I sense a pattern here. Which is good, because that's why I've come here--by train--to see the Lincoln stuff.
Bill Sherer paints an intriguing picture of Abraham Lincoln (not Abe--a name he detested) as he stands on the third floor of the restored Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, at the corner of Adams and 6th Streets downtown. Lincoln, whose formal education was practically non-existent, had arrived in the state's new capital in 1837 after having studied law on his own for three years to pass the exams required to become an attorney. By 1843, he and partner Stephen Trigg Logan were doing well enough to move to this third-floor space, for which they paid $100 a year, a substantial rent for the time.
Sherer, who works for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which administers this site and several others in this town of 111,000, points out a trapdoor on the floor that was placed there when the building was originally constructed as a warehouse. (Some believe 95 percent of the flooring in this office is from the Lincoln years, so visitors are literally walking in Lincoln's footsteps.) Below the trapdoor was the federal courtroom.
Sherer tells how Lincoln, always looking to improve his knowledge of the law and his courtroom tactics, would prop open the trapdoor with a book, then stretch out his 6-foot 4-inch frame on the floor and observe the courtroom theatrics through the sliver of space.
In 1844, Lincoln formed a partnership with William Herndon that flourished, though it moved into a smaller space at the rear of the building when Lincoln was elected to Congress and moved to Washington from 1847 to 1849.
Lincoln in the Old Capitol
Besides having easy access to the federal courts in the building that housed his office, Lincoln had to walk only across the street to the Old State Capitol, which, from 1839 to 1876, housed all three branches of state government.
The building, which was dismantled and rebuilt in 1966, is rich in Lincoln lore. Like the law offices, most of the furnishings visitors see here weren't in the building originally, but they're from that same time period.
John Kjellquist, a computer consultant with a love for history, volunteers as a guide at the Old Capitol "because I get to go beyond the ropes" that keep visitors from getting too close to history. He notes that period pieces had to be used to furnish the restored building because "when the state moved out, they auctioned off most of the things. Also, you have to remember that in the early days, the state didn't have much money, so people who worked here brought their own furniture."
Perhaps the most authentic room in the building is the Governor's Reception Room, which Lincoln used as his headquarters during the 1860 presidential campaign. Kjellquist points out a woodcut made of the room during that time, which allowed historians to accurately restore this room.
Keeping with campaign practices of the day, in which the people came to the candidate rather than as is done today, it was here that Lincoln sat for long hours talking one-on-one with any citizen, no matter how humble, who had made the journey to hear his views.
On the top floor of the Old Capitol is Representatives Hall, the part of the building that may feel Lincoln's imprint most heavily. In 1858, Lincoln began his Senate campaign against Stephen Douglas in which he addressed the slavery issue and its effect on the country, declaring, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Though Lincoln lost that election, it gave him a national presence and ultimately led him to the White House.
When Lincoln returned from the White House, a little more than four years after he left Springfield and less than a month after the Civil War ended, it was to Representatives Hall, where his body lay in an open casket for two days, while an estimated 75,000 of his fellow citizens somberly filed past.
A few blocks from the Old Capitol, visitors queue up, holding time-stamped tickets, awaiting their designated time to walk through the house that Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln called home from May 1844 until 17 years later when they departed for the White House and Lincoln said prophetically, "I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return."
In this house, three of the Lincolns' four sons would be born, and one would die. Reflecting the hardships of the time, only their firstborn, Robert, lived to adulthood, and it was he who eventually donated the home to the state of Illinois, which in 1972 turned it over to the federal government to be administered by the National Park Service.
Perhaps it's the structured timing of the 15-minute tours due to the thousands who visit each year, or the admonitions to "stay on the gray carpet and please don't touch anything," but the home, to me, has a sterile air to it.