Led by Roger and Marian Hoffman and sponsored by Region 5 of WBCCI this caravan rendezvoused in the Elkhorn Creek Campground near Frankfort, Kentucky on June 10, 2005. Louise Humble was our official historian.
Friday, June 10, 2005 - Despite forecasts of inclement weather, we left home at 7:30am and made it in to Elkhorn CG about 4:00pm. Most of the other caravaners were already there. There were a few showers along the way, but nothing of any consequence. Bought a paper at the Cracker Barrel in Corbin, Kentucky and learned that a new tropical storm in the Gulf is on a northward track, headed this way.
At 7:30pm we gathered in the campground shelter for a meeting of the group. Leader Roger Hoffman gave us a brief outline of what we would be doing and how the caravan would be organized. Then Louise Humble, who will serve as caravan historian, gave us a dramatic description of the early life of Mary Todd before she met and married Abraham Lincoln. Following that, we were served ice cream and cake, then broke up into three groups for "Get Acquainted Meetings," or GAMs. Our group was composed of the Atwaters, Dale and Frieda, from California, the Farleys, Joe and Anita, from Florida, the Humbles, Jerry and Louise, from Illinois, Romaine Boughton and her granddaughter Rachel, and us. We learned that the Farleys once lived in our old hometown of Brandon, Florida and knew many of the same people we did.
Saturday, June 11, 2005 - With the morning free to do as we pleased, we drove into Frankfort to revisit the Rebecca Ruth candy factory and drive by both the old and new capitol buildings. Then it was time to carpool to Lexington to Mary Todd's girlhood home.
Abraham Lincoln married Mary Todd in 1842. The Todds were high society. It was a study in contrast to see the wealth and luxury of the Todds in a city setting versus the poverty of the Lincolns in the woods. Mary Todd was born in 1818, the same year that Abe's mother died. Mary was the fourth of the seven children of Robert Todd and Eliza Parker. Tragedy struck that household in 1825 when Eliza died giving birth to her seventh child. Robert Todd remarried quickly to Elizabeth "Betsy" Humphreys and they had nine more children. Mary purely hated her new stepmother and left Lexington as soon as she reached the age of 21, moving to Springfield, Illinois to live with an older sister. It was there that she met and married Abe Lincoln.
The Todd Home stands gracefully on West Main Street, Lexington. It was once in an almost rural setting, but today is surrounded by commercial buildings - a concrete jungle. It is the first museum in America to honor a First Lady. The beautiful 14 room restored home contains many family portraits and furnishings from the Todds, perhaps the most unusual being a barrel style desk that belonged to Robert Todd. Though living there was not a happy time for Mary, she and Abe returned to visit on several occasions. Abe was delighted in Mr. Todd's extensive library, and it was here that he was introduced to his political idol - statesman, Henry Clay. It was Henry Clay's home - the Ashland Estate - that we visited next.
The home of Henry and Lucretia Clay was called Ashland - today, The Ashland Estate. The Clays lived there from 1804 until his death in 1852. Henry Clay was a dynamic and dramatic speaker who was called the Great Compromiser for his work as a United States Senator. Although he was a slave owner, he opposed slavery and advocated a gradual emancipation of the slaves. His skills as a speaker and his ability to sell compromise solutions probably delayed the Civil War by some eleven years. In a sense Henry Clay helped create the political atmosphere inherited by Abraham Lincoln. He served as Speaker of the House, as as Secretary of State, and several terms as U.S. Senator. We was a true statesman, always fighting for to hold the union together. He ran for president three times, but lost. He was a friend of Robert Todd, and the families of the two men visited each other frequently.
The mansion that was the Clay home is on a large estate - at one time, 650 acres. It is still a large estate in what is still a prestigious residential part of Lexington. When the Clays lived there it was a working farm. Henry Clay was had an avid interest in agriculture and animal husbandry. He's credited with importing the first Hereford cattle. Many of his innovations have become and remain standard practice today. Many of the large trees on the property were planted by Henry himself.
Both the Todd and Clay mansions reflect the vast difference in the early lives of the Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln.
After a seafood dinner at Jim's Seafood Restaurant in Frankfort, we returned to camp for a drivers meeting under the shelter, another history lesson by Louise, and our second GAM. This GAM was with the Fleners, Kermit and Ruth from Louisville (Kermit is a retired Methodist minister ), Susie Dawes (a single grandmother) from Louisville, the Hoffmans, Roger and Marian (our leaders), the Farleys again and us.
