The Great River Road, Part 14: Springfield to Swansea, IL

“It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”         

– A. Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

 September 16, 2015 – Day 19 – Springfield, Illinois

We said farewell to my dad, his schnauzer (Goomba), and his Bichon Frise (Little Bit, aka Pita) and headed north towards Springfield, Illinois. As we travel the country, we try to take in a least one meal that is popular in a given area. Around Springfield, horseshoes are all the rage, so we headed to D’Arcy’s Pint. Lil Jan ordered the chili cheese horseshoe while I went after the buffalo chicken variety. Calorie concerns aside, these things were amazing! It’s a wonder Abe Lincoln was so skinny.

Death by Horseshoe
Death by Horseshoe

September 17, 2015 – Day 20 – Springfield, Illinois

Today might as well have been Abe Lincoln’s birthday, because we were about to celebrate him big time. I even considered purchasing a top hat and beard, because Johnson men’s beards are mangy at best, featuring white prickly weeds and bald patches. Our first stop was Union Station, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It began service as a passenger terminal in 1896 but is now part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. In addition to its impressive Romanesque architecture, it now houses furniture, sets, and props from the blockbuster Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln.

Colonel Johnson Didn't Get Memo on White House Dress Code
Colonel Johnson Didn’t Get Memo on White House Dress Code

We then crossed the street to the main Lincoln museum building. Wow! We had never been to a Presidential museum before so have nothing to compare this one to, but it was remarkably well done. This 50,000 square foot museum, the largest of the presidential museums, employs 21st century technology to bring 19th century history to life. Our first stop was a spellbinding “Ghosts of Lincoln” presentation featuring holograms, dazzling special effects, and surround sound. I’m still not sure if the main actor in the presentation was a live actor or hologram. This presentation alone is worth the price of admission. Our next stop was another 3D movie with special effects, including vibrating seats and mist. We then walked through a series of life-sized, historically accurate dioramas of Lincoln’s boyhood home, areas of the White House, the presidential box at Ford’s Theater, and other key scenes from Lincoln’s life. The wax figures were the best we’ve seen. The animation, story telling, and use of lights and colors were superb. As Mrs. Lincoln sat at the bed of her dying child, we felt like we were right there with her. As the Lincoln’s happily sat together in Ford’s Theater moments before his assassination, we felt like we were in the box with them. Museum artifacts included an original, hand-written copy of the Gettysburg Address, the evening gloves in Lincoln’s pocket the night he was assassinated, the quill pen used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, his glasses and shaving mirror, and Mary Todd Lincoln’s music box, White House china, and wedding dress.

Lil Jan & Mrs. Lincoln
Lil Jan & Mrs. Lincoln

Speaking of the Lincolns at Ford’s Theater, we learned that Lincoln was relaxed that night and smiling freely for the first time in years, as a result of Robert E. Lee’s surrender. His wife, Mary, was just as content and held his hand. A few minutes before 10pm, she hugged him and said, “What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you, so?” Lincoln turned to her and softly replied, “She won’t think anything about it.” Those were the last words President Lincoln ever spoke. At about 10:15pm, John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and shot the president at point-blank range behind his left ear. Lincoln slumped forward, mortally wounded, as Mary screamed and Booth leapt to the stage and made his escape. Lil Jan commented on the importance of words, and that we’ll never know which words will be the last ones we’ll speak to our spouse or other loved ones. I suppose you can never say, “I love you” too many times to the special people in your life.

Their Final Moments Together
Their Final Moments Together

One exhibit, the Campaign of 1860, featured modern-style television updates on the campaign’s progress from the late Tim Russert, anchor for Meet the Press. Another display, The Civil War in Four Minutes, featured a large animated map that displays the changing battle lines of the Civil War and casualty count in four minutes. We also appreciated the side-by-side photos showing how Lincoln aged during his four years in office.  We can’t say enough good things about this museum. Trip Advisor reviewers rightfully scored it a 5 out of 5, with 88% of 2400+ respondents rating it “Excellent” and another 9% rating it “Very Good”. If you haven’t been there, put it on your bucket list. Well done, Springfield!

The Aging of a President
The Aging of a President

Our next stop was the adjoining Presidential Library, a research library which houses books, papers, and artifacts related to Lincoln’s life, the American Civil War, and the State of Illinois. We walked in and looked around. It quickly became apparent that we were not researchers and this was a library…so we promptly exited.

Representatives Hall (Location of "House Divided" Speech)
Representatives Hall (Location of “House Divided” Speech)

Next up was the Old Courthouse, a Greek Revival building where Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time trying cases before the Illinois Supreme Court. We walked into Representatives Hall where, in 1958, Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech. The location of his seat is marked with a top hat.  Years later, Lincoln’s body would lay in the same room, as a crowd of 75,000 mourners filed past to pay their last respects. The second-floor reception room is where Lincoln, as a Presidential candidate and celebrity, would receive huge crowds of well-wishers and office-seekers because his law office was too small.


