Since we had traveled about 500 miles to get to the wedding, we decided to play tourist for a day before we headed home. Sunday, we drove down to Springfield, Illinois and visited some of the Abraham Lincoln historical sites. Since it was Sunday, several of them were closed, but we got to take a tour of his home and we spent the afternoon going through the Presidential Museum. It took almost 3 hours to get through it all, but what a great experience that was! They’ve done a beautiful job with setting up life-size figures of the president and his wife, Mary and their three boys and posing them in dioramas that represent pivotal moments in their lives and his Presidency. They used a great variety of other media: videos, murals, newspaper clippings, posters, etc. to tell the stories of his life and political career. One video that stands out is of the Civil War in four minutes. It is shown on a map of the US and traces the sequence of the battles, beginning with Bull Run and ending at Appomattox. A daily casualty count – both Confederate and Union – is running in the lower right hand corner. I wish I had written down the count, but I think it was over 1.3 million total by the end. The casualty count was something that President Lincoln looked at several times each day during the duration of the war via a ticker tape readout in the War Room. He kept himself informed of the high cost of preserving the Union.
One of the most touching dioramas is of the President and Mrs. Lincoln at the deathbed of their son, Tad, who died of TB during Lincoln’s first term as President. As you stand and view the scene, you can hear music floating in through the door, coming from a ballroom down the “hall” in the White House and a clock ticking on the mantle. Abe & Mary are both dressed to the nines for whatever official event was taking place, but they stole away several times during the evening to sit with Tad. He died a few days later.
The other diorama I’ll never forget is situated in Ford’s theater: The figure of John Wilkes Booth is peeking in through the curtain behind the President’s box and he is reaching into the front of his jacket. The vicious look of hatred on his face sent chills down my spine. President Lincoln and Mary are watching the play (“Our American Cousin”) and she is holding onto his arm and leaning against him, smiling affectionately. Dialogue from the play, audience laughter and applause is playing in the background. As I walked through that portion, I wanted to yell, “GET DOWN, MR. PRESIDENT!” (Well, the figures are VERY lifelike and I do have a vivid imagination!)
One of the last rooms of the tour is an exact replica of the Illinois State House as it looked while President Lincoln was lying in state, although the casket, surrounded by white mums and sitting on a stage beneath a black velvet canopy, is closed. It’s very quiet in this room, very somber.
We took so long in the museum, we didn’t have time to visit the Presidential Library. We found Oak Ridge Cemetery on the edge of town and President Lincoln’s tomb, but the tomb was closed by the time we got there and it was being worked on so it was cordoned off so that we couldn’t walk all the way around it. Apparently, visitors can go inside it, but like I said, we were too late. We thought maybe we might like to go back there and see the sites we missed by having the misfortune of being there on a Sunday.
Sadly, there are no descendants of President Lincoln alive today. Three of their sons died in childhood (Eddie, Willie and Tad). Robert grew up, married and became a successful lawyer, but had only one daughter. She had one son who never had any children of his own. He died in 1986.