Monday, July 11, 2011

Chasing Lincoln's Ghost

Abraham Lincoln statue in Chicago

For as long as I can remember, I've had this massive obsession with the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Maybe it has to do with the fact that he was president during the American Civil War, one of the periods in history that I've always been deeply fascinated with. Other reason could be that I'm from Illinois, The Land of Lincoln, and there are constant reminders that he was here. Before leaving for the White House in 1861, he traveled a great deal around the state and left some of his "footprints" behind.

It's not just the history books that I enjoy getting into to get my fix, it's also being able to find statues, artifacts, and monuments that deal with the man himself. So, during my travels, I'm always on the lookout for anything Lincoln related.

Me and the Lincoln Family - Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

It basically all began when one of my family summer trips was to Springfield, Illinois. My parents took me and my brother to all the Lincoln sites that were in the area. I was a bit too young at the time to truly appreciate it, because, well, a kid doesn't fully respect something until long afterwards. I may have to make the same journey again someday, just to relive the steps I took walking around the city finding all things Lincoln. From walking down the streets of his neighborhood that was greatly preserved, to the law office that he worked at, to the old state capitol building he served in, and even stepping into the church that he worshipped at with his family so long ago. Just being around something that Lincoln was a part of, it's a unique experience.

During one of my day trips into Chicago, I decided to spend part of the day at the Chicago History Museum and simply see what the place had to offer for historical items from Chicago's past. I unexpectedly came across Lincoln's deathbed soon afterwards that was on full modest display just past the lobby. Reading the history books and constantly hearing about how they had to situate Lincoln's body onto it doesn't truly prepare you until you are actually standing right in front of the bed frame. I had such a massive history high, I didn't know what to do with myself when I found it. Just knowing that this was the bed that he died in, after being shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth across the street at Ford's Theater. The picture below doesn't fully capture just how impressively small it is and knowing the full height of the president.

Lincoln's Deathbed - Chicago History Museum

One Lincoln statue that has been on my list of things to see of all things Lincoln, has been a bit elusive, mainly due to not having GPS at the time when I was trying to find it. Before going to a journalism conference that was being held at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, I realized I had the opportunity to finally see in person a massive 72 foot tall of Lincoln that was standing on the outskirts of town. I only knew about this interesting statue due to my interest of looking at a website full of weird roadside attractions. Anyways, I had tagged along with some fellow classmates for the couple hour drive down, and there was just enough time before the conference was to begin, so I was successful in making them curious about the statue and trying to find it. In the end, we ran out of time and never discovered it..... but it was a worthwhile tiny adventure to say the least. I hope that the next time I'm in the area, I'll be able to get a picture of the giant statue, since I've read that it truly is a sight to see. In more recent news from what I've gathered, the site is in the process of becoming a small Abraham Lincoln theme park. So, it will definitely have to be visited in the near future.

Tall Lincoln Statue - outside of Charleston, Illinois

A few years ago, I had the chance to tour the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois during one of my journalism conferences and I'll admit, it was by far the most fun and educational museum that I have been to in a very long while. The exhibits there were something else and truly state-of-the-art. I would highly recommend going there for anyone with an interest in history, since it's a worthwhile experience, especially the two theaters - one of which has 3-D image capabilities and is truly remarkable sitting through.

Me at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum next to a John Wilkes Booth wax figure

There are countless places throughout the state of Illinois, and most likely elsewhere in the country, that offer up some Lincoln lore in some shape or form and I'm looking forward to tracking them down and seeing it for myself. I'm planning on returning to southern Indiana and hoping to visit the Lincoln Boyhood National Monument Park, site of where he lived for many years before moving to Illinois. I'll be sure to write about that experience in the near future.

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