This time Louise told us about Abe's parents, Tom Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. As an 8 year old boy, Tom Lincoln watched his father killed by an Indian. Tom himself was saved from kidnapping by the quick action of his older brother Mordecai who shot and killed the Indian. So, Tom and his four siblings were raised by his mother Bersheba alone. That must have been tough - on the frontier with six mouths to feed and care for. And, how would history have been changed, had not Mordecai come to his brother's aid? Little is known about Nancy Hanks, except that she was the illegitimate daughter of Lucy Hanks. It certainly was an obscure heritage from which was to come a future president.
Sunday, June 12, 2005 - After a morning devotion, the caravan moved to Bardstown, Kentucky and a brief departure from the Lincoln history theme. After getting set up at the Holt's Campground just outside town, we carpooled in to the old courthouse - now a visitors center. We were met there by the mayor of Bardstown who spoke to us for an hour about the history of Bardstown and things going on in town presently.
Bardstown got its name from the founder, a man named David Bard, who brought people in via the Ohio River to settle in his town in 1788. For a long time Bardstown was the largest city in Kentucky territory. Nowadays it is a beautiful little town, the county seat of Nelson County, but its chief attraction is The Old Kentucky Home and its connection to Stephen Foster. We took a tour of the town in a trolley provided by one of the local distilleries, then gathered for a fine dinner at the Kurtz Restaurant across the highway from The Old Kentucky Home.
Despite threatening weather, in the evening we took in the Stephen Foster Musical in an outdoor amphitheater on the OKH estate. As it turned out, the weather was no problem. It was a great performance by a 50 member cast, featuring many of Stephen Foster's songs worked around the story of his rather tragic life. His love for songs and music was too great for him to settle into any kind of practical job, and that led to frustration. The main songs were Beautiful Dreamer, Oh Susannah!, My Old Kentucky Home, and I Dream of Jeannie - Jeannie being the love of Foster's life. The drama ended on a happy note with the two of them married and together, but in real life the frustrations grew into alcoholism and a tragic ending. He died in 1864 at the age of 37.
At the close of the drama we were invited backstage to meet the cast. It was the influence of caravaner Kermit Flener that got us this invitation. Kermit is the pastor of a Methodist church in Louisville, and one of the actors was a member of his church.
Monday, June 13, 2005 - Back to the Lincoln theme... As pioneers, the Lincoln, Hanks, and Berry families migrated to this area of Kentucky over Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road from Virginia in the 1780s and 1790s.
After a free morning, we carpooled to the Lincoln Homestead State Park near Springfield, Kentucky, where several several old log cabins are displayed. One of the cabins is a replica of the one Bersheba Lincoln raised her three sons and two daughters after her husband, Abraham, was killed by Indians. There is also an authentic log cabin called the Berry cabin where Thomas Lincoln proposed to Nancy Hanks. They were married on June 12, 1806. Nancy had been living with her uncle and aunt, Richard and Rachel Berry. The Berry house, though primitive, was a large two story home with several rooms on each floor.
An old newspaper story, framed and hanging on the wall of the Berry house, tells of an campaign accusation by Stephen Douglas in the Lincoln presidential campaign that his mother and father were never legally married. It was said that Abraham went to his death unsure of the fact, but later research uncovered the marriage certificate recorded in the courthouse in Springfield. There’s an old covered bridge leading to the blacksmith and carpentry shop where Thomas Lincoln learned his trade. Just down the road a short distance is the Mordecai Lincoln home - the brother who saved Thomas from the Indians.
Some writers have depicted Thomas Lincoln as being a shiftless laborer. While he moved often, it appears that he was a capable craftsman and good provider for his family. Life on the frontier was tough, but the Lincolns were probably no worse off than other frontier folk. The Berry house was probably better than most.
We played a few games of Joker with Joe and Anita Farley before the drivers meeting on this evening. Following that we celebrated Jerry Humble’s birthday with icecream and cake.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - Moving day again - this time to Glendale, just south of Elizabethtown - a distance of 37 miles. Since we could not get into the new campground until afternoon, we had a free morning. To fill part of the time, we went with the Farleys back to Bardstown for breakfast. Not knowing where to go, we stopped a jogger on the street to ask advice. He directed us to the Hurst Restaurant a couple of miles out of town. It turned out to be very good.
The drive to Glendale was easy, but not long after our arrival at the Glendale Campground, the bottom fell out of the sky. The TV began issuing storm alerts; the sky darkened; it started to rain; the wind blew; trees came down; it rained harder; then the sun came out, and it got hot and muggy. We drove in to Elizabethtown, hunting a Wi-fi hotspot. Found one at Barnes and Noble Booksellers and proceed to get some of this stuff uploaded to the website.
