Lincoln, Presley, and sheep.

Lincoln and two of his sons inside the fence of their home.

Lincoln and two of his sons inside the fence of their home (youngest very difficult to see!).

So: Springfield, IL may be the only place on earth where you can enjoy a “Hound Dog” -performing Elvis impersonator at the State Fair one day, and on the next, take in a dramatic presentation of the essential magic of historical study, as delivered by a Union Soldier-playing live actor and some damn cool holographic special-effects — only to realize that the actor in question was yesterday’s Elvis.

Springfield was kinda awesome.

We went to all the major Lincoln sites, the State Fair, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, and the Governor’s Mansion. We had some fairly meh pizza at the fairly neat-o Pizza Machine and some pretty darn great pizza at the pretty darn standard Gallina’s (where I also discovered Espresso Soda!). And the kids and their dad swam at the local YMCA, while I double-dipped at the Lincoln home, ’cause I’m a geek.

I was caught by surprise, as I always am, by just how powerful it is for me to be in the place, breathe the air, and touch the reality, of a historical figure I admire — I spent that first day, as we tramped all over Lincoln’s home town, in a wash of tears or near-tears, just overcome by things like the fact that the floorboards in his law office (these very floorboards! The ones I’m standing on right now! The ones I’m touching with the bare skin of my feet because I’ve slipped off my sandals to do so! These floorboards right here!) were the self-same floorboards trod by Mr. Lincoln himself.

I did in fact take William Lee Miller’s Lincoln’s Virtues with me, and the business of reading about the man and his moral development while discovering the place he lived for most of his adult life thrilled me in a way that I can hardly explain. The emotional attachment I feel to Lincoln may defy reason, but it is genuine, and the effect of being right there was to deepen the (again, quite genuine!) frustration I feel over the fact that he and I will never meet — and to sharpen my grief over his loss, and the fact that he will never not be assassinated. (I took real comfort recently, and I mean that quite literally, it eased my spirit, when I realized in the course of reading Team of Rivals that while I might know and dread the end of the story, Lincoln himself did not, and he died at what might well have been the happiest time in his life, with the war essentially over, the slaves freed, and the union saved).

Plus which! We saw sheep sheared and pigs judged, and shared a funnel cake and a deep-fried Milky Way. And more to the point, had a ton of fun together. So really — our experience was complete!

As I read more in Miller, I’m finding all sorts of fascinating parallels between America’s more recent politics and those of Lincoln’s years, stuff that will no doubt come up in future posts. But for now, I just wanted to check in and wax all geeky and weepy. And that, I have done.

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It bears noting that the Lincoln Museum was, honest to goodness, the best museum I’ve ever been in. Just the right balance between bells and whistles and real education — the bells and whistles, dare I say it, actually served the educational side of things! (I know! I could hardly believe it myself). Here’s a link to the not nearly as impressive website, and a link to information about the presentation I mentioned above. If you ever have a chance to go — go! Go!

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