We took the boys to Springfield, Ill., this past weekend, mostly to go to children’s museums, but we also wanted to take them to Abraham Lincoln’s home. Lincoln’s home, and most of the homes on the block, are preserved and look today much like they looked in 1860, when Lincoln moved out.
We toured the home, and the tour guide left us with some important words that I hope will sink in with the boys. But one person on the tour asked more questions than anyone else. That person would be my oldest son.
In the parlor, the tour guide told a story about how the Lincolns gave a huge going away party before leaving for Washington. They sent out 450 invitations, but probably more like 700 people attended, though not all at once. It’s a large house, especially for the time, but imagine trying to cram hundreds of people into a two-story, four-bedroom house today.
“Any questions?” the guide asked.
My son raised his hand. I held my breath.
“How crazy was that party?” he asked.
The guide took it in stride. “Probably not TOO crazy,” he said, enthusiastically. “Just a little crazy.”
My son beamed, clearly enjoying the attention.
Upstairs, the guide explained how both Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln had separate bedrooms. It was a sign of wealth and success at the time, he explained. And she probably liked having her own room, because Abraham Lincoln would sometimes work on cases in the wee hours of the morning if he thought of something.
When question time came again, several people asked questions about the artifacts. The bed isn’t original; it burned up in the Chicago Fire after a tenant of the Lincolns bought the bed and moved to Chicago. My son asked a question too.
“Do you think Mr. Lincoln was grouchy in the mornings because Mrs. Lincoln slept in a different room?”
The tour guide enjoyed that question. Fortunately, so did the rest of the tourists. He said Mr. Lincoln might have been a little grouchy.
At another point in the tour, my son also asked if Mr. Lincoln ever slid down the stairs to the second floor.
“Maybe,” he said. “Mr. Lincoln was a really funny guy. And I don’t doubt his boys did.”
Toward the end of the tour upstairs, the tour guide sought out my son’s opinion on something. “What do you think that is? Your parents definitely hope you know what it is.”
He went and looked. “A music box,” he pronounced.
“Well, sometimes,” the tour guide roared.
So I rounded the corner to get a look at the “music box.” I spied an 1850s wooden toilet. I snickered, turned about 50 shades of red, and moved on.
But the most important part of the tour, I think, was at the end. Mr. Lincoln arrived in Springfield a country lawyer who was largely self-educated. Before he left, he sent his oldest son off to Harvard and on his way to becoming a lawyer, corporate executive, and a millionaire. He, of course, left Springfield to become president. But he was born in Kentucky in poverty, in a log cabin scarcely larger than the kitchen in his home in Springfield.
“If there’s one thing Abraham Lincoln would want,” the guide said, “is that he would want the limit to how far you can to go be how hard you try. Not where you come from. I’m pretty sure that’s the American Dream.”