Lincolnland 

“What will you celebrate?”
A SIDE TRIP FROM
Yesterland
President Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809—that’s 200 years ago today. So celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday—in Lincolnland.
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, February 12, 2009    
Doors into Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
The doors open to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

Alas, you can’t celebrate Lincoln’s 200th birthday at Disneyland’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. In 2005, Mr. Lincoln “temporarily” stopped giving his stirring speech in the Main Street Opera House when that facility was needed for the “temporary” attraction, Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years. The 17-minute film, starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck, is still showing, and Mr. Lincoln is still hidden from view.

Mr. Lincoln is expected to return to Disneyland—some day.

Don’t plan seeing Mr. Lincoln give a speech in Florida at the Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents either. The Hall of Presidents is closed until early July 2009 to add President Barack Obama, to fix up the attraction’s interior and exterior, and to enhance the show.

So where will you celebrate?

Lincolnland sign (Photoshopped)
Welcome to Lincolnland.

If you want to celebrate Abraham Lincoln, why settle for a theme park when there’s a whole state that celebrates Lincoln every day, not just for the bicentennial of his birth.

The State of Illinois is the Land of Lincoln. That’s the official state slogan. It’s even on the license plates, along with a portrait of the 16th President.

The Lincolnland sign above is obviously the result of some fun with Photoshop. The actual welcome signs at the entrances to Illinois say, “Welcome to Illinois, The Land of Lincoln, Rod R. Blagojevich, Governor” (although that last part is being changed).

Illinois doesn’t have a monopoly on statues of Abraham Lincoln. As arguably the greatest President in our nation’s history, statues of Lincoln are undoubtedly in every state. But in Illinois, Lincoln statues seem to be everywhere, and they’re not just your run-of-the-mill Lincoln standing on a granite block in front of a courthouse.

28-foot Lincoln in Kankakee
Alexander Construction’s 28-foot Lincoln on a 10-foot base

When driving on Interstate 57 in Kankakee, keep an eye out for a “super-sized” Abraham Lincoln wearing his stovepipe hat and carrying a message sign. The statue’s owner, Jerry Alexander, hopes passing motorists will read messages such as “Lincoln was a Republican” and “Want $7.00 gas? Vote Democrat.”

From the roadside Lincoln of Kankakee, we move on to greater artistic achievements.

Abraham Lincoln in the Art Institute of Chicago
Abraham Lincoln in the Art Institute of Chicago

If the bronze Lincoln in Chicago’s renowned art museum looks familiar, it’s because it’s a smaller replica of the 19-foot Georgia white marble statue designed by Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Art Institute also displays an excellent bronze statue of Lincoln standing, again designed by French.

Young lawyer Abraham Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1837. The same year, he led the successful effort to make Springfield the new Illinois state capital. In 1842, 33-year-old Lincoln married 23-year-old Mary Todd in Springfield. They lived in their Springfield house from 1844 until his election to the Presidency in 1861. And the Lincoln tomb is in Springfield.

The city of Springfield takes pride in being “Mr. Lincoln’s Hometown.” There are plenty of historic sites for tourists to see, including his home, his law office, the Old State Capitol where he delivered his “House Divided” speech, and his tomb.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Abraham Lincoln, with John Wilkes Booth in the background

The biggest Lincoln attraction in Springfield is still fairly new. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in April 2005. The museum is organized as a “hub and spoke arrangement,” like Disneyland. The lifelike Lincoln in the photo above is one of several historic figures in the central Plaza of the museum.

BRC Imagination Arts, the firm that designed the Lincoln Museum, is equally at home designing for theme parks and museums. In fact, BRC was responsible for attractions such as the Magic of Disney Animation (including the clever Back to Neverland film with Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams) at the opening at of Disney-MGM Studios, post-ride experiences for both World of Motion and Test Track at Epcot, and Mystery Lodge at Knott’s Berry Farm.

At the Lincoln Museum, guests are immersed in historic scenes. They enjoy shows and exhibits that simultaneously entertain and educate. Critics have complained that the Lincoln Museum is too much like Disneyland. But when was the last time you were at a history museum where you wanted take in everything because it is so well executed?

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is the “E” Ticket of history museums.

