Monday, July 29, 2013

Road Trip Detour: Springfield, Ill.

When we were originally planning this trip, we had lots of ideas for things we wanted to do in Chicago, and we knew we wanted to stop at the Arch in St. Louis, but we didn't really make very many plans of things to do along the way. So when my mother-in-law said, "Maybe you should look up things to do in Springfield!" I looked at the map, and said, "Okay!"

Except that I didn't realize there was a Springfield in both Missouri AND Illinois. I only saw the one in Missouri, since the route we planned to take was toward St. Louis from Tulsa. So I looked up lots of fun things to do in Springfield, Mo. (Apparently there's a moonshine distillery there!), and then I felt terrible that I didn't have any ideas for Springfield, Ill., which is where we had actually planned to stop.

But luckily Matt knew what he wanted to do when we got there.

So after visiting the St. Louis Arch in the morning, we crossed into Illinois (and crossed it off my Life List!) and began the drive toward Springfield. And for all those people — ahem, MATT — who complained for years that driving through Oklahoma is boring, guess what? Missouri and Illinois are both just as flat. I got lots of good sleeping in between St. Louis and Springfield.

The clouds were pretty though.

When we got to Springfield, Matt suggested we go to the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, since Springfield is where Lincoln grew up. I'm very glad we went.

We walked in, and after purchasing tickets and entering the atrium, what you see is a replica of the house where Lincoln grew up on one side, and across from it, a replica of part of the White House.

And in front of it were some wax figures of the whole Lincoln clan.

Some people find wax figures to be creepy, but I mainly just think they're funny. So we got a picture with the Lincoln fam.

That Abe was a tall fellah!

If wax figures freak you out, you should probably be warned there are a lot of them throughout this museum. But (luckily for you) I wasn't allowed to take pictures through most of the main exhibits. Suffice it to say, I think the wax people were put to pretty good use; they weren't just there for the sake of being there.

I thought this museum was excellent. Despite studying the Civil War in the fifth grade — and a subsequent trip to Vicksburg, Mississippi, because someone decided it was a good idea to take several hundred 10-year-olds across state lines — I really didn't feel like I knew that much about the Civil War. Sure, the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln getting shot and the end of slavery, but as a kid, you don't realize the impact of war. 

My two favorite parts of the museum were both powerful and harrowing. One was a display of wax figures near the beginning of the exhibit that depicted two slaves, clearly married, being sold to different owners and their fight to not be separated from one another. You could feel the anger and tension in their bodies. The other was a video map of all the battles during the course of the Civil War, in which a tally in the corner marked the casualties of both the Union and Confederate soldiers. How did I not know that over a million men — boys often younger than me! — died over the course of those battles. Both of these scenes were heartbreaking, but I felt the Civil War had never before been brought to life so vividly to me.

But before I make everyone think this whole museum is solemn and sadness (and believe me, there is a lot of that), there were some lighter parts! There was a room filled with dresses that Mary Lincoln wore, as well as a social commentary on who her enemies were and how the local women didn't think very highly of her. There are cases of letters and artifacts from Lincoln's term. You can see Lincoln grow up, and the rough time he had as he contemplated running for office, as he lost many of the offices he ran for, all the way until he lost the presidential debate and still somehow became Commander in Chief.

I would say it's the best presidential museum I've been to so far. Granted, I've only ever been to one other, as far as I can remember (the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin), but I thought the Lincoln Library was excellent, and I'm glad we stopped.

Next stop: the Windy City!

Do you like presidential museums? Which ones have you been to?


  1. I was hoping you had a stop scheduled in central IL :) I LOVE the Lincoln museum and his tomb where everyone rubs the nose on his big bronze head for good luck.

    1. Is the tomb somewhere separate from the museum? I don't remember seeing that! I would have wanted to rub his nose. :)

  2. I love museums, but I've never been to a purely presidential museum before! We visited Chicago last August, but have never been anywhere else in Illinois. This looks like a super neat museum!

    1. You should go to one if you ever get the chance! They're pretty neat, and because there have been so many presidents they're in all kinds of locations.