Thursday, July 05, 2007

Visiting Mr. Lincoln

When the going gets tough, the tough get the hell out of Dodge. I decided to go to Springfield yesterday, because it was a (relatively) short train ride away, and I didn't have anything else going on. I've wanted to see the Abraham Lincoln Museum since it opened two years ago, so that was the first stop on my list.

The trains here in America are huge! The windows are bigger, and the seats are wider--which is a good thing because I ended up sleeping most of th eway there. My first impression of Springfield is that it is very cute. No. Seriously. It's adorable. The train dropped me off on a sidewalk outside the depot that looked like it hadn't been updated since the fifties, and took off, leaving me and a handful of other people to pick our way through the empty streets toward the Museum. I quickly found out that visiting such a small town on a national holiday might not have been the best idea--most of the stores were closed, including the restaurants. Finally I found one that was open, and served the best damn peach iced tea I've ever had. The owners couldn't figure out how they were so busy--uh, 'cause you're the only place in town?

The Lincoln museum was--basically--teh awesome. The only complaint I would have was it needs to be laid out a little better, because I think I started at the end and worked my way backwards. Most of the museum is made up of wax tableaus of various parts of Lincoln's life, which was great. I especially liked the one of him sitting in front of the fire reading. Not that I know anything about reading in front of insufficient light...much. Just goes to show how anyone can become President..oh, wait, who am I kidding. Most of the time I like my museums with little cabinets protecting the historical artefacts, where I can press my face against it, fog it up slightly and raise the blood pressure of the security guards. But I appreciated the little multimedia movies they showed as well--Ghosts in the Lbirary was amazing, not only for the three-dee holovision that let the library interact with Lincoln, but because at the end it turned into the battle of Vicksburg. I know technology is cool, but there's something to be said for good old fashioned scrim.

Then I went to see Lincoln’s house. Now, I have been to Lincoln’s house before—seventeen years before, as a matter of fact, because one of he things I remember is the buzzing of those damn cicadas, which, as every paper told me this year, only come around every seventeen years. As I walked down the street (or rather, oozed—90 degrees and rising), I could also remember trying to park a van and camper in the crowded streets. Yesterday this would not have been a problem. Funny what I remember, isn’t it? Lincoln’s House (featuring air conditioning that I suspect was not period) was better than I remembered it, although the tour guide seemed a little unenthusiastic. He probably didn’t appreciate my proddings either: “Is it true that Lincoln used to lay on the floor and read?!”

Going to the museum and the house again, I really started to appreciate Lincoln for just being who he was—a man in a very difficult situation. The museum strove to point out how all his policies that we take for granted were very dividing in his life time, and I could really appreciate that. In a way, he was his own radical. And reading the Gettysburg Address, surrounded by little kids and parents in their red white and blue, I finally realized what he was trying to say about this country: that it is worth laying down your life for, politics aside. Little tear. And I loved Mr. Lincoln a little more for loving this country so much.

Afterward, I walked to a sports bar and had cheese curds and a buffalo chicken sandwich, and two bottles of cold, cold, cold Sam Adams. God Bless America. A hit and run thunderstorm had dropped the temperature about twenty degrees, but it was still humid. As I was walking toward the train station, a weedy guy in a moustache and wire-rim glasses felt the need to say, “hey, good-lookin’!” causing me to giggle, which only encouraged him to say “You’re beautiful!” I almost said “I know, I’ve heard!” Keep walking, pal. The train ride home was less fun, but there were fireworks to greet me when I got into the Windy City.

Overall, a very successful trip. I’m looking forward to going back sometime and seeing the Illinois Museum and perhaps visiting one or two of those intriguing shops that were closed up when I passed through. My only souvenier was a small plastic figurine of Lincoln—well, and postcards of course.

Mr. Lincoln and I share the iPod on the way home.

I’m getting quite a collection of small plastic figurines. When I introduced Mr. Lincoln to Nelson and Napoleon, they eyed him suspiciously, and then Nelson said “Who’s the giant?” and I said “This is Mr. Lincoln, he did more than the two of you put together.” “Oh, yeah? Did he conquer half of Europe and crown himself Emperor?” (that was Napoleon) “No, he was better than that, he freed the slaves.” “We did that in 1832.” “Yes, I know, Admiral. You better get along.” “Or what, he’ll beat me up? I don’t think so.” “He beat up his political opponents in Springfield.” “’ow is he with ze sword?” “Just don’t try anything—he’s almost a foot taller than you two.” “FIVE SIX IS TOTALLY AVERAGE!!!” “Okay, guys, just keep telling yourselves that.”

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