Later in the evening we carpooled into Glendale for dinner at the Depot. Glendale is a small village seemingly devoted entirely to antiques, and the old depot fits right in. The dinner was excellent - two large pork chops, string beans, potatoes, beets, fried apples, and then blackberry cobbler.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005 - The skies were clear and the weather cooled off nicely for this day. Our day started with a visit to Lincoln's birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Tom Lincoln moved his wife Nancy and infant daughter Sarah to this 348 acre farm in 1808. He paid $200 for the farm, but knew that he held a questionable title. Land titles in those early days were often disputed. The young family lived in a one room log cabin near a spring called Sinking Spring. The cabin was 16' by 18', had one door and one window. It had a fireplace and a dirt floor. The bed was made of corn shucks covered by a bear skin. It was on that bed that Nancy gave birth to a healthy little boy on February 12, 1809. They named him Abraham after Tom's father.
Because of the flawed title, Tom lost Sinking Spring Farm in 1811 and moved his family about ten miles north to Knob Creek. The old cabin at Sinking Spring Farm fell into disrepair. Not much is known about what happened at Sinking Spring Farm in the years that followed, but fifty years later during the presidential campaign of 1859, much was made of Lincoln's birth in a log cabin. Subsequently a cabin was bought by a showman who claimed it to be the Lincoln birth cabin. He dismantled it and moved around the country, charging an exorbitant price for a look. After each move it had to be rebuilt, then again disassembled for the next move. Interest soon waned and it was put in storage, virtually forgotten for several years. Although the cabin was widely accepted as authentic, there is no proof, and because of all the moving around and the questionable beginning, the Park Service no longer claims it to be The Cabin. But if not the exact cabin Lincoln was born in, it is the same size and shape, and it has been preserved for posterity since 1909 inside a marble memorial that resembles the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the memorial when he was President. The memorial is on a hill above Sinking Spring with 56 steps to climb - one for each year of Lincoln's life.
The old spring is still flowing and is reached by a series of steps down into a cavelike setting. We watched a 20 minute movie which explained all these things.
From the birth site we drove into Hodgenville to the Lincoln Museum. This little museum houses a remarkable group of displays, each depicting a phase in the life of Abraham Lincoln - from the cabin years to the White House, and to the Ford Theater. Outside on the town square sits a bigger than life size bronze statue of Lincoln. Hodgenville makes no bones about their claim to prominence as the birthplace of our 16th President. Everywhere one looks, there is some reference to Lincoln.
From the museum we drove to Knob Creek Farm where the Lincolns moved after losing the farm at Sinking Spring. This 228 acre farm has just recently been acquired by the National Park Service and none of the buildings are open yet. Abe had no recollection of Sinking Spring, but did remember his boyhood at Knob Creek. It was there that he and his sister walked two miles to a one-room schoolhouse for their only formal education. He called the school a "blab" school because of the way the students were taught. They had to recite their lessons to the teacher verbally. It was a habit Abe kept throughout his life when he was studying something he wanted to be sure to remember.
One significant feature of Knob Creek Farm was that the house was next to the road - the old Cumberland Road (now US31E) opened by Daniel Boone. It was the road between Louisville and Nashville, and it afforded the young Lincoln a "window to the world" as travelers passed by. Many was the time when Lincoln saw the indignity suffered by slaves being herded south to the slave markets. That may well have shaped his attitude toward slavery. It was on this road that the Lincolns traveled in 1816 when they left Kentucky for good and crossed the Ohio River to settle in Indiana. Tom had had enough of shaky land titles and slavery.
Back in Glendale, we stopped at the Whistle Stop Restaurant for a lunch of Kentucky hot brown, then relaxed for the rest of the day.
Thursday, June 16, 2005 - Today we moved out of Kentucky into Indiana to a spot not far from where the Lincolns made their Indiana home - where young Abe lived from the age of 7 until he was 21. Louise told us a great deal about the hardships the Lincolns had to endure. She took us back to 1816, the year that Indiana became a state. Tom made the trip by himself to begin with to secure the land. He rented a flatboat and loaded it with his tools and 400 barrels of Kentucky whiskey. The whiskey was for bartering. He secured the land, paid for it with the whiskey, and made sure that he had good title before returning for the family. All that took more time than planned. By the time the family arrived winter was upon them. The first concern was to obtain shelter in the wilderness. Tom built a three-sided shelter and piled up leaves and skins in one corner for Nancy and the two children. A fire was built in the fourth side to keep out wild animals and provide a little warmth. He had a rough cabin ready by Abe's birthday in February of 1817, but that winter was one they never forgot. They had a milk cow, but no other food source, so Tom had to feed his family with the game he could kill. Louise did not know why, but the cabin was located a mile from the nearest water source. It became the chore of Abe and Sarah to walk that mile and carry water back to the house every day.
