Springfield is Abraham Lincoln’s town. Lincoln lived here from 1844 until he left for Washington, DC, and the presidency in 1861. Just about everything has some ties to Lincoln’s memory; even the local brewery uses a stove top hat as part of its emblem. His house, which we toured a few years ago, is now part of the National Park Service. The State Capitol commemorates the site where he gave his “House Divided speech in 1858: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved- I do not expect the house to fall but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become one thing or all the other.”
The city is also the site of one of the best museums I have ever visited, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. We’ve been there before and will see it again before we leave this trip.
But one of the most impressive Lincoln memorials is truly a memorial, The Lincoln Tomb. Operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency who also run many of the local historical sites from a Frank Lloyd Wright home to a visitor center located in the former office of Lincoln and Herndon Law Firm.
As we approached the tomb, I could not help but wonder what Lincoln would have thought of it.
The self-educated man whose writings expressed such great humility and awe at his election to the presidency, is buried in a 72-foot square brick and granite mausoleum with a 117 foot obelisk and pedestals with four bronze sculptures representing the four Civil War military services, infantry, artillery, cavalry and navy.
Above it all stands a bronze statue of Lincoln, himself.
Before the tomb, is a bronze replica of Gutson Borblum’s marble head of Lincoln on display in the United States Capitol. Lincoln’s nose if polished by the many hands of visitors who believe it is good luck to rub it.
A state employee greeted us at the entrance to the tomb with a proper balance of welcome and solemnity. Reminding us to wear our masks, put our cell phones on silence and speak in quiet tones, she directed us to the right into a circular hallway that led to the burial chamber. Along the way, were about a dozen scaled down versions of Lincoln statues from around the country. Plaques included excerpts from Lincoln’s farewell speech the Springfield, the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural Address.
In a chamber at the north side of the memorial, Lincoln’s remains rest in a concrete vault ten feet below the surface behind a large carved piece of Arkansas granite. The remains of his wife, Mary, and three of his four sons, Edward, Willie, and Tad Lincoln are held in vaults on the south wall of the chamber. A fourth son, Robert, was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
The entire site is lovingly cared for with beautiful flowers and landscaping.
What struck me as poignant, however, was a dead tree directly behind the tomb. I couldn’t help but think that such a symbol might better represent Lincoln, the boy raised in the woods who never experienced formal education. The one who earned nicknames of “Honest Abe,” “Illinois Rail Splitter,” “Father Abraham,” “Uncle Abe,” “The Great Emancipator” and “The Ancient One.” This tree, though dead, is a work of art. Branches extend at odd angles, twisted and worn. It remains reminding those who look past the monument of granite and bronze that something simple and plain is worth notice. Just as the bare tree towers over a manmade monument to Abraham Lincoln, his clear, honest words remain to remind us of Lincoln’s heart and character.
From his Farewell Address to Springfield: My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.