COUNTY AGENT GUY
If I were to tell you that my wife and I went to Springfield, it wouldn’t narrow things down much.
This is because nearly every state has a Springfield. Except in Hawaii it’s called “Halukalotta Wheepogo,” which means “this open lot used to be a pogo stick factory”
We didn’t visit the Springfield where Marge and Homer live. We instead went to the one known for Mary and Abe.
The house that Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln occupied for 17 years is situated in the historic district of Springfield, Ill. The Lincolns must have been prescient, somehow knowing that they would someday be historic.
The Lincoln home is operated by the National Park Service, so tours are given by perky and polite people wearing Smoky Bear hats. Said tours are free, although parking cost $2. But parking was also free the day we visited. Woo-hoo!
Abe and Mary’s house is modest by today’s standards, a Greek Revival structure painted beige with green shutters and brown trim. A set of steps lead up to the front door; I could imagine lanky Abe loping up them two at a time.
Once inside, the first thing you notice is that they were big on parlors back then. The first room at the front of the house is called – surprise! – the front parlor, while the room behind that is known as the back parlor. We were told that the Lincolns’ rambunctious sons were seldom allowed into these rooms.
On the other side of the house is the sitting room, where the Lincoln boys were allowed to play. Which means there probably wasn’t much sitting involved.
The tour wends its way up a staircase that must be quite narrow, judging by the amount of it needed to accommodate the average modern American. The upstairs contains the bedrooms, one of which was surprisingly small and spare. This was the hired girl’s room.
It was common back then for people of the Lincolns’ station to employ a live-in hired girl. She was usually in her teens and an immigrant fresh off the boat.
Her duties included helping the missus run the household: hauling water and wood, cleaning, cooking and so on. For this she was given room and board and a magnanimous wage of $1.50 per week.
I would need to be paid a lot more than that for a job which description includes the phrase “empty the chamber pots.”
We viewed the kitchen and while our guide wasn’t looking I brushed a finger across the Lincolns’ cast iron cookstove. I simply had to touch something that Abe had touched and feel a tangible connection with history.
Behind the house is a standard-issue privy. I don’t know if the outhouse is original, as there wasn’t any placard that said “Abe sat here”. I felt no urge to make contact with that particular artifact.
We were told that while in Springfield we simply had to try a particular dish indigenous to that city. So we ate a horseshoe.
Not an actual horseshoe, obviously. This entre begins with an open-faced sandwich featuring a meat of your choice. The sandwich is topped with a crow’s nest of fries, then thoroughly soaked with a cheese-based sauce.
After downing one, I would surmise that the dish got its name from the fact that it sits in your gut like a Clydesdale’s horseshoe.
Pointing our car west, we found our way to Hannibal, Mo., the boyhood home of Mark Twain.
Twain considered himself a Southerner and even served briefly in a Confederate militia. It’s curious that a few hours east, at roughly the same latitude, is the former home of the Great Emancipator.
I strolled the same streets where little Sammy Clemens had played. A placard proclaims that America’s Official Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher make appearances every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Another sign says that a nearby picket fence is the very one that Tom Sawyer once whitewashed.
Sam probably would have enjoyed the shameless gimmickry, although I bet he would have insisted on a percentage of the take.
I stood alone at the Clemens doorstep on a cool, quiet, early Thursday morning. A few blocks away, the broad Mississippi twinkled in the sun as a barge the size of a small city slowly chugged upriver. Which reminded me that it was time to head for home.
But before we did we stopped at the Hannibal Visitors Center to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything. The little old lady who ran the place asked where we were from.
When we told her, she drawled, “Mah. Y’all have come a fur piece!”
She was right. So we got into the car and, like the river barge, began to plow our way steadily northward.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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