Later that first year the Sparrows and a cousin - Dennis Hanks - joined the Lincolns, and they lived in that early shelter until their cabin was completed. Unfortunately, the Sparrows came down with a fatal disease caused by drinking the milk from cows that had eaten a deadly weed. Nancy went to take care of them and also caught the disease. She died on October 5, 1818 leaving Tom, Abe, Sarah, and Dennis Hanks without a wife and mother. The situation quickly became intolerable. Tom, in desperation, returned to Kentucky to find a new wife. Abe, sister Sarah, and Dennis Hanks were left to fend for themselves for six months.
Tom Lincoln found a widow in Elizabethtown with three children who agree to marry him and go with him back to Indiana. This was Sarah Bush Johnston - Sally. The date of their marriage was December 2, 1819. She was appalled at what she found when they arrived at the Lincoln home. She refused to move into the cabin until Tom installed a wood floor and the place was cleaned up. But now, there were eight people living in the 18 foot square cabin.
Abe came to love his new mother, and she loved him. She insisted that he attend school over the objections of his father, and he did - for short periods. Sarah was a good influence on the family.
Young Abe grew into a exceedingly strong young man. At age 18 he was 6'- 4" tall and strong enough to hold a large broadaxe at arm's length for several minutes without a tremor. He was the best athlete in the area, and he was well liked by all who knew him. He was witty and loved to tell stories. He was an avid reader. He was often hired out to neighboring farms when the work was done at home, and what he earned went into the family coffer. He and two others were once hired to take a flatboat loaded with trade goods down to New Orleans. It was on that trip that he was appalled at seeing the slave market. The trip lasted three months, and he was paid $24.
The way Louise Humble tells these stories is spellbinding. She makes it all seem like it's happening to us, as if we were right there with the Lincolns.
Thursday, June 16, 2005 - This was the day we moved out of Kentucky into Indiana, traveling at times along roads marked as the Lincoln Heritage Trail - to Selvin, Indiana and the Yellow Banks Campground, an unusual place. It was a quiet out-of-the-way setting, a beautiful place on a lake, but there were no signs, no advertising, nor was it in any campground book. Our leaders found it three years ago quite by accident. The owner, Jim Marshall, while digging out the lake several years ago, found that his property contained many acres of ceramic quality clay twenty feet deep. With that treasure, the owner proceeded into a diversity of businesses - a pottery shop supplied with ceramic pieces made on the site, a general store in town, a septic tank maintenance business, the campground, a lakeside beach attraction, several rental cabins, and more - and he's also mayor of the town. We built a campfire next to the lake and roasted hotdogs, then watched the owner demonstrate his skills on the potters wheel. It's a family business. Son, Scott, is now better at the potters wheel than his father, and daughter-in-law Kim sculpts logs with a chain saw.
Friday, June 17, 2005 - This was a busy day - a bright, sunshiny day that started with a carpool trip to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial at 10:00am. The new Lincoln homestead was located in what is now Spencer County near the Little Pigeon Creek. The memorial, built in 1940 and occupying only four of the original 160 acres, became the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in 1962. The main building at the memorial is U-shaped with five walls sculptured in relief on the inside of the "U." Each of the four walls depicts Lincoln's life in a different setting - Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Washington. The center wall shows him as man of the ages. A ranger guide showed us the various rooms inside the memorial - a chapel/courtroom, a symbolic great room, and an artifact museum. Outside about 300 yards away and up a hill adorned by the tallest flag pole in the National Park Service (120 feet) is the small primitive cemetery where Nancy Hanks Lincoln is buried. The tree shaded cemetery is enclosed by a wrought iron fence, and her memorial stone is the dominant marker.
A well kept trail leads from the Nancy Hanks Lincoln grave to a farmhouse, carpenter shop, and animal shelters interpreted by several men in period costumes. Sheep were milling around the yard making their usual racket. Chickens and a cow contained inside a split rail fence completed the scene. The trail back was called the Trail of Twelve Stones, marking significan events in Lincoln's life. There's a stone from where he stood when he gave the Gettysburg Address, another from the White House, one from where he stood for his second inaugural, and more .
The park well preserves the most tangible link to Lincoln's youth - the place where he worked side by side with his father on the farm, mourned the death of his mother, read the books that opened his mind, and grew from a boyhood to a man. The weather was perfect for our visit.
