Springfield is the capital of Illinois and was the place where Abraham Lincoln began his career as a lawyer. Many attractions vie for the visitor’s attention. The Springfield Convention and Visitor Bureau recommends three days in which to tour the city. What if you have only one day and limited cash for your visit?
In June 2010, my husband and I passed through Springfield on our way to St. Louis, Missouri. We decided to stretch our travel-weary legs by visiting two of the locations closely associated with the sixteenth president of the United States.
Oak Ridge Cemetery of Springfield, Illinois: Home to the Lincoln Tomb
The Lincoln Tomb is the main attraction in Oak Ridge Cemetery. The cemetery itself was established five years before President Lincoln’s assassination. It sprawls over 365 acres so a good map of Springfield and a watchful eye for the signs marking the way to the Lincoln Tomb are essential. We went south on North Fifth Street, which borders Lincoln Park on the east. Although we did not have time to visit the 88 acre park, the shade trees and gardens looked inviting.
Monument Avenue’s northern terminus ends in a parking loop for visitors to the Lincoln Tomb. The first impression you may have when the Tomb comes into sight is the enormity of the monument. It is not as huge as Mount Rushmore but still is awe-inspiring. Under a clear deep blue sky, the white granite exterior which was quarried in Massachusetts almost gleams.
The Lincoln Tomb was designed by Larkin G. Mead and is 117 feet in height. Two stairways lead from either side up to four bronze statues honoring the military branches of infantry, cavalry, navy, and artillery and the standing bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln. All were created from melted down Civil War cannons. At the time we visited, the stairways were closed off to tourists. An obelisk towers above the statues.
One of the most photographed parts of the Lincoln Tomb is found directly in front of the structure. The bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln is a replica of one done in marble by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who carved the presidential likenesses into Mount Rushmore. The original may be viewed in the United States Capitol building. I noticed the nose on the bronze bust was discolored but did not know why until reading more about it at home. Over the years a tradition has been established by visitors to the Lincoln Tomb. They rub President Lincoln’s bronze nose for good luck.
A number of placards giving facts about the Lincoln Tomb are located behind the bust and to the right side of the tomb entrance. Just inside the door is a rotunda with a domed ceiling and the first of several reproductions of statues done by various sculptors. Each of the bronze statues represents a different role Abraham Lincoln fulfilled in his lifetime: soldier in the Black Hawk War, militia ranger, circuit rider, debater, and lawyer. President Lincoln’s words have been preserved on plaques mounted in various places on the marble walls of the hallways.
The inner chamber where President Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and his sons Edward, William, and Thomas are interred is a somber, dimly lit place. Men should remember to remove their hats when entering the burial chamber. My husband and another visitor did not realize this and were sternly reminded by a volunteer who is stationed in the chamber to answer questions.
The marker for President Lincoln’s final resting place is a large slab of red granite on which is inscribed the words “Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865.” Nine flags stand in stanchions and are arranged in a semi-circle around the marker. The Stars and Stripes and Presidential flag are there as well as the flags of the seven states in which the Lincoln family and ancestors lived. Etched in the marble wall behind the marker are the words Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was cited as saying at Lincoln’s final breath: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
The President’s body is said to be buried in a vault ten feet below the seven ton marker. The vault itself consists of a steel framework around which concrete and dirt were poured. Because of an attempt made in 1876 to take the body and hold it for ransom, conspiracy theorists still speculate whether President Lincoln’s body is actually there. Most people assume it is. When the body was laid to rest in 1901 after having been moved seventeen times, a number of friends and associates were allowed to view the dead President’s face before interment.
The cenotaph or marker faces the four crypts for the family members. The names are inscribed on the southern wall of the burial chamber.
After visiting the Lincoln Tomb, we descended the steps behind the monument to view the old receiving vault built into the hill. This was where President Lincoln’s body and that of his son William were kept for seven months. It was also used before and after this time for other bodies during the winter months when burial could not be done. You can not enter the old receiving vault.
A marker on the hill is the only thing remaining of the temporary vault. This is where the bodies of Abraham and William as well as Edward Lincoln were kept until the Lincoln Tomb was finished to the extent that their bodies could be interred there.
The Lincoln Tomb is only one of the graves which may be visited at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Several Illinois Congressmen, governors, other elected officials, and Civil War generals are buried in this cemetery. Parking spaces accommodate cars, trucks, and vans as well as larger vehicles like RVs. We had a pop-up travel trailer and easily found a parking space easy walking distance from the Lincoln Tomb.
Visiting Oak Ridge Cemetery and the Lincoln Tomb is free and an interesting way in which to spend two or three hours. The slide show of our visit to the Lincoln Tomb is located here.
Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site
Oak Ridge Cemetery
1441 Monument Ave.
Springfield, IL 62702
Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois
This National Heritage Site maintained by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service covers four square blocks. It is about 1.8 miles from Oak Ridge Cemetery and the Lincoln family tomb.
Parking our SUV with the pop-up trailer in tow was not very easy. During the site’s most heavily visited times, the parking lot can be difficult to maneuver with a large rig. We found two parking spaces but had to pay for the use of both of them. The parking fee was $2 per space in 2010, payable at the Park Service run information desk in the visitor’s center. There is metered parking on the street. A bus lot is available but tends to be full at peak visiting times.
“Abraham Lincoln: A Journey to Greatness” was being shown as an orientation film for visitors before they explored the well-preserved Lincoln neighborhood. The film is well worth taking the time to view. This documentary tells the story of Lincoln’s years as a young lawyer, husband, and father, and ends with his farewell to Springfield, Illinois, as he and his family travel to Washington to reside in the White House. One of the saddest moments in the film is the point at which the Lincolns watch over their son Eddie’s bedside as he lingers with what may have been tuberculosis. Eddie was the first of Lincoln’s sons to die prematurely.
Guided tours by re-enactors, some of them ladies in Victorian period long dresses, or by park rangers are the best ways to learn more about the Lincoln neighborhood. Of the twelve historic homes in the four block area, two homes besides the Lincoln home are open for visitors to tour. We arrived late in the afternoon and were unable to spend the time to visit the Arnold home, the Dean home, or the Lincoln home.
The interior of the Lincoln home itself is accessible only by obtaining a free ticket at the Visitor Center desk and going through the home guided by a park ranger. According to Dan Kaercher, the home is decorated with several period pieces but only a few were actually used by the Lincoln family. The china service in the downstairs and the commode used by Mary Todd Lincoln during the night time hours upstairs are authentic Lincoln artifacts.
The Lincolns lived in this home from 1837 to 1861, a total of 24 years. The one and a half story home in Greek Revival style cost $1500 in 1844. Over the years they had $2000 worth of additions, finishing the original half story. The Lincoln neighborhood was upper middle class.
The National Park Service recommends tourists plan for about two hours for their visit. When you tour the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, you get a glimpse of what life was like before the Lincoln family went to Washington, D.C. You may even get an opportunity to see and speak with one of the fine Lincoln re-enactors.
You can see my slide show of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
413 S. Eighth St.
Springfield, IL 62701-1905
Kaercher, Dan. Best of the Midwest: Rediscovering America’s Heartland. Guilford, Connecticut: Insiders’ Guide, 2005.