Looking for Lincoln in Clinton, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln traveled to DeWitt County twice a year between 1839 and 1859 to practice law on the 8th Judicial Circuit and to visit with friends.  In fact, Lincoln visited Clinton, Illinois, over 100 times during his career.  Abe’s most influential colleague in Clinton was Clifton Moore.  Moore was an attorney who lived in Clinton and shared a love of reading with Lincoln.  Moore owned an extensive book collection and often loaned Abe books to read on his journeys.  Moore also supported Lincoln’s political career including organizing a Republican Barbecue with Abraham Lincoln as the main speaker.

The national park passport cancellation stamp for the Lincoln Heritage Area is at the C.H. Moore Homestead/DeWitt County Museum.  Although Lincoln never visited this particular house, it did once belong to the Moore family.  The beautiful, two-story library with its unique, round, custom-made bookcases, as well as the extremely knowledgable docent, is worth taking time to visit the museum.

Looking for Lincoln in Mount Pulaski, Illinois

Mount Pulaski, Illinois became a regular stop on the 8th Judicial Circuit for Abraham Lincoln in 1849 when he traveled as a lawyer from county seat to county seat.  One of Abe’s favorite cases occurred in Mount Pulaski.  In the “Horological Cradle” Case Lincoln represented the purchaser of a patent for an automatic cradle.  This cradle was a precursor to the baby swing.  Once it was wound up, the cradle would rock itself, soothing baby and freeing mom to do other chores.  The patent purchaser discovered the patent he bought only covered the design of the cradle itself, not the mechanics.  Abraham thoroughly enjoyed demonstrating the operation of the cradle to Judge David Davis and courtroom spectators.  Judge Davis asked Lincoln how to stop the cradle from rocking.  Supposedly Lincoln responds, “It’s like some of the glib talkers you and I know, Judge.  It won’t stop until it runs down.”

Unfortunately little else is known about Lincoln’s court activities in Mount Pulaski because Logan County’s records were destroyed in a fire in 1857.  However, Abraham Lincoln did use his court time in Mount Pulaski to practice his public speaking skills and to develop friendships with political leaders in Logan County.  Mount Pulaski is a quick stop for a look around and collecting the national park passport cancellation stamp for the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.

Looking for Lincoln in Lincoln, Illinois

Lincoln, Illinois is the only town named Lincoln that was named for Lincoln before Lincoln became president of the United States.  In fact, on August 27, 1853, Abraham Lincoln christened the city of Lincoln, Illinois with a watermelon and the words, “Nothing with the name of Lincoln has ever amounted to much”.

Abraham Lincoln can also be found at the Lincoln Heritage Museum on the campus of Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois.  The Lincoln Heritage Museum is a fabulous opportunity to learn about Abe by virtually experiencing his life.

On April 15, 1865, Abraham and his wife Mary enjoy an evening out at Ford’s Theater to watch the play Our American Cousin.  The date night ends tragically when John Wilkes Booth slips into the Lincoln box and shoots President Lincoln in the head.  Lincoln lingered on the edge of death for about nine hours before the bullet proved fatal.  The Lincoln Heritage Museum is a unique opportunity to walk with Lincoln as his life flashes before his eyes during these final hours.

The tour begins in the box at Ford Theater.  As I sit on a bench behind Lincoln and his wife Mary I can hear the play Our American Cousin.  A shadow of a man with a gun appears and shoots President Lincoln in the head and jumps off the balcony.  Lincoln slumps over.  A door (a real door) opens and I’m directed by a voice to follow the light.  (Yes, follow the light as Abe follows the light.  Get it?)  I follow lights and touch items that light up and listen as voices discuss current events (from the 1800s).  It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to experience Lincoln’s life from his birth in Kentucky to his final breath in the White House.  The experience is similar to walking through a haunted house; but it’s not at all spooky.  It’s downright entertaining and educational and extremely well done.  The Lincoln Heritage Museum is a unique opportunity to experience history like you are really there.  Touring the museum is like living inside a book.



Looking for Lincoln in Atlanta, Illinois

Atlanta, Illinois is a small town in central Illinois.  It has never been the county seat for Logan County.  Therefore, Abraham Lincoln did not travel to Atlanta on his circuit riding law practice.  So where is Abe, what is the Atlanta connection to Lincoln, and why is there an Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area cancellation stamp at the Atlanta Public Library?