On the way back we made a quick stop at the little Baptist church where Tom and Sarah Lincoln were members - the Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church. Out back was the cemetery where Abe's sister Sarah is buried along with her baby and husband.
Back at camp after a quick lunch, we watched a log carving demonstration by Kim. Using her chain saws, she carved out a bear from a pine log, and an old man's face on a cedar log. She takes her logs and equipment to craft shows in the Fall, selling as many as 1,000 pieces a year.
At 3:00pm we got in the cars again, this time for a visit to the home of Col. William Jones. William Jones owned a general store where Abe worked at times. Jones was a little older than Abe, but the two became lifelong friends. It was probably Jones' influence that led Abe to the Whig Party (it became the Republican Party later) when he became interested in politics. Col. Jones was killed in one of the Civil War battles during Sherman's march through Georgia.
Then it was back to the town of Dale for dinner at Wendrell's Restaurant. This was a family style meal with fried chicken, roast beef, string beans, mashed potatoes, corn bread, salad, and dessert. We all came away stuffed.
The last event of the day was a musical drama in a beautiful amphitheater at the Lincoln State Park. Called "The Young Lincoln," the play did an excellent job of portraying the story of the 14 years that the Lincolns lived in Indiana - those years where young Abe grew from a 7 year old boy to an 21 year old man. The most moving parts of the play were the emotional trauma to Abe when he lost his mother, then his sister.
Saturday, June 18, 2005 - By 1830 Tom Lincoln was discouraged with his farm in Indiana. Friends who had moved north to Illinois sent word that greater opportunities lay in the rich soil of Illinois. So, Tom sold the Indiana farm, packed up his family, and moved again. So, our next move was to Charleston, Illinois, not far from where the Lincolns settled. The caravan parked at the Coles County Fairground a stop where Abe - 28 years after the family move - met Stephen Douglas in the fourth of the seven debates that they engaged in during a campaign for the Senate. Parked along the fence, we were within walking distance of a little museum that told the story. But that's getting ahead of the story.
At 5:30pm we gathered at the local Pizza Hut for an "all you can eat" pizza dinner with the pizza made to our orders. Super! Following that we returned to the fairgrounds, meeting at Louise's trailer for another of her presentations. She told of how the Lincolns moved to a spot about 14 miles south of here and immediately built a cabin. For some reason, that was not satisfactory so they moved again within a few years to a new spot in Coles County. That turned out to be the last move for the family, but something happened between Abe and his father at this time. He left home never to return. He and his father were at odds about his future. Tom wanted him to be a farmer. Abe wanted more than that, though unsure of what. Whatever the circumstances, at 21 he was free to try it on his own. After another venture with a flatboat on the rivers to New Orleans, he settled on New Salem, Illinois as a place to live. That part of the story will come later.
After Louise's presentation we played seven Joker games with the Farleys - the girls winning four of the games.
Sunday, June 19, 2005 - It was a cool morning with a cloudless sky as we sat around an improvised pulpit at the fairgrounds for a short worship service. After a song and a prayer on this Father's Day morning, Kermit Flener told a story of a portrait of a wealthy man's son, painted and given him by a soldier whose life was saved by the son in Vietnam just before the son was killed. The wealthy man had a collection of art from all the famous artists - Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and others - but this painting of his son was his favorite. On his death an auction was held, and this painting of the son was the first thing offered. The auctioneer was persistent, insisting that this painting had to be sold first. The crowd, waiting for the other paintings grew restless and angry. Finally someone bid $10. The auctioneer tried to get more, but no one else bid. Angry voices cried out, "Get on with the important stuff!" Finally, he said "Going, Going, Gone - sold to the man who bid $10." Then, the auctioneer announced that there would be no more items offered. The owner's Will provided that whoever bought the painting of his son would inherit all the rest. Kermit compared this to God's offering his Son Jesus. Whoever accepts Him will inherit eternal life - John 3:16.
The Humbles left us today to travel to Springfield, Missouri. They had special duties at the International WBCCI rally that required their presence there. But Louise took one more opportunity to tell us about the Lincolns.
Abraham Lincoln was licensed to practice law in March of 1837. In those days there were no law school requirements, nor was there a bar exam. All one had to do to be licensed was to go before a judge and convince him that you were qualified to practice law. The following month Abe moved to Springfield to begin this new career. It wasn't long before he became interested in politics and became friends with Ninian Edwards in the state legislature. In 1839, Edwards held a cotillion - a ball - and invited Abe, the rising young lawyer. It was there that Abe met Mary Todd - Edwards' sister-in-law. They were attracted to each other immediately. Lincoln is quoted to have told Mary, "I wanna dance with you in the worst way," and she is quoted to have said, "He did!" By 1840 they were engaged to be married, though sister Elizabeth Edwards strongly disapproved. Despite this, the couple was married on November 4, 1842 in the parlor of the Edwards home. Abe described his marriage as being "a matter of profound wonder."
