Our last stop on the Lincoln Trail was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The complex consists of two buildings across the street from each other in downtown Springfield, IL and we chose to visit only the museum portion since we felt it was more kid-friendly.
After paying our admission fee, we stepped into the center atrium and were immediately struck with the most obvious difference between Lincoln’s presidency and his predecessors’. What, you might ask?
|A replica of Lincoln’s Birthplace|
Take a look at Lincoln’s origins – a humble log cabin. Lincoln wasn’t the son of a wealthy landowner with a fancy education like Jefferson or Madison. And more importantly, he wasn’t even born in one of the original thirteen colonies (like all 15 of the Presidents before him).
He was born in Kentucky less than 20 years after it became a state. His family wasn’t wealthy and any education he acquired was through his own hard work. And yet, across the atrium, you see a mock-up of where this humble man ended up – the White House – the most powerful address in the United States.
|A replica of the White House|
In one glance, the boys grasped what I think was the most important lesson Lincoln’s Presidency could impart. With education and hard work, you can rise to anything.
Having said that, we worked our way from his humble beginnings, through the Lincoln-Douglas debates to the Campaign of 1860. I especially enjoyed how the complicated Campaign of 1860 (it was a four-way race) was explained by the late Tim Russert via a modern television news program. I think the kids were more fascinated by Lincoln’s home life and how he was portrayed as a permissive parent.
After we finished the first part of the journey, it was on to the White House, where the first thing you encounter is a diorama of Mary Todd Lincoln getting fitted for a gown surrounded by the gowns worn by the wives of Washington’s elite. Make your way around and you hear every catty remark these women said.
Trust me when I say that Bravo’s Real Housewives of Washington, DC have NOTHING on these b—s. They were cruel, taunting, and vicious. Add in the attacks on Lincoln by the press and you gain a small understanding of the incredible burden Lincoln shouldered throughout his presidency.
The Civil War exhibits – particularly my reading aloud the Gettysburg Address to my youngest – moved me to tears.
And my greatest joy? When my oldest saw the diorama of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and announcing “Mom, I remember seeing this scene from one of my history books. It’s when Lincoln is freeing the slaves.”
My verdict on this last stop on the Lincoln Trail that again, did NOT make the second edition of Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up (seriously, folks, what are they thinking)? Run, don’t walk to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum if you’re in Springfield, IL – you’ll be so glad you did.