Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Springfield, Illinois

One place I visited on my recent American trip was Springfield, the capital of Illinois.

Sadly, in Ireland, the city is best known as the home of Homer Simpson and family.

I got the first train that Thursday morning from Chicago to Springfield; there were no left luggage lockers at the Amtrak station, but Amtrak staff very kindly allowed me to leave my bags there - otherwise I would have been up the creek.

What I could not believe about Springfield was the traffic congestion; there is none! The streets seemed unbelieveably quiet. This was a Thursday in mid-May.

Frankly, the only reason why I paid a visit to Springfield is that it was the home of Abraham Lincoln, and being a history enthusiast, this is a place I had wanted to visit for years.

My first stop was the brand new Abraham Lincoln Museum, which I thoroughly recommend. It uses audio-visual displays very effectively; the exhibition feature which I found most interesting was the display of cuttings and cartoons from contemporary newspapers; suffice to say that those who, in the darkest days of the Civil War, wrote rather "unflattering" words about Lincoln (and that's putting it mildly!), would be very surprised to come back to Earth in 2006 and discover that America has virtually "canonised" the man. It made me wonder: what will the American people think of George W. Bush in 140 years time?

Next stop was the restored Lincoln Home; I was particularly impressed by the fact that the National Park Service has not only restored the house, but the whole block, and the object is to have the whole block in the style of the 1850s and 60s.

As well as showing us the house, our National Parks Service guide posed a question: who was the first American President to be born in a hospital? The answer is Jimmy Carter.

Afterwards I walked around a bit, really looking for a bus or taxi to the presidential grave; on the way, I accidentally came across a good Catholic bookstore; sorry I can't remember the address.

I was now under a bit of pressure for time; I wanted to get to the Lincoln Tomb on the northside of the city before closing time, pay my respects, and then get back to the Cathedral in town for evening Mass, which was either 5 or 5.30 (can't remember now), but Springfield seemed to have no taxi-cabs whatsoever.

After over half an hour, I got one beside the Museum, and got out to the Tomb.

There was a mob of schoolkids inside ahead of me already. But I waited for them to move a bit before I went in myself.

Actually, he is not buried in the inscribed sarcophagus; he is about ten feet under this, under concrete, because years ago someone tried to break in and steal his remains. Behind my back when I took the photo is a wall, and behind this wall are the last resting places of his widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their sons. Their eldest son, Robert, the only one of the four to live to adulthood, chose to be buried at Arlington, Virginia.

After that I walked through the cemetery, knowing I wouldn't get to the Cathedral in time for Mass, but decided to pay a visit there anyway. I got a bus from the cemetery to close to the Cathedral; there are some nice stained glass windows, including one of St. Brendan!

And there is a stained glass window depicting Lincoln (needless to say!) and one depicting that fine Freemason, George Washington!!

One of the most memorable episodes of Bishop Fulton Sheen's series Life Is Worth Living is the one about Abraham Lincoln. He finishes: "George Washington will always be the father of our country; but Abraham Lincoln will always be its saviour."

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