A few years ago my friend Alexis and I went to visit Miró in Austin and wandered into the LBJ Presidential Museum. It was awesome (and not just because it was air-conditioned). It was fascinating to see how the museum decided to portray his legacy – the moment that sticks in my head from that one is the transition from the good (the Civil Rights legislation) to the bad (Vietnam) with just a blank wall with a scale model of the USS Maddox. Since then I’ve been to a bunch of other Presidential Museums (mostly with Lex!) and the way that each one presents the legacy of the man they are memorializing.
Clockwise from left: Lex, M & I at the LBJ library; Me hanging with the Roosevelts in Hyde Park, NY; Lex & I at the JFK Library; Me with the shuttle that connects the John Adams and John Quincy Adams Museums
I’ve lived in Illinois now for over 6 years now and yet I hadn’t ever made the trek down to Springfield to see the Lincoln Museum until this weekend. My friend’s Katelin, Noel and I decided that it would be a fun/nerdy way to celebrate the 4th of July.
The first place we went was the Visitor’s Center which was in an old train station and has a few of the costumes and sets from the movie Lincoln:
One of Sally Field’s costumes from Lincoln
Daniel Day Lewis’s costume and the set for the cabinet office
Then we crossed the street to the actual museum, which was very modern and pretty, and for some reason filled with creepy mannequin characters.
There were also a set of these of the whole Lincoln family that you could pose with…Noel suggested that is how you love your soul.
You can’t take pictures in most of the exhibits, but they are for the most part really well done. Especially a piece featuring the late Tim Russert commentating on the Presidential election and the handling of the election, and everything related to Lincoln’s death and funeral procession.
I also thought they did a really good job of being kind to Mary Todd Lincoln. It can be really easy to reduce her down to a stereotype and make jokes about séances, but the museum does a really good job of explaining the trauma she went through; she suffered so much loss and reacted to it in the only way she could. For the most part I thought they did a wonderful job of summing up his life and career – with a big exception that I’ll get to in a little bit.
So it turns out that other than various Lincoln related monuments there isn’t a lot to do in Springfield on a Saturday afternoon, so after the museum (and the holographic show about the importance of archives, which I really appreciated.) We decided to go to see Lincoln’s Tomb, which the man at the Visitor’s Information desk said was a “quick walk” away. I believe his exact words were its “up this way a bit and then right over.” That man was a liar, it was a half an hour walk. And we found out later that there was a bus, that we managed to miss in both directions.
Visiting a grave is always kind of weird as a tourist stop, but I felt like the National Park service did all they could to keep the tone somber and reverential. (Also architecturally it is just really impressive.)
By the time we walked all the back in to town (passing a few confused Springfield residents who we could hear saying “where do you think they’re headed?”) All of the restaurants we passed seemed to be closed, except this one:
Just kidding, we went to a wonderful pizza place called Joe Gallina’s
Seriously the pizza was sooo good:
On the way back to the train station we finally found Lincoln’s Law office:
And this plaque:
Joshua Speed was Lincoln’s “best friend” who he shared a bed with for over five years and wrote incredibly emotional letters to. I was really angry that there was nary a mention of him at the official museum. I understand that they may not want to take a position on the nature of Speed and Lincoln’s relationship (it is complicated by the fact that modern notion of homosexuality as an identity is a really recent cultural phenomenon that wouldn’t have made any sense to these men and the idea of romantic friendship between men wouldn’t have been uncommon or frowned upon.) But I don’t see why they mentioned the store they owned together without mentioning the fact that there was a co-owner who was incredibly important to Lincoln (no matter what way.) I’m glad there was some acknowledgement of his presence in the town.
Overall it was a great trip – worth hours of Amtrak.