Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sprinfield, Illinois--Land of Lincoln

The name plate on his front door

Last week I spent in Springfield, Illinois--Land of Lincoln. I say that because other than small airports and restaurants that happened to close before 8:00 pm on a Monday evening and Rod Blagojevich mockery, this really is the land of Lincoln.

Our Mormon History Association Conference was at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel. We had an opening reception in the Old Capital, across the square from the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, surrounded by life-size statues of Abe and Mary Todd and the boys. We had plenary sessions on the possibility of any meeting between Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln, and on Joseph Smith's trials in Springfield (and on all sorts of other simply intriguing and mind-bending topics!), and we awarded stove-pipe hats and Lincoln pennies at our student reception (with cash and books).
I took time to visit the Lincoln home (cool but honestly just like any other 19th century home) as well as the Lincoln Museum (full of very scarey wax figures and holographs and 3-D movies with smoke and vibrating seats) and the presidential library (closed for research on Sunday but it's a beautiful facility with a nice gallery).

And I learned a few things about Mr. Lincoln. Here's what struck me:
  • He loved two other women before he met Mary Todd. His heart was broken the first time when his fiancee died of fever. He was despondent to the point of major depression. Then his second love sort of fizzled out and he was actually relieved when he proposed and she turned him down. Then he met Mary Todd. He loved her dearly and devotedly. I love that love didn't come easily for this man.
  • Once he was married, life wasn't easy. Of four sons, only two lived to adulthood. One son died just a short time after they moved to the White House, and the death caused a great distress. Every Thursday, the day his son passed away, President Lincoln would go sit in the boy's room and remember him. He was deeply affected by the people he loved.
  • I also love that his career was not a straight shot to the White House. He dabbled around, working at a store, then picking up law, then running--and failing--for political office. Several times. He was firm and steady--but just because he knew how to weather through and power forward and pick up the pieces and start all over again.
  • Even as President--and especially leading up to those pivotal years--he had plenty of people who didn't like him very much. The press smeared him as a power monger, a racist, a violent man, a dumb man, a womanizer, a waste. Again--he sort of plowed through. He knew what he believed in--and he listened and studied and formed his opinions very carefully with much thought. And he moved forward with his eyes firmly fixed.
  • He was a joker. He knew how to laugh. He let his kids run wild in his office (ok, that part sort of bugged me--the wax figures of him stretching out barefoot on the couch while his boys threw ink wells at each other and scattered briefings and papers all over that messy office. Do you have to go that far?)--but he let his kids be kids. He understood them. He remembered.
Lincoln's Tomb
Beautiful--but filled with school kids and without the quiet reverence I always find at the Lincoln Memorial here in DC.

So even if Illinois produces such people as Blagojevich or the Chicago mobs or the Governor Ford, if it also produces people like Lincoln, there's every reason to celebrate.

But wax figures? Really?

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Dear JReeder,

I am very happy you had a nice little journey. I think any where you went would be fun.

I miss you.

I got your phone message but it's just too late for me to call you right now. But I hope we can talk very, VERY soon. Because if you have a funny story, i know I"ll laugh. Hard. That sounds fun to me.

BFF I promise.