Looking for Lincoln in Pittsfield, Illinois

Riding the circuit was a common practice for judges and lawyers in the 19th century.  As communities began popping up in sparsely populated areas, judges and lawyers would travel from county to county to hold court sessions.  Abraham Lincoln, based in Springfield, Illinois, rode the 8th Judicial Circuit for three months twice a year.  Weather often made travel difficult.  Lincoln would stay with friends or sometimes a tavern.  Taverns during Lincoln’s time were a type of inexpensive hotel, often dirty and seedy; not like the taverns of today.

Pittsfield, Illinois, the county seat for Pike County, was a regular stop for Abraham Lincoln when he was a lawyer riding the circuit.  I’m sure Lincoln enjoyed his time in Pittsfield.  He had close friendships with several of Pittsfield’s citizens; three would later move to Washington D.C. to work with President Lincoln in the White House.  The charming community has a rich heritage of Lincoln connections and a unique way to share it.

Pittsfield’s Talking House Tour is fun, entertaining, and amusing.  The tour begins at the Pittsfield Visitor Center where you pick up a driving tour map.  Then the fun begins!  Continue driving your car from house to house, stopping at each one and tuning the car radio to the FM station indicated on the map.  Through the car’s speakers, an occupant of the house from Lincoln’s time tells stories of their relationship with the circuit-riding lawyer.  For example, at the Scanland House, Mrs. Scanland tells about an occasion when her turkey dinner got cold because Abe and her husband, Mayor Scanlan, were at the local drug store telling tales and chewing the fat.  It’s wonderful to look at a house where Lincoln was often a guest and listen to stories about him.  It’s not hard to imagine that the year is 1852 and Abraham Lincoln is in town for the twice-a-year court session.

If Lincoln is in town, most likely he can be found in the William Watson Hotel lobby gabbing, discussing politics, and chatting it up with the locals.  Although he usually stayed in friend’s homes, Abe would often pop in to the William Watson for a visit with Pittsfield’s citizens.  Since it is still a wonderfully delightful boutique hotel, I took the opportunity to stay in the “Lincoln Suite” overnight.  The experience was simply lovely.  If you are ever in Pittsfield, Illinois, (which I recommend you make a point to go) I encourage you to stay at the William Watson Hotel.  The attention to detail, terrific service from the staff, a coffee shop right next door, and affordable rates makes for a great place to rest your head for the night.  And don’t forget: Abraham Lincoln hung out here!

Lucky me!  I stayed in the beautiful Lincoln Suite at the charming and comfortable William Watson Hotel!

Looking for Lincoln in Bloomington, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is almost as easy to find in Bloomington, Illinois as he is in his hometown of Springfield.  Bloomington was the home of Lincoln’s great friend and political ally, Judge David Davis.  Davis was a traveling circuit lawyer turned judge when Lincoln was traveling the same circuit as a lawyer.  They were both Whigs and were instrumental in starting the Republican Party when the Whig party fell apart.  In 1860 Judge Davis acted as Lincoln’s campaign manager when he was nominated as the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency.  President Lincoln appointed Judge David Davis to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862.

Judge Davis arrived in Bloomington in 1836 and quickly established himself as a respected lawyer and politician.  He bought and sold land and began to make his fortune.  He built a house for his wife on a piece of land on the edge of town, then added to it as his family grew.  This would be the house that Abraham Lincoln would visit on his many trips to Bloomington.  Eventually, in 1872, seven years after Lincoln was assassinated, Davis tore down that house and built a thirty-six room mansion on the site.  The David Davis Mansion State Historic Site is available for tours; and you can obtain an Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area national park passport cancellation stamp.

An old courthouse on the square in downtown Bloomington is the home of the McLean County Museum of History.  After stamping your passport, you can find Abraham Lincoln in a corner room on the second floor.  A well-made video describes the real Abe through personal accounts from people who encountered Lincoln in Bloomington.  It’s worth a watch to get an idea of the personality of Honest Abe.  The museum also describes several of Lincoln’s cases when he was a circuit lawyer in Bloomington including a trial when Lincoln was the prosecuting attorney in a murder case.  Despite Lincoln’s five hour closing argument, he lost the case.  Abraham Lincoln also practiced family law.  He represented Mary Beard when she sued her husband for divorce on the grounds of cruelty to herself and her child.  She got her divorce and custody of her son and her ex-husband was ordered to pay for all court costs.

Looking for Lincoln in Jacksonville, Illinois

I found Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville, Illinois.  It was simple to locate the national park passport cancellation stamp in Tanner Hall.  However, it took some research to dig up the connection between the first university in Illinois and the 16th president of the United States.  Abraham did not attend Illinois College.  In fact, he didn’t attend any school.  As a child he taught himself to read with less than a year of formal schooling.  So why did I find him at Illinois College?

