Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lincoln's Birthday Celebration in Springfield

How young our country is. That struck me so very deeply this past week as we celebrated the 200th birthday of one of America's greatest presidents, and most certainly the man of whom Illinois is the proudest, Abraham Lincoln.

David and I and the baby traveled to Springfield on Thursday to participate in the festivities going on in this city where Lincoln once lived. The older boys we left home. It was cold, they would have been dreadfully bored and we were worried about them getting lost or stolen with the myriads of people Springfield expected. I felt bad leaving my little ones behind but was glad that we did so, once we got there. There were so many people and it would have been difficult to keep track of the two of them since they both are prone to wandering and have a rather disspiriting habit of disappearing and it seems they both suffer from Selective Hearing and do not always come when called. (Which we are working on. Spare the rod, spoil the child.)

Our initial plan was to attend the open house the governor was hosting in the executive mansion and go to the period dress ball at the presidential musuem later in the evening. I was in a nervous flutter all the way down. It was exactly like the feeling I got when I had a "crush" on a Certain Person, who shall remain Nameless, when I was young and prone to emotional feelings. I don't have a crush on the governor, certainly, but was in a state of dreadful excitement at the thought of possibly seeing or even speaking to him. David could not understand my nerves. "He is a Democrat from Chicago." I didn't care. It was enough to think of him as Governor Quinn. It was enough to remember he has promised to reopen the historical sites and parks that were closed last fall. It was enough to remember he had promised to live in Springfield, in the executive mansion in which our former governor never had stayed. It was enough to think of his kindly, handsome face, which has an honorable look that never glanced over the face of our former governor. I felt in worshipful awe of him, and shuddered at the thought of actually being in his presence. Would I see him?

My nerves were all in vain. When we arrived at the mansion there was an infinite line of people, like ants, stretched around the block, creeping ever-so-slowly towards the gate and door. It was impossible to think of joining that line, especially with the baby and the chilly air and wind.

We went to the Lincoln home instead.
The Lincoln home is part of a group of period houses in a 4-block area that the national park service has bought and restored to 1860's period. It is a beautiful area and David and I enjoyed walking down the streets as we waited for our tour of the Lincoln home. It was cozy to be near each other and to pretend we lived in one of those houses and that we were out for an evening stroll with our baby. We studied each one to see which we liked the best.
We decided on this one, a stately yellow and green home with a large yard where the boys could run and play, just a few houses down from the Lincolns. As twilight grew near, our tour was called and many dozens of people had gathered in the street in front of the house, be-garbed and be-costumed and be-lighted with flashlights and lanterns, forming a vast parade in honor of Mr. Lincoln's birthday that snaked its way down the street and to the Old State Capital. While the well-wishers trekked off, our little tour group climbed the steps of the Lincoln home and entered.

It was still and quiet inside. I do not believe in ghosts or flitting spirits or white-draped moaning things that spook people but I do know that whenever I have been in a place Mr. Lincoln was intimate with, I have felt a solemn presence. I felt it for the first time as a young girl of eleven, when I first went to Lincoln's Tomb, and I felt it again on Thursday evening as we walked through the rooms Lincoln lived in - loved in - grieved in. It seemed almost like tresspassing to go throughout the home and gaze on scenes that must have been very familiar to the Lincoln family. The room where their little boy died ~ the room where Lincoln received news of his presidential nomination ~ the dining room, arranged as if for supper.
One interesting thing I did learn on the tour (I have been on it before) was that the wallpaper in the Lincoln's bedroom was a copy of the actual wallpaper that really was in their bedroom. The brightly colored carpet on the floor clashed oddly with it, almost gaudy. But, out tour guide explained, that was a popular notion of the day. Harmony through contrast. I thought how well that explained the sometimes wild color combinations on original 1860's period clothing and accessories, even the colors in the print of a fabric from then.
As we exited the house, darkness had fallen. The street lights were on, illuminating the neighborhood in a dream-like glow. A little boy approached David and asked him, "are you really from the Civil War? Shouldn't you be really, really old?" We went then to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum for their period ball.

What can I say. It wasn't quite what I expected. There were ghastly numbers of people there and the dance floor was excessively crowded, with people bunched around the fringes in smothering numbers. David and I squeezed our way to the back of the dance area and somehow got entangled in the Grand March, which I did half-way with Malachi in my arms before Rose, a dear lady from our Medical Unit, took him as I was whisked by.

That was the only dance we particpated in. We walked around with the baby, which caused a great stir. It is a truth well established that having a new baby makes you an instant celebrity - I don't know how many pictures people took of us and the baby, or how many people came up to me to ask about the baby or comment on how he looked. It's was also astounding at how many people asked, "is that a REAL baby?" I heard one lady exclaim, as we passed by, "Why, it is a real baby! And it's wearing a real dress!" Poor little Malachi, slumbering peacefully, was not aware of his social success nor did he care. A full tummy and clean diaper and warm arms to nestle in was all he wanted.
The other enormously wonderful thing was the birthday cake they had in the cafe for Abraham Lincoln. A 42-inch cheesecake, topped with a gingerbread fascimile of the Lincoln home. That was definitely the best cheesecake I've ever had in my life. I took a photo of the recipe, which I plan on somehow shrinking so I can make one for us here at home. The man who made the cheesecake also made things for our current president and former President Clinton's inaguartion dinners. . .he is definitely very, very good at what he does. Before we left, we walked through the museum exhibits. The corriders were quite bare and it was very quiet and still. It was almost creepy to see the life-like silicone figures, which I wasn't able to take pictures of since photos aren't allowed in the exhibit areas! DO go to the museum if you are ever able to! It's an amazing experience!

Here are the dear ladies from our medical unit with little Malachi ~
And here is David and the gentlemen who compose the medical unit ~And here are we ~As we hurried out into the chilly night, we were stopped by one more person right before we reached the parking deck. A lady got out of her car and hurried over to us, asking to take our picture so she could show her children!

It was good to get home, though. Home is very nice to come back to, especially when you have two darling little boys to peek at before going to bed, with their hands tucked beneath their rosy little cheeks.

Maybe next time I will see Governor Quinn. There are still so many places to see in Springfield, so many historical spots to search out and explore. We will be back. It's nice to have such a hot-spot of history so very close.



  1. Oh how exciting for you and David! You look beautiful and how fun to have people taking your family's picture and being able to be a part of history! :D

  2. Dear Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing those wonderful photos-I felt bad that we couldn't travel to any Lincoln-y activities (Idaho seems to have forgotten about him!), but I was able to capture a feel of the day through you!



    p.s. You all look so wonderful-Hope your blood pressure's doing better!

  3. What a lovely time! I love the pictures and you look beautiful my dear. I'm glad you had such a nice time. God bless! Love Lauren

  4. Wonderful photos!!!! You all look wonderful. How fun!

  5. What fun you must have had!!! I would have never wanted to leave the little village with the period homes. You all look so wonderful in your clothing. When I was looking at the beaufiful pictures my heart skipped a beat there are Hitchcok chairs in the dining room. OOOOOHH how I wish I could have been there to see them in person.
    hope you BP has gone down.

  6. Beautiful pictures, Sarah Jane. I'm glad you had a lovely time, your family looks great!


  7. Ooooh! It looks so wonderful, I'm happy you had a good time.

    We drove past the executive mansion as well, and decided to keep driving. No point waiting in line -- when we arrive, it wrapped all the way from 4th around the north end of the block and halfway down 5th. Shaune and I headed out to New Salem instead.

    You all look exquisit in your outfits! Thanks for posting!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!