I'm not sure if it's me, or if it's life simply messing with me. Either way, cemeteries have been a big part of my blog in the last few months. First there was the Confederate Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois back in April; and then there was my trek through a local cemetery in search of a fitting image to go with my Memorial Day post. And now, today, it’s another cemetery, Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest.
Life and death does have a way of messing with the best laid plans. If anybody would know, Lincoln would know. In death, as in his presidency, peace was elusive.
It seems most of the moves involving Lincoln’s body and those bodies of his children interred with him occurred during the construction and reconstruction of what has become today’s secure and impressive Memorial. The now National Historic Landmark has been maintained by the State of Illinois since 1895.
After a failed attempt was made to kidnap Lincoln’s remains in November of 1876, tomb custodian John Carroll Power and a handful of trusted confidants elected to hide Lincoln’s coffin in the basement of the tomb. Only everywhere they dug, water seeped into the hole; eventually they simply covered the coffin with lumber left over from the tomb’s construction until it simply looked like a woodpile in the basement of the tomb. Life is often stranger than fiction, don’t you think?!
Things continued in this vein until 1901 when Lincoln was entombed in cement in a vault ten feet below and just behind the marble monument inside the burial room. The last time Lincoln’s coffin was opened to verify his remains was just before he was entombed in cement in the vault.
Mary Todd Lincoln and three of the four Lincoln children are entombed in crypts (William Willie
Wallace, Edward Eddie Baker and Thomas Tad) opposite Lincoln’s vault.
Statuary groups at each of the four corners represent the major armed services commanded by Lincoln during the Civil War – infantry, cavalry, navy, and artillery.
The more I (re)learn about Abraham Lincoln, the more I truly admire the man. Okay, maybe he and Mary were a bit permissive as parents, but he was remarkably effective as president. Apparently I’m not alone in my assessment of the man; year after year, president after president, Abraham Lincoln continues to be considered the greatest president of the United States.
He was the only president in the history of the United States whose entire term of office was shrouded in war, a war that necessitated a moral vision for America as one nation founded on freedom, not on bloodlines, and on choice and self-determination, not on ancient prerogative.
I wondered in the fading light as Diane and I left this great man’s tomb behind, if Lincoln was born great, if he was destined to achieve greatness, or if he had greatness thrust upon him.
So many questions; so few answers. I wonder if even Lincoln nose the answer to my latest question.
The Bottom Line on Lincoln's Tomb
Verdict: You won't find any answers at Lincoln's tomb, but you will discover a new respect and appreciation for the 16th President of the U.S. and lots of information about Lincoln and his family. I know I was dying to see the place (really). Sorry, couldn't pass up that one-liner. It's truly a must see.
How to Get There: Oak Ridge Cemetery is at 1500 Monument, north of downtown Springfield. From the Old State Capitol Plaza, proceed south on S 5th Street toward E Adams Street. Take the first right on E. Adams Street, then another right onto S. 4th Street. Turn left onto N. Grand Avenue East. Take the third right onto Monument Avenue, then turn left onto West Oak Ridge Street. Look for the obelisk. You can’t miss it.
Insider Information: We actually missed seeing the entrance to the Receiving Vault behind the Memorial and just below the hill where Lincoln was initially interred. You don't want to miss it! I'm sorry we did. Summer months the Memorial is open till 7 pm; if you're there when it closes, you can catch the daily flag-lowering ceremony by Civil War re-enactors.
Nearby Food: Head back the way you came to find a plethora of dining options in downtown Springfield. We ate at a little place I would not recommend just across from the Old State Capitol, so you're on your own. Gotta leave a few things to chance.