A few yards from the Lincoln-Herndon Law offices where Lincoln practiced law, we ate lunch at Robbie’s Restaurant. In 1852 Clark M. Smith opened a dry goods store at this location. He was married to Anna Maria Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln’s younger sister, and Mrs. Lincoln traded at the store. According to a menu at Robbie’s, “Early in 1861, when Lincoln was attempting to write his first inaugural address the well-wishers who came to him at his office made work impossible. His brother in law offered the use of a back room on the 3rd floor above his store.” So, I can now check “Eat sirloin beef tips in a Stroganoff sauce over rice in a former Abraham Lincoln hide-out” off my bucket list.

Earliest photo of Lincoln at his home
Earliest photo of Lincoln at his home
Lincoln Home, 2015
Lincoln Home, 2015

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.      – A. Lincoln

Abe Lincoln was quite the family man. His mom clearly had a profound influence on his life, and he was very close to his family. To gain insights into that family, we decided to take the guided tour of the Lincoln family home. The tour guide did a superb job telling us about their family life and how each room was used. Three rooms stood out to me. The first was the family room where Lincoln would play with his sons in the evening. He would often sit or lie on the floor and play with them, because none of the chairs were particularly comfortable for his height. I also was intrigued by his bedroom, located on the second floor to the far left as you look at the house. It was said that the light in that bedroom window was often on late into the evening, as he wrote speeches and did other work at the desk in his bedroom corner. His desk still sits in the corner. My third favorite room was the family outhouse, which contained three commodes side by side. I imagined Abe doing his business on the center commode, with two of his sons doing likewise on either side. In fact, it may have been where Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” Or perhaps not. Still, the 3-seat outhouse design was impressive, and reminded me of the old saying about what families must do together in order to stay together.

Lincoln's Desk, Corner Bedroom
Lincoln’s Desk, Corner Bedroom
Presidents Go Too
“Are you through with the sports section, Tad?”

“I have never wanted to be finished. I have never wanted to feel that what I have done was the best I could do…I have to be careful of that because that is poison to the creative spirit.”   – Frank Lloyd Wright

Not everything in Springfield has to do with Mr. Lincoln, so we headed to the Dana-Thomas House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright designed the house in 1902 for wealthy socialite Susan Lawrence Dana. The tour does not allow photographs; so take our word that the home contains the largest collection of original Wright art glass and furniture. He was given a “blank check” by Miss Dana, and masterfully designed and filled 35 rooms and 12,000 square feet of living space across 3 main levels and 16 varying levels. Miss Dana went from a wealthy hostess and leader of Springfield’s social scene to a reclusive, financially troubled, dementia-suffering, believer in the occult. Mr. Charles C. Thomas, a successful medical publisher, bought the house at auction in 1943 for $17,500 and turned it into the headquarters for his publishing company. After his death, his family sold the home and its furnishings in 1981 to the state of Illinois for $1 million. It’s safe to say the state of Illinois got a great deal, because in 2002, one of two lamps from the home went for almost $2 million at a Christie’s auction. I believe our tour guide said the home and its furnishings are valued at approximately $200 million today. Of all the cool features and impressive architecture throughout the home, my favorite thing was the bowling alley in the basement.

$2 million lamp
$2 million lamp (not my photo!)

The last stop on our Springfield agenda was a visit to Lincoln’s Tomb. We arrived 5 minutes after it closed, but still got some photos and a description of the inside by some fellow tourists. Like everything else related to Lincoln, Springfield did a first-class job on his tomb. We left Springfield with an even better understanding and appreciation of an incredible human being who was, in my estimation, our greatest president.

Lincoln's Tomb
Lincoln’s Tomb

We drove from Springfield to Swansea, where we had dinner at Papa Vito’s and spent the night with our good friends, Steve and Suzanne Stumne. My friendship with Suzanne goes way back to 1980 where we were in the same church youth group and went to the same high school. In the late 90s, we were stationed at nearby Scott AFB and our children got to know each other quite well. At one point our youngest, Kyle, even said he “had feelings” for their daughter Abbie, a comment I have never let him live down. I’m glad that Suzanne and I have stayed in touch over the past 35 years and that our families have been able to vacation together on several occasions. Their kids are awesome and Steve is one of the coolest, funniest guys I’ve ever met. It’s always good to meet up and catch up with long-time friends like that. It’s even better to see that their marriage is intact and their faith in God is still strong.

Hangin' with the Stumnes
Hangin’ with the Stumnes

Perhaps it’s fitting to close this blog with some final words of advice from President Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

Big Steve

The Gold Standard
He, too, gave his “Last Full Measure of Devotion”

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