In 1843 they purchased the only home they were to ever own, residing there for 17 years. They had four sons: Robert, Eddie, Willie, and Thomas (Tad). Only Robert survived to adulthood. Abe was not around much as he spent much time riding the judicial circuit in his law practice. The Lincolns never disciplined the boys, and they ran wild, but there was much love. In 1850 when Eddie died the parents were despondent. 1850 was a bad year for them. Mary's grandmother Parker died, as did Abe's father Thomas, but they were heartened by the birth of son Willie who became their favorite.
Despite many bouts of "melancholy," Lincoln became known as a brilliant man, patient, tolerant, and forgiving in nature. He was a private man, seldom speaking of his troubles. In 1858 he ran for the U.S. Senate. It was during that campaign that he came to Charleston - to this spot where we are parked - for one of the seven debates with the "Little Giant," Stephen Douglas. Although he lost that election, the debates launched Abe into national politics and enabled him to run for the Presidency two years later in 1860.
Louise went on to tell us how tough it was for Mary during those White House years. Louise has made the Lincoln history come alive, and we will miss her during the rest of the caravan.
At 12:30pm we lined up to carpool to the Thomas Lincoln farm located in an area called the Goosenest Prairie. Called the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, it is about 14 miles south of Charleston, still in Coles County. A gentleman in the attire of an 1845 citizen spoke to us at length about the buildings located on the site. Thomas Lincoln and his family - all but Abe - moved here in 1837. It was Tom's last move. He died in 1851, but his widow Sally remained in residence until her death in 1869. At one time 17 people lived in the little cabin which consisted of two 16'x16' rooms. The original of the house was dismantled and taken to Chicago in 1892 to be exhibited at the World's Fair. The present house is a replica. Several people were on the grounds re-enacting the roles of family members. It was said that Abraham came to visit when he was in Charleston for court sessions, but never spent the night at the farm. His last visit was in 1861.
Next door to the Lincoln farm was the Sargent farm which dated to the same period. The two farms were remarkably different. The Sargents were wealthy, progressive farmers, and it showed in the way the two farms were laid out and operated.
Returning to the fairgrounds, we played several games of Joker, then went into town for dinner at the Lincoln Family Restaurant on Lincoln Avenue. All these towns with Lincoln connections make a big play of their Lincoln history.
At a drivers meeting in the evening, our leaders told us what to expect at the next stop in Springfield.
It had been another good day.
Monday, June 20, 2005 - This was moving day again - this time to Springfield, Illlinois, the capital. It was an easy two hour trip in beautiful weather. This is flat country covered by cornfields as far as the eye can see. After an hour to relax we drove into Springfield to tour the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, a brand new state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the life and legacy of our 16th President. The museum and libary are in separate buildings connected by a second story overhead passageway that crosses Jefferson Street. The museum is unlike any other in the U.S., featuring hi-tech exhibits, interactive displays, and multimedia programs. The museum contains the world's largest collection of Lincoln artifacts and documentary material. The first thing that meets the eye upon entering is a reproduction of the White House as it looked in 1861 with life-size models of the Lincoln family in front.
In the first theater presentation, there was an illusory man who introduced us to the facility. He looked real, but at the end disappeared in a poof as other ghostly images appeared and disappeared in a holographic illusion. Everything was geared to educating the visitor about the Lincoln Presidential years - 1861 to 1865 - including the campaigns of 1860 and 1864. No punches were pulled. All the campaign mudslinging was shown too. The cartoons that were displayed showed the meanness of politics that was present back then too. Tim Russert emceed a mockup television report on the campaign of the four candidates in 1860. There was an original handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address.
A great deal of space was devoted to the Civil War as well as the assassination. There were displays depicting the heartbreaks Mary Todd Lincoln - primarily the death of son Willie. The quill pen was there that Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and there were many other things displayed. No museum is complete without a gift shop, and this one was very large with all kinds of Lincoln and Civil War memorabilia.