Downtown Atlanta, Illinois is a very short block; not a square or a plaza or a cluster of businesses.  After passing it twice, I found Abraham Lincoln on a wayside exhibit in tiny bitty downtown Atlanta.  Apparently Atlanta was the first city in the state of Illinois to establish a group of Wide Awakes.  Wide Awakes were a political group that gave a voice to young adults.  Wide Awakes chose Lincoln as their candidate for president of the United States and campaigned for his election by orchestrating parades, organizing rallies, and encouraging men, especially young men, to vote. (Women did not have the right to vote until 1920.)  The Wide Awakes are recognized for their efforts in assisting the newly formed Republican Party in becoming a viable political party.

Although it is tenuous, there is a connection between Abraham Lincoln and Atlanta, Illinois.  The Wide Awakes and their energetic, public campaign strategies were an important component to Lincoln being elected the 16th president of the United States.


Looking for Lincoln in Carthage, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln did not travel to Carthage, Illinois often; however, in October of 1858 Lincoln delivered a rousing speech to a cheering crowd on the square in Carthage.  Lincoln was campaigning for the 1858 senatorial election and although his efforts failed in the end, he worked hard at obtaining the support of Hancock county.  When Abe visited Carthage, he would stay with his longtime friend, Alexander Sympson.

The doorway to the Sympson home, the very doorway that Abraham Lincoln passed through during his visits to Carthage, is on display at the Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum.  In fact, I walked through this very same doorway as I entered possibly the most intriguing, interesting, and unconventional small-town museum I have ever seen.  Several of Carthage’s citizens are eccentric-historical-curator-types with a flair for creative drama.  And they are fantastic.

I wander through exhibits of taxidermied animals such as a bald eagle, a fox, owl, beaver, even a javelina; rooms set up like houses from several time periods; tools, pottery, arrowheads, drums, and moccasins;  wedding dresses, every day dresses, party dresses, hats, gloves, and shoes; toys; pots, pans, and various kitchen utensils; guns, military uniforms, patches, helmets, and flags; fossils, rocks, and geodes; and countless odds and ends.  I finally find Lincoln, dead, laying in state in a casket next to a replica of his tomb.  What in the world?  Did his funeral train pass through Carthage?  Was his body displayed in Carthage?  Why is Abraham Lincoln in a casket, in a museum, in Carthage, Illinois?  I’m just “dying” to know so I weave and wind my way back to the front and ask the docent, “Why is there a dead Abraham Lincoln in a casket?  Did the funeral train pass through Carthage?  Was his body prepared for viewing in Carthage?”  Her reply, “Oh heavens no.  When the local funeral parlor closed down, it donated everything to the museum.  We have a whole ton of caskets.  Go check out the funeral exhibit in the far, back corner.” I just love this place!

A fake Abraham Lincoln in a real casket in a marvelous museum in Carthage, Illinois

I have to digress off the Lincoln subject for a paragraph.  Following the funeral home’s example, when the local hospital shut down, it donated all its belongings to the Kibbe Museum.  So what do these incredible people do?  They set up a hospital exhibit.  Included in the exhibit, which is absolutely amazing, are physicians who practiced medicine at Carthage Memorial Hospital.  Life-size, three dimensional mannequins have flat, two dimensional photograph faces.  I took photos, but really you just need to see it in real life.  I’m “dying” (I just love this pun!) to return to Carthage, Illinois to see what these wonderfully creative, talented people come up with next!


Dr Jay D. Trotter First Chief of Staff

Dr. Werner Schönherr

Dr James E Coeur and Dr Edward McKenney take care of a patient


My favorite – Dr Elizabeth Korte delivering a baby with the assistance of Dr Harold Bernstein


Looking for Lincoln in Nauvoo, Illinois

Nauvoo, Illinois was founded by Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers in 1839 after they were chased out of Missouri.  The group arrived at a marshy, overgrown spot of land and decided to make a go of it on the banks of the Mississippi River.  I arrive over 175 years later to find a charming, quaint village bustling with activity.  It’s a summer weekend and the place is packed with Latter Day Saints campers, seekers, wedding guests, and me.  The small unorganized state park is absolutely full and I can’t find an attendant or a camp host anywhere.  After driving the loop three times, dragging my faithful little teardrop behind me, I head to the visitor center.  The friendly tour guides direct me to Peter’s Place, an RV park just on the other side of the village.

