Springfield: A Totally Unscientific Guide

It’s ridiculous that I’m not going to the FGS conference in Springfield, IL. I have an unused airline ticket from a canceled wedding, plus in-laws in the area who wouldn’t mind having me visit, as long as I didn’t throw wild genealogy parties every night.

But instead, I will be home in New Jersey, watching my kitchen being gutted. Yeah, I know.

To show I am not bitter, or at least only somewhat bitter, I will share some of my travel highlights of Springfield, from my Extremely Expert™ background of visiting my in-laws there lots and lots of times over the last 20 years. A caveat: It is a shame you are missing the Illinois State Fair, with the butter cow and the great ice cream in the dairy pavilion. And you will probably not have the time to buzz around Lake Springfield on a powerboat.

But never mind. There are other important things in Springfield.

• Yes, yes, yes, take advantage of FGS’ behind-the-scenes tour of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. If your young children are along, I highly recommend the Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic area. When my kids were older, they also enjoyed exhibits like the Treasures Gallery.

• Speaking of young kids: They may well end up liking the museum a lot more than the actual historical sites in the Lincoln Home area downtown; at least mine did. I suppose they liked their historical experiences a bit more dressed up. Obviously the Lincoln neighborhood is a must-see, just observing that when my kids were young I had to work around their attention spans a bit.

• But what the heck, sometimes kids have to deal with stuff. So go ahead, drag them through the Old State Capitol, and make them admire the Greek Revival architecture. Then take them around the back of the Old State Capitol and admire the marker commemorating the departure of the Donner Party in 1846. Snicker darkly when the kiddies ask why the Donner Party is a big deal.

• The kids may well perk up at the New Salem historical site, where the village of Lincoln’s youth is re-created 20 miles northwest of Springfield. You could even picnic there, if you want. If you still feel like picnicking after admiring the Donner Party marker, that is.

Oak Ridge Cemetery and Lincoln’s tomb are another must-see. It is vital to rub Lincoln’s nose for good luck. You won’t forget because the nose is polished to a golden sheen by repeated rubbings. Oak Ridge, a beautiful place to stroll through, has always been an interesting mix of the personal and historical for me. In addition to Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, there are other historical notables like Vachel Lindsay and John L. Lewis (who happens to be right across the way from my father-in-law).

• Based on information at their website, I’m not clear on whether the gorgeous Dana-Thomas House will be open for public touring by the time FGS rolls around. They are currently renovating and saying they will resume tours in fall 2011. If you have the opportunity for a tour, it’s a really exceptional example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s talents, complete with many of the original, Wright-designed furnishings and decorative objects.

• You (and about seven of your friends) should try a horseshoe sandwich.  This construction of bread, meat, french fries and melted cheese must be seen to be believed. The Wall Street Journal tried to quantify it in a video report last year. You can also order a smaller version called a “pony shoe” if none of your friends will help you eat the horseshoe. Mr. Archaeologist, who grew up in Springfield, says that the now-defunct restaurant Norb Andy’s was once the definitive horseshoe spot, but nowadays aficiondos go to D’Arcy’s Pint.

• Also, it is just plain wrong to visit Springfield and not have a Mel-O-Cream doughnut. I am not really a doughnut-for-breakfast type, but when in Springfield, I have a way of forgetting this. I don’t have a favorite flavor. They’re all good, especially with a cup of strong black coffee.

Bon voyage, you lucky duckies.