Sunday, April 7, 2013

Why so weepy? It's only Springfield!

Folks in the family weren't too sure about going to Springfield for the weekend.  I don't know why not. After all, it is the capital of our fine state, plus the home for many years of Abraham Lincoln, location of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Dana Thomas house and site of our lovely lipstick-tube-style Hilton hotel! A weekend well-spent. Family time aplenty, and some interesting sites to visit.  We'll be back! I might as well admit, right now, that for whatever reason, I was teary practically all weekend.  Let's chalk it up to my fascination with Civil War era history, Lincoln, the first spring break without my dad, and maybe just the angst of dying nineteenth and early twentieth century towns in the american middle-west.  Town is depressed/depressing. 
National Park, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln.  
First stop, Lincoln's home.  It's the only National Park in Illinois, a little neighborhood, preserved only blocks away from the state capital building and our round hotel.  We walked around the sun-splashed parkway on our first afternoon in town, but it wasn't until later that we toured the interior of the Lincoln home.  I wasn't completely sure that we'd want to take this tour, given multiple tourist destinations, but as it turns out, within the interior of the Lincoln home photography was permitted. A splendid opportunity to memorialize the amazing wallpaper!  Our guide explained that Mrs. Lincoln ordered the wallpaper from Paris, and her black horse-hair furniture was near and dear to her heart.

A word on our guide.  A young energetic father of three from Arkansas, who I got to chatting with at the end of our tour (I love a good docent).  A national guardsman today, serving out 18 more months in Illinois.  The only job he could find after eight years of active duty.  I'll admit here and now, I thought his twang was a joke.  It was so strong when he opened his mouth I thought for sure it was an affect he was putting on to entertain the tourists.  Now, I realize not.  And where did he grow up? On a farm, of course.  And we all know how easy it is to go back to five hundred miles north it is.

wallpaper! Mrs. Lincoln ordered from Paris.

I was enraptured. Bed. Wallpaper. Size of space. 

Our hotel in the background.  Not a sight for Lincoln.
Leaving the Lincoln home through the back door, we all took a look at the privy, which was fascinating to some.  I was sorta weepy, for so many reasons (I love old stuff), but I was also weepy, thinking about at least three things.  One: looking at this monstrous hotel literally blocks from the home where Lincoln lived in the mid 1800's--it's just shocking, in a way.  Two, Lincoln milked his own cows when he lived here.  Just thinking about the profundity of such an act.  Our life today is so removed from this essential connection to the natural world.  We are so incredibly removed, especially lawyers of any station in life, which Lincoln was.  Third, my Dad loved these old-time tours. And I can remember being the age of my children, being dragged on tours and always sort of yawning my way through the thing, thinking ahead to ice cream or the motel pool or whatever.  I kept on thinking, with all the Lincoln stuff, "Dad would love this."  Not because he was a Lincoln guy, but because he liked any sort of tour.

He would have been intrigued by our wanderings around the grand Illinois state capital.  By no measure, he most definitely would have complimented some of the ornate detail, paint, crystal, wood.  He would have also made some glib comparison to Oregon's own state capital, which, in all likelihood, is more simple or cost-controlled, in whatever fashion.  He might have shared my fascination with the statue of Ulysess Grant or maybe even Stephen Douglas.  He would have loved to share the afternoon withe Peter and the girls and I, and he would have hiked all over the place.

The last tour that I remember sharing with my dad was actually the one that I led, right here at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, in Oak Park.  It must have been about eight years ago and it was the last time that Mom and Dad flew anywhere, and naturally the last time they visited me.  I think that I led a pretty good tour, I loved sharing one of Oak Park's incredible gems with other people.  I loved spending time in that magnificent home and workplace that Wright built for his own family. Which brings us to the site that I was most impressed by.

Sidewalk quotes from notable Illinoisans
The Dana-Thomas house is owned by the state of Illinois and is open for tours.  This lovely prairie home built by Wright for Susan Lawrence Dana is everything that I had hoped for and more.  No interior photographs allowed, and what a relief.  As beautiful as many photographs are of Wright buildings, the prairie homes, in my opinion, are simply not done justice in print.  The very nature of homes built to create flow between spaces and encourage people to experience space in a particular way is lost in a captured image.  Peter says that I was beaming for the entire tour.  Our interpreter was fantastic and passionate and informative.  The Dana Thomas house was built for entertaining, and it's scope and scale reflect this.  Never feeling like a massive house, it is in fact massive, with it's spaces dedicated to dining, and entertaining.

After the tour.  They look a little sad, can't say why.

Get a shot of me, really close!!!!

And what would a visit to Springfield be without a stop at an old Route 66 service station!  Again, I was completely overcome with weepiness.  The place is so cool, Shea's is a collectible museum.  Right up my alley.  Closed on Easter Sunday, naturally, but we peeked through the fence at all the memorabilia and put it right on top of our list for next time.  So there we have it, Americana packed in a weekend.

But wait! What about the Lincoln Museum?  I dunno.  Already a professed lover of all things old, and a crotchety insistence on believing that those things that are most interesting are the things that are most difficult to read through, well, the multimedia blitz that is the Lincoln Museum didn't suite my own style.  Nonetheless, the floodgates opened and I was crying through the schmaltzy videos and looking at One of Lincoln's own top hats and more, so in that light, I suppose the LM had it's intended effect.  I assumed we were all supposed to be overcome with emotion.  But then I looked around, and nobody was teary, or even particularly intense looking.  I heard one mother try to explain slavery to her kid (that was sorta amusing) and I heard one dad ask his kid "so, what was the Civil War *really* about", which perked my ear up.  Dad would have probably liked the Lincoln Museum, but now that he's gone I get to say what I think.  He, like me, probably would have been more impressed with the actual Lincoln Home, run by the austere National Park Service.  And, not to mention (although Dad wouldn't care about this) the NPS, and not the LMuseum had on hand my favorite Lincoln book by Eric Foner, Fiery Trial, which says it all, in my opinion.  An equitable, well-researched, authoritative view on Lincoln's life work relating to race and slavery in particular.

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