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!