Springfield, IL–Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US President, was born in 1809 in Kentucky and spent his childhood in Indiana, but his adult life centered around Springfield, Illinois. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, now in its tenth year, is still drawing big crowds to the small town that is also home to the Illinois legislature where Lincoln once served.
Through November 15, a special exhibit focuses on Lincoln and his relationship with Jews, including many original documents, artifacts, photographs, and Lincoln’s letters, on loan from various institutions. Unusual for his era, Lincoln had close friends and associates who were Jewish, such as Springfield’s Abraham Jonas and Chicago’s Abraham Kohn. For more on this fascinating history and review of many of the documents on display, see Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell (2015, St. Martin’s Press)
Permanent exhibits take visitors through an hands-on, immersive experience of replicas and scenes from his early life living in a log cabin, to his job as a store owner, a lawyer, legislator, presidential candidate and president, ending with his assassination in Ford’s Theatre at the age of 56 in 1865, just six days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army to General Grant.
The National Park Service runs the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, with tours of the house, as well as other period homes around the block of 8th and Jackson. As was the custom of the time, Lincoln did not travel to campaign for the presidency, but remained at home while others “stumped” on his behalf. He received the news of his election while at his Springfield home. The Visitor’s Center offers an overview of his life, and the home itself features many original furnishings, including a small writing desk Lincoln used, and a hat rack for his signature stovepipe hat.
When Lincoln died, a funeral train brought his body from Washington, D.C. back home to Springfield to rest. The Lincoln Tomb and War Memorials Site, run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is in Oak Ridge Cemetery at 1500 Monument Ave. in Springfield. Lincoln, his 3-year-old son Edward, who died in Springfield, his son 12-year-old son William, who lived in Springfield and died in Washington, and his wife Mary Todd, are all interred in a burial chamber that the public can visit under the 117-foot-tall monument.
Because Springfield is still a relatively small town, it’s easy to imagine Lincoln living and working here. The old state capitol building with its red roof, and the new one dating from 1868 with a silvery zinc dome, are both open for tours as well.