SPRINGFIELD, ILL. - Are you looking for an affordable short trip away? Do you enjoy museums and dining on Cozy Corn Dogs?
You might want to try a sprint to Springfield. The city is home to historical attractions and museums such as the Old State Capitol and Illinois State Capitol, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln's Tomb, Lincoln Home National Historic site, Illinois State Museum, Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices and a variety of other museums such as the National Museum of Surveying, Air Combat Museum, Illinois State Military Museum and more.
The attractions are affordable and some are in relatively close proximity to one another, allowing one to see a variety of sites in a short time. For a little less cost and more adventure, you might want to try staying at a place via Airbnb, a website connecting travelers to those renting out rooms and apartments. The Airbnb option allowed us to stay at a 1-bedroom apartment suite complete with a full kitchen and living room with private entrance.
Springfield is also family friendly, if the kids are old enough. We took our 8-year-old daughter along, but left our 3-year-old son home with Grandma. It turned out to be the best decision, as the strict museums probably weren't equipped for a rowdy toddler and the trip required a lot of walking.
Staying only two days, I only had a glance at the city's surface. But upon first impression, it seemed a no-nonsense kind of place with friendly locals, history, scenic parks and very determined tour guides. We were able to check out the following attractions.
Day 1 - New and Old Capitol
Our first stop was a quick and informative tour through the Illinois State Capitol, with its most impressive feature being the stained glass dome. It is also home to statues of notable Illinois figures, a plaster frieze and murals. There is a hallway with pictures of former Governors, excluding Rod Blagojevich who, while in office, was impeached and removed from his elected position. There were a couple muffled whispers among the crowd, as visitors tried to figure out how many Illinois governors had been to jail and for what.
The Old State Capitol State Historic Site, a Greek Revival-style structure which housed the state government from 1839 to 1876 is only a short walk away. Lincoln walked its floors during his last term in the Illinois House of Representatives. The building also was site to Lincoln's lying-in-state in 1865.
At the Old State Capitol, a lively lad with the Lincoln Troubadours dressed in period attire invited us to hear his group perform. He must have sensed my affability as he later walked over mid-song holding his hand out in an invitation to dance and join the performance - swirl and all. The group sang Civil War era songs such as "Oh Susannah" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The upbeat tempos took on new meaning considering the time period they represent. The reality of the era and the life of Abraham Lincoln began to sink in. Although reading about it can make it feel a bit abstract, walking the same places he walked, picturing all the carriages zipping to and fro made me realize the footsteps of our ancestors are perhaps closer than they appear.
Day 2- The Lincoln Home National Historic site
The Lincoln Home gave an intimate look into the life of his family. It was probably my favorite stop, despite some very strict tour guides.
Everyone had to wear purses and backpacks on their front side and gum was prohibited. The carpet beeped if one stray foot stepped off of it. Although a brief tour, we saw how the furniture, carpeting and knick knacks would have looked at the time. The Lincolns preferred loud and contrasting prints in their decor and slept in separate bedrooms, supposedly common at the time. The Lincoln sons were known to mischief and their father gave them near unbridled freedom. I thought a lot of Mary Todd, and how it must have been an exciting time launching her family and entertaining cultured visitors in what was a fine home for the time. Mr. Lincoln would have been busy with his burgeoning political career and lively debates. However, in 1850 their second son Eddie died in the home, marking one of many tragedies to befall the family.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum The museum features many exhibits to help visitors understand the life of the President during his days in Washington. It has a plaza where visitors may be photographed with the Lincoln family figures. One area features a model of Lincoln's boyhood log cabin, and another area is a recreation of the White House South Portico set in 1860.
Exhibits, often incorporating video footage, tell the story of the Lincolns' road to the White House and the political culture of the time. A mock news show set in the period explains Lincoln's viewed compared to the three other candidates in the 1860 election. Political cartoons depicted Lincoln in negative images such as a demon or an ape indicating how hated he was by some. Ugly politics and a divided country, it seems, are nothing new. Exhibits also portray everything from Lincoln's son Willie on his deathbed to a child being ripped away from his mother during a slave auction. Other exhibits tell the stories of individual soldiers in the Confederate and Union armies, some as young as a 12-year-old drummer boy as well as the number of the increasing death toll.
Plaster molds of Lincoln's face show how he aged in four years and the exhibits depicted a sense of the weariness of the long war. Another display depicted Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln in the theater moments before his assassination. I had the feeling they finally felt a moment of peace after such a long darkness. However, it was short-lived as the next exhibit described the long train ride back to Springfield for his lying-in-state.
Lincoln's Tomb After learning about the history of the Lincoln family, it was fitting we saw the Lincoln Tomb, which really brought the journey of Lincoln full circle. I was in awe of the size and beauty of the monument and the knowledge that he and his family members, with the exception of Robert Lincoln, were allresting there.
Restaurants Although we had a cooler stocked with food to save money, we scouted out two culinary attractions aired on the Travel Channel's "Man v. Food" episode featuring Springfield.
The Chili Parlor, 820 S. 9th St., boasts some of the hottest chili around. Those who eat a bowl of Firebrand chili in one sitting can get their name on the wall. The levels of heat are mild, medium, medium hot, hot and firebrand. My husband was able to eat a bowl of firebrand, claiming it was bearable - despite a few sweat drips and a need for a drink refill. I generally have a strong stomach, but was only willing to try medium hot. It was tasty and filling, although I wouldn't venture much hotter.
At the Cozy Dog Drive-In, 2935 S. 6th St, we tried a corn dog made with its signature batter in a cute drive-in along Route 66. We dined on this dog at 9 a.m., which made a hearty and satisfying breakfast when paired with a couple eggs.
Both restaurants had friendly and helpful staff. Although chili and corn dogs might not sound like a delicacy, the fare at their speciality diners in Springfield was divine and affordable. Even if the state of Illinois struggles with its budget, you won't have to worry about yours.