The Presidential Library is primarily a research center with eight miles of book racks. The library is an amazing resource of information for families, historians and scholars. Banks of computers facilitate the research. Together, the museum and library are the most impressive of any of the Presidential museums we've seen.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005 - The Lincoln sites in Springfield are numerous. We started at the Old State Capital on 6th Street. This stately old building served as the Illinois statehouse from 1839 to 1876. Nearly every room has some link to Lincoln. He drew his pay checks for service in the state legislature from the Auditor's office. He researched election returns in the Secretary of State's office. He used the law library to prepare his legal briefs. He met with his friends for storytelling in the court library. He tried more than 300 cases before the state supreme court in the building. The Representative's Hall was the site of many of Abe's speeches, including the famous "House Divided" speech on June 16, 1858. That speech drew national attention and helped set the stage for his presidential run. He used the Governor's office to conduct his 1860 campaign. And the final link to Lincoln followed his assassination. His body lay in state for two days in May of 1865 in an open casket in Representatives Hall as a crowd of some 75,000 filed past. The two guides who presented all this to us as a group were excellent. After the new capitol building was in place, the old capital was used in many different ways and underwent a number of changes. Were it not for the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the building would probably have been demolished, but admirers of the 16th President led a decade-long effort to restore the old State Capitol to its Lincoln-era appearance. That effort culminated in the present building in 1969. And, it has a two level underground parking garage beneath.
As we approached the Old Capitol Building, we took a narrow descending ramp into that parking garage. Going up in the elevator, we found ourselves alone inside the building. It was 8:30am, and the employees had not yet arrived. The doors were locked, so we couldn't immediately get out. A young lady soon came to let us out. The tours started 30 minutes later when they re-opened the doors. We left the car in that underground garage most of the day while we walked around visiting the other sites.
Our next visit was to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices - a National Historic Site. There, a young man with a speech impediment did a good job of interpreting. Lincoln's office was directly above the old Federal Courtroom. The rooms were in an old warehouse, and were nothing ornate or special. It didn't seem at all like a place to meet with clients, but it was convenient to the courthouse and statehouse - right across the street. Herndon was in the inside lawyer, concentrating his efforts on organizing the office and handling the paperchase. Lincoln ws the outside lawyer, spending much of his time in court and on the road in the fifteen county judicial circuit.
After a soup-and-sandwich lunch at The Feed Store, we walked to the "new capitol building" - the present Illinois State Capitol. This is a large, elaborate, domed-topped building, built with a lot of marble, glass, and gold trim. This building has been the state capital since 1877. We visited both legistative halls with an excellent tour guide who described all the fancy walls and ceilings. It was an interesting tour, although there was no Lincoln connection with the building. Outside on the grounds, we found the old Liberty Bell, one of fifty such that are located somewhere in every state capital.
Our next visit was to the Lincoln home, about six blocks away. One can imagine Lincoln's long strides as he walked to work. The house was the Lincoln home for 17 years from 1843 to 1860 when they moved to the White House. It was the only home the Lincolns ever owned. The entire neighborhood around the Lincoln home has been cordoned off to motor traffic, thus restricted to foot traffic only, although only the Lincoln home is Park Service property. The gravel streets are neatly kept. Sidewalks are boardwalks, the same as when the Lincolns lived there. So many people come to see the house that the rangers have to control things by having groups of about fifteen assembled outside on the street, to go through the house at 5 minute intervals. Inside, the house is furnished exactly as it was when the Lincolns were there. Many of the items of furniture are Lincoln items. Others are reproductions. Many pictures existed of the rooms when the Lincolns lived there, so the refurbishers knew exactly what it looked like. The room that was the most surprising was the kitchen - very small. Meals had to prepared on top of a low wood stove that sat in the center of the room. We were told that Mary Lincoln did most of her own cooking. That had to be hot, and back breaking.
To end the day, we gathered at the Old Country Buffet on the west side of town for a sumptuous meal together. It had been a good day.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005 - If we were following the steps of Mr. Lincoln in perfect chronological order, we'd have gone to New Salem before Springfield on Tuesday, but that did not take away from the meaningful visit to New Salem on this day. Abe Lincoln moved to New Salem in 1830 as his family was moving from Indiana to Illinois. He was 21 years old, still trying to find a meaningful pursuit for his life. He didn't know what he wanted to do in life, except that he didn't want to be a farmer like his father. It was at New Salem that he built his reputation for honesty and integrity.
It was also at New Salem that he became the "log splitter" as one of the jobs he had there was a contract to split 5,000 logs. Wow! He helped manage a general store, served for a time as the postmaster, learned surveying, and joined a local debating society. When the store failed, he took up surveying, and learned it well. The debt left by the failed store plagued him though. At one point the sheriff seized his horse and surveying tools to pay toward the debt. Through all of that he continued to read everything he could get his hands on, but after a couple of other ventures, he was broke, still uncertain of his future.
