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Years had passed since either of us were in Springfield, Ill. In our absences this once-sleepy state capitol had grown into a tourist mecca (well, almost) with a lot to see and do. So with our “shopping list” prepared, we Getaway Guys were ready to do battle with hordes of sightseers. At the top of our agenda were the restored Dana-Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright and the obligatory Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, followed by Lincoln’s Home and Tomb and the State Capitol Building.
The Dana-Thomas House (1902-04) was built for Susan Lawrence Dana (1862-1946) and restored by the State of Illinois in the 1980s. Containing one of the world’s largest collections of original Wright furniture and art glass windows (250 in all), this masterpiece of residential design is a must-see both inside and out. Neil thought the dining room and its furnishings stunning, while Alan thought its two-story entry hall and woodwork superb. Both got a kick out of the basement billiard room and bowling alley, contemplating ladies and gentlemen in evening attire making a strike or sinking one in a side pocket with sherry and cigars all around.
Visiting the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library takes at least half a day. Brimming with artifacts and exhibits detailing the 16th president’s humble beginnings and his rise from poverty to national prominence, this relatively recent addition to Springfield’s allure is almost overwhelming emotionally. In particular, two multi-media shows take about 20 minutes each. “Lincoln’s Eyes” explores the change in Lincoln’s visage through the years; “Ghosts of the Library” explains in mesmerizing detail highlights of the vast collection, through effective re-enactment and a medium called Holavision. Both are not only informative, but essential to understanding the enduring stature of Lincoln as a man and president. Abundantly clear are the burdens of a man charged with preserving the Union through civil war, a bloody conflict not even universally embraced by the North and not guaranteed of success.
Of the two main exhibits, the Guys were of differing opinions. “Journey One,” covering Lincoln’s journey from boyhood to the presidency was Alan’s favorite. “Journey Two,” highlighting his tenure in the White House, was Neil’s. Both concurred about the “Whispering Gallery” in the second, which is set off-kilter and houses political cartoons and diatribes of the day, with innuendo and scathing commentary to match. Critics of our own time look tame by comparison.
Foregoing visits to the Old State Capitol building, the Illinois State Museum and New Salem due to lack of time, we Getaway Guys took in Lincoln’s Home, maintained by the National Park Service and well worth the effort, and the present State Capitol Building, designed by Cochrane and Garnsey of Chicago (1888). Not unlike numerous state capitol buildings throughout the U.S. (see getaway-chicago.com’s article on Madison, Wis.), this grand edifice is awe-inspiring, even if Illinois state governance is not. In addition to its interior opulence (being meticulously restored), the capitol building features a variety of sculptures depicting noteworthy Illinois citizens. Included are Lincoln (of course) and Stephen A. Douglas by Leonard Volk (1823-1895) and a work by Julia M. Bracken (1871-1942) called “Illinois Welcoming the Nations,” first unveiled at the Women’s Pavilion at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. For a change, Alan was into the sculpture, while Neil ruminated on a 20-foot-by-40-foot mural by Gustav Fuchs (1852-1930) depicting a peace treaty negotiated by George Rogers Clark with Native Americans at Fort Kaskaskia in 1778.
Neil (the big spender) convinced Alan (the cheapster) to splurge on a bed and breakfast. They stayed at The Inn at 835 on South Second Street, which was charming, comfortable and had a complimentary wine-and-cheese tasting. Like Decatur and Champaign, Springfield has some surprisingly good restaurants. We dined at Maldaner’s and Sebastian’s Hideout, where the victuals were excellent, the service good and the prices did not scare Alan too far out of his wits.
P.S. The Getaway Guys managed to squeeze in Lincoln’s Tomb as well. Though moving and important to see, their sense of loss and grief was beginning to become too much. Enough tears for one weekend.
Editor’s Note: The authors maintain a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com, which offers recommended outings to nearby destinations that are often overlooked, but of genuine interest and delight.