After settling into my new digs at Peter’s Place, I go looking for Lincoln.  I cannot find Abe anywhere.  He is not downtown, he is not in Nauvoo State Park, and he is not at Peter’s Place.  Where in the heck is Abraham Lincoln and what is his connection to Joseph Smith?  I go back to the visitor center at the Joseph Smith Historic Site, stamp my national park passport with the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Trail cancellation stamp, pay for a tour, and join the group of Mormons on a Joseph Smith pilgrimage.  I am the only tourist on a quest to find Abe.  Everyone else is looking for Smith who is apparently buried here.

It turns out that Abraham Lincoln never, ever went to Nauvoo.  The only connection Lincoln has with Joseph Smith is that Abraham Lincoln was an Illinois legislator when Nauvoo’s city charter was approved.  Hmmm.  Well at least I discovered why I couldn’t find Ole Abe.  And I got a cancellation stamp!


Looking for Lincoln in Quincy, Illinois

Quincy, Illinois is a pleasant town located on the mighty Mississippi River and it was the site of the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate.  In 1858, Illinois was a “free” state and Missouri, directly across the Mississippi from Quincy, was a “slave” state.  On October 13, 1858, thousands of spectators came to listen as Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas argued mostly about the slavery issue.

Located on the corner of the square where the debate was held, the History Museum showcases a presidential papers collection focusing on Abraham Lincoln. One fascinating exhibit is a set of political cartoons from the presidential election of 1860.  I enjoyed the artwork as much as the satire.  I also grabbed up a national park passport cancellation stamp as well as a “bonus” stamp.

In 1822, John Wood became the first settler in Quincy, Illinois when he purchased land that was part of a military settlement.  He originally named the town “Bluffs”; however, it was renamed Quincy in 1825 after President John Quincy Adams.  Wood was mayor of Quincy three times before becoming governor of the state of Illinois in 1860.  While he was governor, he was allowed to govern from his home in Quincy leaving the Governors Mansion in Springfield vacant.  Wood and Abraham Lincoln were political allies and friends.  They were both against slavery and worked together to help form the Republican party.  When Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for president of the United States, Wood allowed him to use the Governors Mansion in Springfield as a campaign office.  Currently, the John Wood Mansion in Quincy is available for guided tours.


Looking for Lincoln in Beardstown, Illinois

The site of the Almanac Trial is still an active courtroom today.

In 1858, the tiny courtroom in Beardstown, Illinois witnessed the Almanac Trial, one of Abraham Lincoln’s few criminal cases when he was a lawyer.  When court is not in session, the Old Lincoln Courtroom and Museum is open for tours.

On May 7, 1858 Abraham Lincoln defended William Duff Armstrong who was accused of murdering James Metzler.  Armstrong and Metzler had been involved in a fight on August 29, 1857.  Several men spent that day drinking on the outskirts of a Methodist camp meeting and by the time night falls most of them are very drunk.  An argument is settled by a fistfight.  A very inebriated and injured Metzler is assisted atop his horse and sent on his way.  He falls off his horse before he arrives home and later dies from an injury to his head.  Armstrong and James Norris are accused of causing the head injury that killed Metzler.

Charles Allen was the state’s main witness.  Allen testifies that “by the light of the moon” he saw Armstrong strike Metzler on the front of the skull.  Abraham Lincoln questions Allen and Allen states that on August 29, 1857 the moon was full, bright, and high in the sky.  Lincoln produces a copy of the 1857 almanac showing that the moon was not quite full and that at 11:00 pm the moon was very low in the west weakening Allen’s testimony.  William Duff Armstrong was acquitted.  Lincoln won his case.