One day he attended an auction and put in a minimum bid - maybe a nickel - on a barrel of junk that nobody else wanted. At the bottom of the barrel - by good fortune, or by act of providence - he found a law book that opened up a new career, a career as a lawyer. A friend in New Salem helped him with the things he needed to understand in the law, and gradually he worked his way into prominence. It was to further that career that he moved to Springfield.
New Salem became a town just a couple of years before Abraham Lincoln arrived there, and it ceased in being shortly after he left. Looking back from our vantage point almost 200 years later, it almost seems that New Salem's purpose in being was to mold the character of the young man, Abraham Lincoln.
Located on the banks for the Sangamon River, the restored village now seems a peaceful place. The rustic log structures, now restored, line the main street, while young people in peried costumes mill around working the gardens, tending the animals, quilting, making baskets, or just answering questions. The river that was to be the means of transporting mill production to market is too far distant to be seen. Statues of Lincoln are all about.
Hard facts about Abe's life in New Salem are hard to come by. Historians differ on their recording of events. There are controversial stories is about Abe's girl friends and how serious he was about them. Ann Rutledge was one. Ann died young, and Abe was deeply disturbed by her loss. Mary Owen was another. One account has them engaged briefly. Another story tells of a friendly wrestling match with a man named Jack Armstrong, a man Abe later defended in court. Whatever the truth, those few years that Abe lived in New Salem shaped his later life. He was a popular man, elected to the state legislature while in New Salem - his first venture into politics. To attend legislative sessions he had to ride horseback to the then state capital, Vandalia, our next stop.
Back in Springfield, we took a few minutes to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery where Lincoln is buried and his momument dominates everything around. A bronze statue of Abe stands at the base of a huge obelisk monument. Sculptures depicting four Civil War scenes are on either side of him. The metal used to make these sculptures came from cannon used in the war. Below, at the entrance to the tomb is a bust of Lincoln's head. He has a shiny nose where passersby can't resist rubbing it. Inside the tomb, it's a somber place - quiet and a little spooky. Above the marble marker are the words, "Now He Belongs To The Ages." Across the narrow aisle are the tombs of Mary Todd and their three sons, Eddie, Willie, and Thomas (Tad). Son Robert is represented by a memorial engraving in the marble, but he is actually buried at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC.
The rest of this day was spent doing the necessaries - laundry, etc.
Thursday, June 23, 2005 - The last move of the caravan took us to Vandalia, Illinois, the capital from 1819 to 1839. Abraham Lincoln was admitted to the bar in Vandalia, and he began his political career as a state representative there when Vandalia was the state capital. He was elected in 1834 and served three two-year terms. By some reports, Abe had considerable influence in getting the capital moved to Springfield where he served the last year of his third term.
Vandalia is about 100 miles south southeast of Springfield - 130 miles from New Salem. It would have taken Abe two or three days to make the trip on horseback. It's easy to see why he would have joined in the effort to move the capital to Springfield. The drive down took us through some more vast cornfields. What land isn't planted in corn is planted in soy beans. It's a very rural countryside. After setting up at the Okaw Valley Campground in nearby Brownstown, we drove in the early afternoon to the Old Capitol Building for a guided tour. The weather has become very warm.
We were met at the door of the Old Capitol Building by a young lady in period costume. She took us through every room of the building, explaining what went on in each back in those glory days. The building is plain but functional, quite a contrast with the present State Capitol with all its extravagant finery. Both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were among the 90 state representatives that met in session for three months every other year - mid-December to mid-March. These men came from all over the state, staying in boarding houses around town during the sessions.
In the lobby of the building there is a life mask of Lincoln, made in 1860 just after his election to the presidency. It was made as part of the process of creating a statue. Plaster was pressed to his face, then lifted off and used as a mold for a plaster casting of his head.
Outside, at a corner of the property there is a statue called the Madonna of the Trail which marks the terminus of the Cumberland Road, the first highway built by the Federal Government. This is the road that opened up the interior of the country for development. The road began at Cumberland, Maryland and ended here in Vandalia in 1811. The statue was donated in 1928 by the Daughters of the American Revolution in memory of the pioneer mothers of the covered wagon days.
At our final banquet at The Depot Restaurant in Vandalia we had a great meal and a dramatic presentation by a lady playing the part of Mary Todd Lincoln. She came dressed as Mary would have been with her hoop skirt, fancy hat, gloves, etc. and she told Mary's story in first person style. It was great, and it confirmed all that we had heard and more.
It's always a bit sad to say goodbye at the end of a caravan. These people had become friends in the two weeks we've been together.