Old State Capitol, courtesy Springfield CVB
With the spate of recent books, movies and other media detailing fascinating aspects of his life and death, Abraham Lincoln may be the most popular historical figure in America today. And although several destinations throughout the eastern United States have sites related to the 16th president, no place enjoys a rich Lincoln heritage as much as Illinois.
Most of Lincoln’s adult life took place in Illinois, and several cities around the state have developed high-quality attractions and activities for visitors to discover each place’s Lincoln heritage.
“Lincoln spent the majority of his life in Springfield: over 30 years,” said Kim Rosendahl, director of tourism at the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. “As a result, there is more authentic Lincoln history and attractions in this area than anywhere [else] in the world.”
For bank groups interested in walking in the president’s footsteps, a visit to Springfield, Alton and other spots along Illinois’ Lincoln trail will make an exciting and enlightening travel experience.
A Moving Museum
Because Lincoln spent so much of his life and career in Springfield, the capital city is packed with historic sites related to Lincoln’s home, law practice and political work. Rosendahl suggests that groups begin their tours by getting some context at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Lincoln Library is different than many other presidential museums. The center opened in 2005 and was planned with an eye toward contemporary education and storytelling.
“The museum tells the story of Lincoln from his youth all the way to his death,” Rosendahl said. It’s told in a 21st-century way that is educational and entertaining.”
Visitors to the center will see a combination of traditional museum exhibits and high-technology immersive experiences. The exhibits showcase a wide-ranging collection of items that belonged to Lincoln, as well as other historical artifacts. Groups may encounter famous items such as Lincoln’s stovepipe hat or his original handwritten Emancipation Proclamation.
Two special-effects theaters use modern technology to illustrate aspects of Lincoln’s life.
“‘Ghosts of the Library’ is a live-actor theater where an actor engages with holographic images of Lincoln and Civil War soldiers,” Rosendahl said. “Then there’s ‘Through Lincoln’s Eyes,’ which tells the story of what he went through and what people felt about Lincoln through the Civil War. When the cannonballs go off during the battle, you feel the rumble and see the smoke.
Living With Lincoln
A short distance from the museum, groups can get insight into Lincoln’s daily life at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The four-block area in downtown Springfield is operated by the National Park Service and preserves Lincoln’s home and much of the neighborhood surrounding it.
“This is the only home that the Lincolns ever owned,” Rosendahl said. “The home looks exactly like it did when they lived there.”
Today, some 310,000 people tour the two-story house each year guided by park rangers who tell them about Lincoln’s family life, the unique and original furnishings inside the house and the preservation process that restored the home to its historic look.
“As they did the restoration, they found several layers of wallpaper, including the original wallpaper that Mary Lincoln had,” Rosendahl said. “They were able to take that pattern and re-create it throughout the house. There are original furnishings and artifacts in there as well.”
After a guided tour through the Lincoln home, groups can check out the rest of the historic neighborhood on their own. Several of the houses are open for tours, showcasing the lifestyles of Lincoln’s neighbors.