Looking for Lincoln in Pittsfield, Illinois

Riding the circuit was a common practice for judges and lawyers in the 19th century.  As communities began popping up in sparsely populated areas, judges and lawyers would travel from county to county to hold court sessions.  Abraham Lincoln, based in Springfield, Illinois, rode the 8th Judicial Circuit for three months twice a year.  Weather often made travel difficult.  Lincoln would stay with friends or sometimes a tavern.  Taverns during Lincoln’s time were a type of inexpensive hotel, often dirty and seedy; not like the taverns of today.

Pittsfield, Illinois, the county seat for Pike County, was a regular stop for Abraham Lincoln when he was a lawyer riding the circuit.  I’m sure Lincoln enjoyed his time in Pittsfield.  He had close friendships with several of Pittsfield’s citizens; three would later move to Washington D.C. to work with President Lincoln in the White House.  The charming community has a rich heritage of Lincoln connections and a unique way to share it.

Pittsfield’s Talking House Tour is fun, entertaining, and amusing.  The tour begins at the Pittsfield Visitor Center where you pick up a driving tour map.  Then the fun begins!  Continue driving your car from house to house, stopping at each one and tuning the car radio to the FM station indicated on the map.  Through the car’s speakers, an occupant of the house from Lincoln’s time tells stories of their relationship with the circuit-riding lawyer.  For example, at the Scanland House, Mrs. Scanland tells about an occasion when her turkey dinner got cold because Abe and her husband, Mayor Scanlan, were at the local drug store telling tales and chewing the fat.  It’s wonderful to look at a house where Lincoln was often a guest and listen to stories about him.  It’s not hard to imagine that the year is 1852 and Abraham Lincoln is in town for the twice-a-year court session.

If Lincoln is in town, most likely he can be found in the William Watson Hotel lobby gabbing, discussing politics, and chatting it up with the locals.  Although he usually stayed in friend’s homes, Abe would often pop in to the William Watson for a visit with Pittsfield’s citizens.  Since it is still a wonderfully delightful boutique hotel, I took the opportunity to stay in the “Lincoln Suite” overnight.  The experience was simply lovely.  If you are ever in Pittsfield, Illinois, (which I recommend you make a point to go) I encourage you to stay at the William Watson Hotel.  The attention to detail, terrific service from the staff, a coffee shop right next door, and affordable rates makes for a great place to rest your head for the night.  And don’t forget: Abraham Lincoln hung out here!

Lucky me!  I stayed in the beautiful Lincoln Suite at the charming and comfortable William Watson Hotel!

Looking for Lincoln in Bloomington, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is almost as easy to find in Bloomington, Illinois as he is in his hometown of Springfield.  Bloomington was the home of Lincoln’s great friend and political ally, Judge David Davis.  Davis was a traveling circuit lawyer turned judge when Lincoln was traveling the same circuit as a lawyer.  They were both Whigs and were instrumental in starting the Republican Party when the Whig party fell apart.  In 1860 Judge Davis acted as Lincoln’s campaign manager when he was nominated as the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency.  President Lincoln appointed Judge David Davis to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862.

Judge Davis arrived in Bloomington in 1836 and quickly established himself as a respected lawyer and politician.  He bought and sold land and began to make his fortune.  He built a house for his wife on a piece of land on the edge of town, then added to it as his family grew.  This would be the house that Abraham Lincoln would visit on his many trips to Bloomington.  Eventually, in 1872, seven years after Lincoln was assassinated, Davis tore down that house and built a thirty-six room mansion on the site.  The David Davis Mansion State Historic Site is available for tours; and you can obtain an Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area national park passport cancellation stamp.

An old courthouse on the square in downtown Bloomington is the home of the McLean County Museum of History.  After stamping your passport, you can find Abraham Lincoln in a corner room on the second floor.  A well-made video describes the real Abe through personal accounts from people who encountered Lincoln in Bloomington.  It’s worth a watch to get an idea of the personality of Honest Abe.  The museum also describes several of Lincoln’s cases when he was a circuit lawyer in Bloomington including a trial when Lincoln was the prosecuting attorney in a murder case.  Despite Lincoln’s five hour closing argument, he lost the case.  Abraham Lincoln also practiced family law.  He represented Mary Beard when she sued her husband for divorce on the grounds of cruelty to herself and her child.  She got her divorce and custody of her son and her ex-husband was ordered to pay for all court costs.