About the same time that Illinois College was conducting its first classes in 1830, a young adult Abe arrived in New Salem, about 30 miles from the school.  Lincoln developed close friendships with six of the Illinois College students including David Rutledge.  David had a sister, Ann, who fell in love and became engaged to young Abe.  Abe was set up to attend IC when Ann suddenly and sadly died from typhoid fever.  Devastated, Lincoln slipped into a dark suicidal depression.  By the time he emerged, the opportunity to attend a formal school was gone.

Another important friendship from Illinois College included Richard Yates.  Yates was equivalent to Abe’s campaign manager when Lincoln ran for president of the United States and later Yates became governor of Illinois during the Civil War.  Yates was invaluable as a political ally and advisor to Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps the closest friendship with an Illinois College alumni was his relationship with William Herndon.  Although Abraham did not know Herndon during Herndon’s years at IC, they became colleagues and partners in a law office in Springfield, Illinois.  They remained partners until Lincoln left for the White House in 1861.

Illinois College is on a lovely, landscaped campus.  The private liberal arts university is a perfect setting to contemplate what would the U.S. be like if Abe had married Ann and received the education he so desired.  Would he have become president of the United States and Ann the First Lady instead of Mary?  I like to think so.  Surely it was destiny.

 

Looking for Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is easy to find in Springfield, Illinois.  Abe’s face is all over the capital city – on billboards, the sides of buildings, even the water tower.  But I want to find the real Abe.  The Abe who walked the streets, played with his children, and practiced law.  The Abe who discussed politics with his neighbors, laughed with his wife, and waited for the train to whisk him to Washington D.C. to become the president of the United States.  The Abe who returned to Springfield to be buried.

I found Abe the family man at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  The historic site is more than simply a house.  It encompasses the entire neighborhood where Abraham Lincoln lived with his wife Mary and their three sons.  (The Lincoln’s had four boys but Eddie died before Willie and Tad were born).  Abraham was well-liked and enjoyed storytelling and shooting the breeze with the neighbors.  Abe and Mary were permissive parents and their boys had a wild reputation in their Springfield neighborhood.

The Lincoln boys’ rambunctious activities (and Abe’s indulgent attitude) are represented in an exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.  This is a great place to fully experience Lincoln through many amazing multi-media exhibits as well as artifacts from Lincoln’s life.  Two high-quality special effects theaters entertain and educate with sounds, visual wonders, live action, and even ghosts.  Walking into a reproduction of the 1860s White House I found Mary Todd Lincoln dressing for a formal event.  Giving her some privacy I continue through Lincoln’s presidential years.  An eerie, solemn quiet occurs when I encounter Abraham Lincoln’s funeral service.

Lincoln can also be found at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.  His papers, documents, etc are archived and stored here.  However, there is nothing to visit so it’s a quick stop for the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area passport cancellation stamp.

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, where Abe practiced law with his partner William Herndon, is closed for renovations; however, I grabbed up the stamp at the Old State Capitol building.

General Ulysses S. Grant greeted me at the Old State Capital State Historic Site when I arrived.  I was just in time to hear General Grant relate his experience as a Commanding General of the Union during the Civil War.  I sat in the very room, near the very seat where Abraham Lincoln sat as an Illinois state legislator while Grant shared stories about his relationship with President Lincoln.  What a treat to meet the General himself!  It was at the Old State Capital building where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech.

Another quick stop at the Springfield Convention & Visitor Bureau for a cancellation stamp on the way to the Lincoln Depot.  On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln gave an emotional farewell speech to the city of Springfield before boarding a train bound for Washington D.C. to be inaugurated 16th President of the United States of America.  At the Great Western Railroad Depot, now named the Lincoln Depot, President-elect Lincoln delivered, from the back of a train, an impassioned, off-the-cuff, address stating, “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return”.  We all know he does return four years later, in 1865.  But the return trip is in a casket on a funeral train.

Abraham Lincoln is buried in a tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery along with his wife Mary, who died in 1882, and three of their four sons.  Mary Todd Lincoln experienced so much tragedy in her life.  Her husband is assassinated at the age of 56, and three of her children do not survive to adulthood.  Three-year-old Eddie dies in their Springfield home, twelve-year-old Willie dies in the White House, and Tad dies at the age of eighteen after a trip to Europe with his mom.  The Lincoln Tomb is a gargantuan place with corridors that lead to the burial chamber of one of the most famous individuals in American history.

Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield, Illinois for almost 25 years.  He left footprints all over the city.  After collecting eight passport cancellation stamps from seven sites, I feel like I know a little more about the real Lincoln.  The Springfield Lincoln was funny, a known prankster, and teller of tall tales.  He loved his family and desired to provide for them.  The Springfield Lincoln was young and vibrant and passionate.  Then he became the president of a torn and divided nation.

