All the presidential tomb’s I’ve seen so far have been highly impressive, and Abraham Lincoln‘s is no exception. If you’re going to Springfield, IL to do the Lincoln pilgrimage I strongly suggest it. Warning, it is really NOT walking distance from the downtown area where the rest of the tourist attractions are, it’s a good 2.5 miles away …. so you’ll need either a car, or to take the public bus (whose route does connect the Lincoln’s tomb to his house).
This small nondescript door is the entrance to the tomb, I was expecting something larger and grander, or to have to go up the stairs on its side to get to the upper level, but no…. apparently not
As soon as you enter you see a smaller bronze version of the famous Lincoln Memorial statue from D.C.. You then go through the doorway on the right, taking a circular path back to the crypt, and then keep going until you come back out via the doorway on the left (like the two people in the picture below)
I got lucky, and right after I had walked through the whole monument on my own and was getting ready to leave, a school group came in, so the docent (he looked to be in his early 20’s), who had entirely ignored me, got up and started sharing information. So I stuck around and did it a second time, this time with a guide.
Things I learned: Firstly, there are 36 sets of the sort of caramel colored vertical design elements surrounding the room, representing the number of states in the union when Lincoln died; Secondly, the ceiling of the room is made of some sort of metal (platinum or something of the sort) that at the time of the building was more valuable than gold, and thirdly… the air conditioning vents are covered with wheat like designs, to represent the fields of the area (what is now the midwest)
Most interestingly I thought, the statue of Lincoln is not a copy of the one in D.C., but rather a precursor to it… according to the docent, the artist, Daniel Chester French, had actually presented various bronze versions of the statue, before one was chosen to be chiseled in marble, and this was one of them.
As soon as I came in I had mentioned to him (before the school kids arrived) how I love that Lincoln has fasces below each of his hands. When the school children arrived he pointed them out, and I asked if I could add something (I looked at the teacher and said, “I’m a former teacher, she nodded her permission”), and I then told the students about how if you take a toothpick and break it, it’s easy to do. If you take a bunch of toothpicks and hold them together like the sticks in a fasces and try to break it, it’s MUCH harder to do. And then, if you then compare how hard it is to break that fasces made of 4 or 5 toothpicks with how hard it is to break a stick of the same width, you also find that it is HARDER to break the fasces than the stick. It’s physics, but it also represents an idea, that we are stronger as a union; that the total is greater than the sum of its parts. (I sware to G-d I saw tears come to the eyes of one of the teachers. She then came and thanked me. I’m guessing there’s a back story that I don’t know, but it was nice.)
Also, according to the docent, if you go to the lincoln memorial in D.C. something you really can’t see is the back of the marble statue, and as such one important symbolic element of the piece is lost… Lincoln is sitting on an American flag.
According to him, this was not intended to be disrespectful, but rather a manifestation of his fierce resolve to not allow the flag, with a star for every state, to be torn apart. I.e., by sitting on it, Lincoln is protecting it.
After viewing the statue, you then follow this sign into the pathway to the right
Along the path are black panels like the one above, and a whole series of Bronzes of Lincoln depicting him at various ages and stages of his life in sets of two, standing across from each other at various bends along the circular path
So the images above and below are of statues located right across from each other, and show him as a young adult starting his career, probably as he might have looked upon first arriving in Springfield.
While the bronze below which was further along the path is him as president, and we know this because he was clean-shaven up until he shortly before he became President until convinced by a letter written by a 12-year-old girl convinced him to grow it:
- Dear Sir
- My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to [sic] but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauqua County New York.
- I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
- Grace Bedell
After these statues you finally arrive at the crypt, which has more of those black panels on either side, only these have some of his best known speeches:
The guide basically told us what was written on the sign that was right next to him (read below) adding a few the facts, namely that the ceiling above the crypt was lined with 18k gold, and the reason the President was 10 feet down instead of six, and was also encased in concrete (which the sign didn’t say) was that between his burial and the completion of the tomb, there had been an attempted theft for ransom of Lincoln’s body
And then, after pointing out all the flags mentioned in the sign and describing their meaning. He asked us, “Do you know where Licoln was born?” … total silence till a teacher said, “Kentucky” and he pointed to that flag; Then he asked the room, “does anyone know which state he lived in after Kentucky but before Illinois?” again silence, and the teachers didn’t appear to know, so I said, “Indiana” and he said “right”; and then he held out the Flag of the President of the United States that according to him, was placed there in order to represent not only Lincoln, but also all the Presidents since him who had come to visit the Tomb….
He said he ‘thought’ that President Reagan might have been the one to have added it to the collection when he came to visit, but said he wasn’t actually sure which president had done it, so not to hold him to that
And then he noted that on “the wall behind you”, just as the sign had said, there are the crypts of Mary Todd Lincoln and most of her sons, excluding Robert, who was buried in Arlington Cemetary (he was a veteran of the Civil War) … at which point I quietly added to the adults standing by me what I had learned about Robert from my visit to Mary Todd’s family home in May of 2016, about what an asshole he was and how he had tried to get control of her money.
When I was finally leaving the tomb, I passed the manager of the younger guy who had been giving the tour and asked him if there was anything else in the graveyard I should see before leaving… he said that there was in fact a second tomb, where Lincoln had been buried the first time. That this was the second burial location (Lincoln died in 1865 and his body was moved around a few times — read the history of the Tomb until it reached it’s final resting place about 10 years later.) So this manager said I could take a walking path, that he pointed out, around to the back of the tomb and then go down a staircase of, I think he said 55 steps (!!!) to the bottom. (see the photo below, take from the bottom of said steps)
Now, with my horrible balance, bad knees, weak legs, and a general level of out of shapedness (yes I know, that’s not a word), … So I just gave him a sort of a ‘look’ which I guess clearly communicated to him that this was probably not going to happen… so he said, “OR, you could get into your car, and as you exit the parking lot take a right hand turn, then another — you’ll see signs, and the road will wind down to the back of the monument where you can see it from your car…. So that’s what I did.
So I have now been to Lincoln’s birth place and his home in Springfield, and Tomb…