After leaving Hannibal we drove toward Springfield, Illinois with what was supposed to be a short detour to New Salem which is where Lincoln lived for about 6 years as a young adult. We ended up spending almost 3 hours there. New Salem was a town of 127 people that started around 1830 and lasted about 10 years.
The current New Salem is a re-creation of the village, with one original building . The historians were able to gather information about each person/family that lived in the village so each building is identified with a history of the occupants and what the building was used for (store, mill, tavern, etc.). Volunteers dress up in time period costumes, hang out in the buildings and share stories. For example, one volunteer is a doctor in real life; he sits in the doctor’s office and tells great stories about Lincoln (who turns out to be a relative of his) and stories about the doctor from the village. We learned a bit about Lincoln and a lot about life during that time period.
From there we headed to Springfield, Il and quickly stopped at the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, his wife and 3 of his 4 sons are buried in the tomb. If you take your time going through it is very moving.
In Springfield we stayed in a nice hotel downtown walking distance to most of the key tourists spots. (Loving the luxury living for a few days! Thanks Mom and Dad!) But because it was a holiday weekend the downtown felt pretty deserted. I am guessing not much happens there on the weekends. The downtown is not yet built up like other downtowns. We had a nice dinner at a farm to table restaurant.
We started our Saturday at the farmer’s market a couple blocks from the hotel to gather some fresh food for cooking in the van. Food was super fresh but options were limited, definitely not Santa Monica farmer’s market. The choices were apples, green beans, squash, tomatoes and corn. (Basically the same foods that were available back in the 1840s – we learned that from Shayna’s junior ranger badge workbook for Lincoln’s home.) We got a bit of each. Tomatoes have been great but the corn was not very sweet.
After the farmer’s market we went over to the Lincoln museum and library. The museum opened in 2005. Being a modern museum it is unlike any history museum you have probably ever been to. It was GREAT! It is so well designed and entertaining. I want to say it is Disneyland meets museum, but in a good way, through the use of creative design and technology (was the guy in the theatre real or a hologram?)
You enter an exhibit and walk through room to room, each one presenting information in a different fashion. However, you cannot see the rooms from outside the exhibit, you can only see the entrance and the exit. Another must see if you are ever even close to Springfield. We were there for about 3 hours, could have stayed longer if we were not starving. Finding lunch was a challenge, since only a couple cafes were open in the area and they all closed by 2:00.
After finding a quick bite to eat. we walked over to the Lincoln Home, which is a national park. There is a small visitor center with a couple short videos about Lincoln and a little bit of information/displays to review. Then you get to tour the house he lived in from the time after his first son was born until he moved to Washington.
However, the house remained in the family until his oldest son (the only one that survived to adulthood) donated it to city for preservation. Because it was donated so soon after his life, there is a lot of original furniture and belongings of the Lincoln’s. Again, very interesting to be in the house and learn about the lifestyle during those times. The national park also includes most of the houses in the neighborhood which have been preserved, but you can only view them from the outside. They are being used as national park and government offices. One of the houses is Senator Durbin’s Springfield office.
We have been immersed in Lincoln history, again learning so much about his life, personal and political, and life during that time period. Of course, now we have a much greater understanding of why he truly is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, presidents.