 

 

Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area

The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area celebrates Lincoln’s life in central Illinois.  The area encompasses 42 counties where Lincoln lived and traveled, both as a politician and a circuit lawyer, before becoming president.  The Lincoln Heritage Coalition is doing an amazing job honoring Abe by allowing us to follow in Lincoln’s footsteps, learning about the people and places that influenced the 16th president of the United States.

One way to discover Abraham Lincoln is by following the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail.  The Lincoln Trail includes 215 wayside exhibits in 52 communities.  The wayside exhibits are plaques telling a story about Lincoln.  Each plaque contains a unique raised image that is designed to create a rubbing representing the exhibit.  Although the idea is clever and intriguing, what would I do with a set of  215 medallion rubbings?

Being a national park super fan and an avid national park passport cancellation stamp collector, I decide to look for Lincoln as I collect the 33 cancellation stamps from 22 communities in the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.  I hope to discover Abraham Lincoln the man, not the myth.  Maybe I’ll include a rubbing or two along the way.

Looking for Lincoln in Alton, Illinois

Looking for Lincoln in Alton, Illinois is a bit of a search.  There are two places to obtain the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area cancellation stamp:  the Alton Visitor Center and the Alton Genealogy Library.  The stamps are identical.  As the name indicates the Visitor Center is a visitor center.  They sell t-shirts and coffee mugs, have loads of brochures for local attractions, and offer information on the area.  The Genealogy Library is a beautiful building in downtown Alton where folks research their ancestry.  But I’m searching for Abe.

I found Lincoln at Lincoln-Douglas Square, the site of the 7th and final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas on October 15, 1858.  Douglas was Lincoln’s arch-nemesis.  Douglas was the incumbent Democratic senator and he was running against Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln.  Their series of seven debates centered on the issue of slavery.  Douglas was the instigator of the Kansas- Nebraska Act of 1854 which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820.  The Missouri Compromise was an act intended to retain a balance between free and slave states.  Basically, if a slave state (like Missouri) is admitted into the union then a free state (like Maine) must also be admitted.  And all territories above the Louisiana Purchase would be free.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the new state to decide for itself if it wants to be free or slave.

In Alton, Illinois, Douglas attacked Lincoln’s House Divided Speech.  You know:  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Lincoln reminded Douglas that the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise.  Although Lincoln would lose his bid at senator, the Lincoln-Douglas debates put him in the national political headlights and he would become the Republican candidate for the presidential election of 1860.

 

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and the Venomous Rattlesnake

You will not find dinosaurs at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.  And you may not find agate.  What you will find is an assortment of fossils of weird and bizarre creatures such as a menaceras, a moropus, and a dinohyus.  All these mammals lived during the Miocene era, about 20 million years ago according to paleontologists.  Agate Fossil Beds preserves a rare collection of fossils discovered in 1889 by rancher James Cook.  My favorite were the Daemonelix or Devil’s Corkscrew.  The Daemonelix is a fossilized home of the paleocastor.  The paleocaster is similar to present-day prairie dogs and lived in colonies in curious, spiral-shaped burrows.  These preserved homes can be viewed on the one-mile Daemonelix Trail.

The paved, 2.7 mile Fossil Hills Trail crosses over the Niobrara River then climbs gently to the “beds” or discovery area.  I visited Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in very late May; the time of year in Northwestern Nebraska when rattlesnakes seek warmth from the concrete of the trail.  As I walk to the top of the hill, I happen to look down and yes, there it is, a rattlesnake stretched lengthwise along the edge of the pavement just waiting for me to take one sideways step.  I  cautiously continue my trek and what to my wondering eyes should appear?   A ranger in green – I have nothing to fear!  I report my sighting and back down the hill we trudge to confirm that, indeed, a venomous rattler is prohibiting visitors from viewing the fossil beds.  Wouldn’t you know it, with both of us looking right and left neither of us spy the sneaky rascal.  The ranger pauses to radio headquarters that a visitor CLAIMS to have seen a rattlesnake near the trail.  What?!  I DID see a rattler!  Just to prove my point, I look down to see the coiled creature RIGHT NEXT TO THE RANGER’S FOOT!!  I point and say, “This Texas girl knows what a rattlesnake looks like.  And it looks like that!”  The brave and daring ranger steps calmly aside and radios to headquarters that indeed, the guest did spy a rattlesnake and now it is on the trail.  We are instructed to back away and watch until the rattler gives up and writhes back into the brush.  Feeling triumphant (and a little smug), I am rewarded for my act of courage with a private, guided tour of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.