By Talia Salem
Though he died in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln’s legacy is still alive. The 16th president left a lasting impact on Illinois and the United States during his time in office, which can still be felt today. I spent a few days exploring the Land of Lincoln as I headed out from Chicago along Route 66, and discovered an abundance of historic sites along the way. Throughout my journey, one thing became clear: though Lincoln is acknowledged as one of our greatest presidents, his life was hard and riddled with tragedy. While ending slavery in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation, he also endured great criticism. Explore his life for yourself and read some of the highlights of my journey through Lincoln’s legacy.
Old State Capitol
Our journey started out in Illinois’ capital city, Springfield. First stop was the Old State Capitol (the current state capitol is located just down the street). Lincoln experienced many milestones in this beautiful building. It was here that he fought important cases as a lawyer, served in the Illinois House of Representatives, and successfully ran for President of the United States. The tiny office that served as his campaign headquarters pales in comparison to the sizable offices of today’s elections. The building itself is worth a visit for its Greek Revival architecture, and the guided tours offer lots of color and commentary.
The journey through Lincoln’s legacy continues to the former residence of President & Mrs. Lincoln, where they lived from 1844 to 1861. It was the only house they would ever own. Through hard work and determination, Lincoln moved from a small log cabin in Kentucky to a respectable, well-furnished home in Springfield. Now a National Park, their home is the embodiment of the American Dream. As soon as you walk into the house, with its fine couches, sculptures and ornaments, you’ll notice touches of Mary Todd Lincoln’s upper-class background. Fun fact: Lincoln was so tall at 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm), he had to adjust the height of the ceilings to fit comfortably into the house.
Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is one of the most popular sites along the way. Walking through exhibits featuring Lincoln’s life from his childhood on a farm in Kentucky to his assassination at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, you experience his time spent in the White House, the Civil War, and hear the voices of critics shout out in opposition to his policies, characterizing him as a brute and failure. It’s hard to imagine that Abraham Lincoln, who is so revered in modern times, was condemned during his own for his progressive but controversial views on human rights.
Across the street from the museum at the former Union Station, I got a peek at the costumes and sets from Lincoln, the Academy Award winning film. I loved the costumes for Mary Todd Lincoln and imagined myself dressed like the former first lady as she oversaw her duties at the White House.
Lincoln’s New Salem
About a 30-minute drive from Springfield, you’ll arrive at New Salem, a state park on the site of the town where Lincoln once lived. Recreated to honor Lincoln’s legacy, this community was his home for six years. Arriving on a flatbed boat, he stayed with a number of local families, trying his hand at different professions like shopkeeper and river pilot, before he eventually settled on becoming a lawyer. It was in New Salem that Lincoln evolved from an unrefined country boy to a statesman. I explored the town, chatting with the interpreters dressed in period outfits playing figures who once lived there. They even shot Civil War era guns and cannons!
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