Exiting from the Lincoln Museum to the streets and plazas of Springfield, you continue to encounter Abraham Lincoln. After all, these are the streets where Lincoln lived and worked.

“Lincoln” (2006) by artist Mark Lundeen
“Lincoln” (2006) by artist Mark Lundeen

There are two Lincoln sculptures in Union Square Park, across from the Lincoln Museum. One is a standing Lincoln, delivering his farewell address. The other, shown in the photo above, is a relaxed Lincoln on a park bench. In his right hand, he holds a paper with the last paragraph of his Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves and all nations.“
“Springfield’s Lincoln” (2004) by artist Larry Anderson
“Springfield’s Lincoln” (2004) by artist Larry Anderson

It’s October 4, 1854. Across from the Old State Capitol, just outside Lincoln’s law office, Mary Todd Lincoln smooths her husband’s lapels shortly before he is to deliver a speech. Their son Willie waves to his brother Robert, who is nearby.

El Presidente Burritos & Baja Grill
El Presidente Burritos & Baja Grill

Okay, the restaurant is not a statue. But what a great sign!

Where else but Springfield would the Great Emancipator sell burritos? To be honest, he doesn’t sell them in Springfield anymore. The eatery ceased operations in late 2008. Apparently the students of the nearby University of Illinois at Springfield didn’t buy enough burritos to keep El Presidente Burritos in business.

We now leave Springfield for Ashmore, Illinois. If you’ve never heard of Ashmore, don’t worry. Hardly any Illinois residents have heard of it either. Ashmore is around 100 miles east of Springfield or around 200 miles south of Chicago, near the university town of Charleston, Illinois.

If the Lincoln statue of Interstate 57 at the beginning of this article wasn’t tall enough for you, there’s a much taller one. Billed as “The World’s Tallest Statue of Abraham Lincoln,” the 62-foot giant has had a hard life since originally commissioned in an ill-fated effort to draw tourists to Charleston.

Tallest Abraham Lincoln statue
Abraham Lincoln (1969) by artist Bob Eglett

The $20,000 statue was dedicated in 1969, but money ran out for the park that was to surround it. Vandals damaged the statue. The unkept grounds were strewn with trash.

In 1978, developers bought the giant Lincoln for a recreation area and campground to be called Springhaven Park, in Ashmore, three miles from where the giant Lincoln was deteriorating. Using a flatbed truck and a 50-ton crane, it took two days to move the dismantled statue. A pickup truck carried the head to a local auto body shop for repairs. Springhaven Park struggled until it finally failed in the late 1990s.

New owners purchased the property in 2002. They hatched plans for the Lincoln Springs Resort. They would not only fix up their towering Abe; they would enhance his surroundings by creating Abe’s Garden, with additional Lincoln sculptures. And they would add cabins, campgrounds, a restaurant, a swimming pool, go-karts, and other recreational opportunities to make the Lincoln Springs Resort an appealing place.

Abraham Lincoln artwork at Lincoln Springs Resort
Two Lincoln sculptures (2005) by artist Bill Monken

The Lincoln Springs Resort commissioned local Charleston artist Bill Monken to create a series of 12 sculptures showing Abraham Lincoln at various stages of his life. Monken had been the head football coach at Charleston High School. After retiring in 1999, Monken became a chainsaw carver. For this project, he attacked a dozen huge logs with a chain saw and finished the details of the faces with an electric rotating bit.

Although rather unconventional and clearly not accurate representations of Lincoln’s appearance, the sculptures are somehow appealing as folk art. They even convey the highs and lows of Lincoln’s life.

Abraham Lincoln artwork at Lincoln Springs Resort
Three more Lincoln sculptures (2005) by artist Bill Monken

There are plenty of other Lincoln statues in Illinois. This article is the first of a 146-part series.

Just kidding.


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Lincolnland, Part 2
The Dymaxion House
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© 2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated February 12, 2009.

Photograph of doors into Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln: 2002, by Allen Huffman.
Photoshopped Lincolnland sign: 2008 by Werner Weiss, based on photos by Chris Bales and Werner Weiss, with Lincoln head artwork by Karen Weiss.
All other photographs on this page: 2007-2008 by Werner Weiss.