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 Jacksonville, Illinois

I found Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville, Illinois.  It was simple to locate the national park passport cancellation stamp in Tanner Hall.  However, it took some research to dig up the connection between the first university in Illinois and the 16th president of the United States.  Abraham did not attend Illinois College.  In fact, he didn’t attend any school.  As a child he taught himself to read with less than a year of formal schooling.  So why did I find him at Illinois College?

About the same time that Illinois College was conducting its first classes in 1830, a young adult Abe arrived in New Salem, about 30 miles from the school.  Lincoln developed close friendships with six of the Illinois College students including David Rutledge.  David had a sister, Ann, who fell in love and became engaged to young Abe.  Abe was set up to attend IC when Ann suddenly and sadly died from typhoid fever.  Devastated, Lincoln slipped into a dark suicidal depression.  By the time he emerged, the opportunity to attend a formal school was gone.

Another important friendship from Illinois College included Richard Yates.  Yates was equivalent to Abe’s campaign manager when Lincoln ran for president of the United States and later Yates became governor of Illinois during the Civil War.  Yates was invaluable as a political ally and advisor to Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps the closest friendship with an Illinois College alumni was his relationship with William Herndon.  Although Abraham did not know Herndon during Herndon’s years at IC, they became colleagues and partners in a law office in Springfield, Illinois.  They remained partners until Lincoln left for the White House in 1861.

Illinois College is on a lovely, landscaped campus.  The private liberal arts university is a perfect setting to contemplate what would the U.S. be like if Abe had married Ann and received the education he so desired.  Would he have become president of the United States and Ann the First Lady instead of Mary?  I like to think so.  Surely it was destiny.


Looking for Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is easy to find in Springfield, Illinois.  Abe’s face is all over the capital city – on billboards, the sides of buildings, even the water tower.  But I want to find the real Abe.  The Abe who walked the streets, played with his children, and practiced law.  The Abe who discussed politics with his neighbors, laughed with his wife, and waited for the train to whisk him to Washington D.C. to become the president of the United States.  The Abe who returned to Springfield to be buried.

I found Abe the family man at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  The historic site is more than simply a house.  It encompasses the entire neighborhood where Abraham Lincoln lived with his wife Mary and their three sons.  (The Lincoln’s had four boys but Eddie died before Willie and Tad were born).  Abraham was well-liked and enjoyed storytelling and shooting the breeze with the neighbors.  Abe and Mary were permissive parents and their boys had a wild reputation in their Springfield neighborhood.

The Lincoln boys’ rambunctious activities (and Abe’s indulgent attitude) are represented in an exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.  This is a great place to fully experience Lincoln through many amazing multi-media exhibits as well as artifacts from Lincoln’s life.  Two high-quality special effects theaters entertain and educate with sounds, visual wonders, live action, and even ghosts.  Walking into a reproduction of the 1860s White House I found Mary Todd Lincoln dressing for a formal event.  Giving her some privacy I continue through Lincoln’s presidential years.  An eerie, solemn quiet occurs when I encounter Abraham Lincoln’s funeral service.

Lincoln can also be found at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.  His papers, documents, etc are archived and stored here.  However, there is nothing to visit so it’s a quick stop for the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area passport cancellation stamp.

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, where Abe practiced law with his partner William Herndon, is closed for renovations; however, I grabbed up the stamp at the Old State Capitol building.

General Ulysses S. Grant greeted me at the Old State Capital State Historic Site when I arrived.  I was just in time to hear General Grant relate his experience as a Commanding General of the Union during the Civil War.  I sat in the very room, near the very seat where Abraham Lincoln sat as an Illinois state legislator while Grant shared stories about his relationship with President Lincoln.  What a treat to meet the General himself!  It was at the Old State Capital building where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech.

Another quick stop at the Springfield Convention & Visitor Bureau for a cancellation stamp on the way to the Lincoln Depot.  On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln gave an emotional farewell speech to the city of Springfield before boarding a train bound for Washington D.C. to be inaugurated 16th President of the United States of America.  At the Great Western Railroad Depot, now named the Lincoln Depot, President-elect Lincoln delivered, from the back of a train, an impassioned, off-the-cuff, address stating, “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return”.  We all know he does return four years later, in 1865.  But the return trip is in a casket on a funeral train.

Abraham Lincoln is buried in a tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery along with his wife Mary, who died in 1882, and three of their four sons.  Mary Todd Lincoln experienced so much tragedy in her life.  Her husband is assassinated at the age of 56, and three of her children do not survive to adulthood.  Three-year-old Eddie dies in their Springfield home, twelve-year-old Willie dies in the White House, and Tad dies at the age of eighteen after a trip to Europe with his mom.  The Lincoln Tomb is a gargantuan place with corridors that lead to the burial chamber of one of the most famous individuals in American history.

Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield, Illinois for almost 25 years.  He left footprints all over the city.  After collecting eight passport cancellation stamps from seven sites, I feel like I know a little more about the real Lincoln.  The Springfield Lincoln was funny, a known prankster, and teller of tall tales.  He loved his family and desired to provide for them.  The Springfield Lincoln was young and vibrant and passionate.  Then he became the president of a torn and divided nation.



Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area

The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area celebrates Lincoln’s life in central Illinois.  The area encompasses 42 counties where Lincoln lived and traveled, both as a politician and a circuit lawyer, before becoming president.  The Lincoln Heritage Coalition is doing an amazing job honoring Abe by allowing us to follow in Lincoln’s footsteps, learning about the people and places that influenced the 16th president of the United States.

One way to discover Abraham Lincoln is by following the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail.  The Lincoln Trail includes 215 wayside exhibits in 52 communities.  The wayside exhibits are plaques telling a story about Lincoln.  Each plaque contains a unique raised image that is designed to create a rubbing representing the exhibit.  Although the idea is clever and intriguing, what would I do with a set of  215 medallion rubbings?

Being a national park super fan and an avid national park passport cancellation stamp collector, I decide to look for Lincoln as I collect the 33 cancellation stamps from 22 communities in the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.  I hope to discover Abraham Lincoln the man, not the myth.  Maybe I’ll include a rubbing or two along the way.