Travel Treasures: Celebrating Lincoln

by Tom Reed
Reed's Read Complete Index
Story filed February 20, 2008

Freelance travel writer Tom Reed has been reporting on Travel Treasures Close to Home for this web site, focusing on destinations near Cleveland. This time he goes a bit farther afield to preview some of the events and attractions of the Lincoln bicentennial. Although not in our immediate vicinity, the sites are close enough for a comfortable drive.

The 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth isn’t until February 12, 2009, but the bicentennial celebration has already begun. Organizers of the national event decided to kick it off a year early with a big ceremony at the Lincoln birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky on February 12, 2008. Unfortunately they forgot to tell the weatherman, and an ice storm forced cancellation of the inaugural event, at which First Lady Laura Bush was scheduled to speak. But over the next two years, countless other events and special activities will honor the great Civil War president.

The bicentennial schedule will focus on the Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois: the states where Lincoln was born, grew up, and rose to political power. Fortunately for us, all are within a day’s drive of Cleveland. Consider them when planning your spring, summer, or autumn trips.

The imposing neo-classic memorial building at the birthplace site in Hodgenville, Kentucky (about 55 miles from Louisville) is quite a contrast to the humble log cabin in which Lincoln was born. Enshrined within it is what the National Park Service calls a “symbolic birth cabin.” The actual cabin, of course, no longer exists. When Abraham was two years old the family moved to a farm at Knob Creek, a few miles away. The boyhood home site is also operated by the National Park Service.

The Lincoln Museum in downtown Hodgenville includes a dozen dioramas of important events in the life of the nation’s 16th president from his early life in Kentucky to his assassination.

Indiana’s kick off bicentennial event will take place this Mother’s Day, May 11, 2008, at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County, Indiana. Abraham was only seven when the family moved there from Kentucky, and his mother died two years later. The grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln is located on the site. The original cabin is long gone, but an excavation in 1936 unearthed the foundation and some of the original hearth stones.

The Memorial, operated by the National Park Service, uses cell phone technology to describe points of interest. Just dial the seven-digit number and punch in a one or two-digit number for each location. The service is free, but you have to use your own cell phone and minutes.

Abraham lived in Indiana until he was 21, and his experiences there helped shape his future which came to fruition after he moved to Illinois. To immerse yourself in the Lincoln legacy you need to spend at least two days in Springfield, Illinois. A good place to begin is the nearly new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The museum makes use of modern technology to immerse visitors in the Lincoln experience without “dumbing down” the history. One of the most innovative exhibits shows how the 1860 presidential race might have been reported using today’s television techniques. NBC’s Tim Russert narrates a report on the make-believe TV commercials of Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and two other opponents.

In keeping with the current election season, a temporary exhibit called “Packaging Presidents” opened February 5 (Super Tuesday) and runs through November 9.

Lincoln may have been born in a log cabin, but his upper middle-class Springfield home reflects his success as a lawyer and politician. It was the only home he ever owned, and he lived here with his family for 17 years. Admission is free.

Also in the downtown area visit the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln’s famous “House Divided” speech was delivered, the Lincoln-Herndon law office, and the train depot where he said goodbye (forever as it turned out) to his friends in Springfield as he headed to Washington for the inauguration. A short drive will take you to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where Lincoln, his wife, and three of his sons are buried.

For more information about the Springfield sites, go to

Here are some other sites you might want to check out.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum:

Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission:

Illinois Bicentennial:

Indiana Bicentennial:

Kentucky Bicentennial:

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Copyright 2008 Tom Reed