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Old State Capitol, Springfield

LAND OF LINCOLN:
Springfield, Illinois

getaway-chicago logo Years had passed since either Neil or Alan had been in Springfield, Illinois. In their absences this once sleepy state capitol had grown into a tourist mecca (well, almost) with a lot to see and do. So with their “shopping” list prepared, the Getaway Guys were ready to do battle with hordes of tourists. At the top of their list were the restored Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright and the obligatory Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, followed by Lincoln’s Home and Tomb and the State Capitol Building.springfield1

The Dana-Thomas House (1902-’04) was built for Susan Lawrence Dana (1862-1946) and restored by the State of Illinois in the 1980’s. Containing one of the world’s largest collections of original Wright furniture and art glass windows (250), this masterpiece of residential design is a must see both inside and out. Neil thought the dining room and its furnishings stunning, springfield2while Alan thought its two story entry hall and woodwork superb. He would! Both got a kick out of the basement billiard room and bowling alley, contemplating ladies and gentlemen in evening attire making a strike or sinking one in a side pocket with sherry and cigars all around.

Visiting the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library takes at least half a day. Brimming with artifacts and exhibits detailing the 16th President’s humble beginnings and his rise from poverty to national springfield3prominence, this relatively recent addition to Springfield’s allure is almost overwhelmingly emotionally. In particular, two multi-media shows (about 20 minutes each), “Lincoln’s Eyes,” which explores the change in Lincoln’s visage through the years, and “Ghosts of the Library,” which explains in mesmerizingspringfield4 detail highlights of the vast collection through effective re-enactment and a medium called Holavision. Both are not only informative, but essential to understanding the enduring stature of Lincoln as a man and President. Abundantly clear are the burdens of a man charged with preserving the Union through civil war, a bloody conflict not universally embraced by the North and not guaranteed of success. A war about which not just a few citizens thought a waste of time and effort.

Of the two main exhibits, the Guys were of differing opinions. “Journey One” covering Lincoln’s journey from boyhood to the Presidency was Alan’s favorite. “Journey Two” highlighting his tenure in The White House was Neil’s. Both concurred about the “Whispering Gallery" in the second, which is set off-kilter and houses political cartoons and diatribes of the day, with inuendo and scathing commentary to match. Critics of our own time look tame in comparison.springfield5

Foregoing visits to the Old State Capitol building, the Illinois State Museum and New Salem due to lack of time, the Getaway Guys took in Lincoln’s Home, which is maintained by the National Park Service and well worth the effort, and the present State Capitol Building, designed by Cochrane and Garnsey of Chicago (1888). Not unlike numerous state capitol buildings throughout the U.S. (see getaway-chicago’s Looking for Nakoma), this grandiose edifice is awe inspiring, even if Illinois state governance ain’t. In addition to its interior opulence (being meticulously restored), the capitol building features a variety of sculptures depicting noteworthy Illinois citizens. Included are Lincoln (of course) and Stephen A. Douglas by Leonard Volk (1823-1895) and a work by Julia M. Bracken (1871-1942) entitled Illinois Welcoming the Nations, first exhibited in the Women’s Pavilion at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. For a change,springfield6 Alan was into the sculpture, while Neil ruminated on a 20’ x 40’ mural by Gustav Fuchs (1852-1930) depicting a peace treaty negotiated by George Rogers Clark with Native Americans at Fort Kaskaskia in 1778.

Neil (the big spender) convinced Alan (the cheapster) to splurge on a bed and breakfast. They stayed at The Inn at 835 on South Second Street, which was charming, comfortable and had a complimentary wine and cheese tasting to please the cheapster. Like Decatur and Champaign, Springfield has some surprisingly good restaurants. The Guys dined at Maldaner’s and Sebastian’s Hideout where the victuals were excellent, the service good and the prices didn’t scare Alan out of his wits.

P.S. The Getaway Guys managed to squeeze in Lincoln’s Tomb as well. Though moving and important to see, their sense of loss and grief was beginning to become too much. Enough tears for one weekend! March 2010

(Interior photos of Dana-Thomas House by Doug Carr, courtesy of the Dana-Thomas Foudation.)

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