Lincoln’s preserved family house where he practised law, Lincoln’s tomb where a flag ceremony is practised weekly.
Who was Abraham Lincoln?
Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States for just four years between 1861 and 1865, yet he left a profound legacy. Lincoln proved the American dream good: that greatness can be achieved by anybody, having growing up from poverty roots in Indiana. Born poor but determined, Lincoln taught himself well enough to become a well-to-do Springfield lawyer before he married into the aristocracy. As President of the United States he became famous for negotiating the Civil War, from 1861 to 1965, and bringing the south into the Union. He was also the architect behind the abolition of slavery. Through his famous Gettysburg address he established the democratic ideal as America’s most cherished principle.
Lincoln fought for justice and democracy as leader of the anti-slavery Republican Party, but he also made plenty of enemies. He was shot on April 14th 1865 by actor John Wilkes Booth atFord’s Theatre, Washington D.C., making him the first American president to be assassinated. He was followed by James Garfield in 1881,William McKinley in 1901, and John F. Kennedy in 1963.
After his death, his body traveled nearly 1,700 miles in a special railroad car by a circuit route from Washington, D.C, back to his hometown ofSpringfield, Illinois. Around 200 miles from Chicago, Springfield has been the capital of Illinois since 1837. It has a mere population of 109,000, although one million visitors descend upon this quaint old town throughout the year to explore the legacy of this famous founding father of modern America. Lincoln gave a farewell speech to his beloved citizens of Springfield before he set off for Washington D.C. on Feb 11th 1861.
Lincoln Sites in Springfield
Lincoln’s tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery was funded with public donations and the cemetery is the second most visited in the USA. The 117-foot tall granite tomb contains the bodies of Lincoln, his wife Mary, and three of his four sons – Edward, William, and Thomas. He was survived only by one of his sons, Robert, who became ambassador to London and a self-styled millionaire. Asked to run for Presidency, he was perhaps afraid of living up to the legend of his father and turned it down.
Lincoln’s tomb attracts visitors from all over the world, some of whom bring floral tributes. Its bronze statues were built by renowned sculptor Larkin Mead and commemorate important periods in Lincoln’s career. Touch the nose of Lincoln’s statue: it’s a sign of good luck. Every Tuesday, aflag retreat ceremony is held here. A bugle sounds while an American flag is lowered; the flag is given to a member of the public in commemoration. To get it you have to submit your name and hope it gets picked out of the hat.
You can visit Lincoln’s house in Jackson Street, where he lived with his wife Mary Todd and his five children between 1844 and 1861 before he moved to the White House. The name-plaque on the door shows the house’s famous past occupant. He bought the house for $1,500 – a year’s salary for a lawyer, which was his profession at the time. He lived here with his family and practiced law with his partner and friend William Herndon from 1844 to 1853. During this time he pleaded more than 400 cases in the house’s first-floor chambers, which saw the start of his promising political career. In this house, Lincoln would discuss politics with fellow senators and rivals like Stephen Douglass, with whom he contested the point of slavery and Presidency. Inside you can see the Lincoln couple’s separate bedrooms and his shaving jug.
When exploring Springfield you may think you’ve taken a step too far back in time when you get a glimpse of a real life Abraham Lincoln – replete with top hat and beard. This is not the first sign of insanity but a gentleman by the name of Fritz Klein – a Lincoln interpreter. Fritz is an actor who has settled down in Springfield where he educates and entertains thousands of visitors every year. He’s been playing Lincoln for the last 29 years and has appeared in countless films and TV programmes.
Getting Around Springfield
The most relaxing way to get around Springfield, from downtown to Lincoln’s house, is by pedicab– a quadricyle driven by expert cyclists. Capital City Cycle Tour is the only provider of pedicab tours in Springfield. They can be found on Seventh Street – Springfield’s main street; you can’t miss them. Each ride cost $5 dollars ($3 for children).
Oak Ridge is open daily from 9am to 5pm. For more information call +1 217 782 2717.
Lincoln’s home is maintained by the National Park Service and is open daily from 8.30am to 5pm. Call +1 217 492 4150.
By Marie-Laure Vigneron