BY XANDE ANDERER
Those who attended VVA’s Convention in 2007 already know: The spirit of Abraham Lincoln dominates the city of Springfield, Illinois. Literally.
If you don’t believe me, be sure to be on the corner of 6th and Adams St. in front of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office [map] at 7:30 any evening for The Lincoln Ghost Walk: Legends and Lore ($15, 217-502-8687, www.springfieldwalks.com/WalkingTours). The 90-minute walking tour uses Lincoln sites as a backdrop for telling the strange and bizarre stories surrounding Lincoln’s life, death, and interment.
The centerpiece of Springfield’s love affair with its famous native son is the impressive Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Adults $15, Seniors $12, 217-782-5764, www.illinois.gov/alplm), a vast, interactive space divided equally between two parts of Lincoln’s life: his youth and his presidency. Plan to spend a few hours; these are not exhibits to be rushed through briskly. [map]
Climb the very stairs Lincoln climbed to work as a young attorney at the Old State Capitol (Free, Wed-Sat 9-5 pm, 217-785-7960, http://1.usa.gov/1Gui72L). Lincoln spent much of his professional life in this grand, dolomite-columned building, trying several hundred cases before the Illinois Supreme Court and serving as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. He delivered his famous “House Divided” speech on those very steps in 1858. [map]
On the 3rd and 4th of May, 1865, the slain president’s body returned to Springfield and lay in state at the Old Capitol as some 75,000 mourners filed past to pay their respects. Guided tours are offered every 45 minutes.
A healthy walk south of the Convention hotels lies the Lincoln Home National Historic Site (Free, 426 S. 7th St. [map], 217-492-4241, www.nps.gov/liho). Illinois’ only national park, the site features four blocks of restored Lincoln-era Springfield, including the only home Honest Abe ever owned, draped in black bunting just as it was for his funeral in 1865. Take the cell phone tour, which originates at the visitors center, or grab tickets at the information desk for the free guided tours throughout the day.
From Mr. Lincoln’s old neighborhood, it’s just a few blocks’ walk to dine at Incredibly Delicious, (925 S. 7th St. [map], 217-528-8548, www.incrediblydelicious.com), housed in a lovely 1845 Italianate home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The menu is mostly comprised of light fare: sandwiches, quiches, and soups. But Incredibly Delicious is best known for its riches of baked goodsin particular a flourless chocolate cake that I was told launched the entire business.
Learn from my blundering and enter from the Clay Street side. Order at the counter, but be sure to take advantage of the outdoor seating overlooking the lush gardens.
A worthy rival in the outdoor dining arena is nearby Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery (500 S. 6th St. [map], 217-670-0627, www.bit.ly/1MZ4YUf), where a vast array of pub grub is served alongside an always-changing slate of outstanding beers brewed on premises. Their Ditzy Blonde Shandy is heaven after a brisk walk under an unforgiving summer sun.
Also in the neighborhood is Wm. Van’s Coffee (503 S. 7th St. [map], 217-679-4726, www.wmvanscoffee.com), an inviting independent coffee shop that will be a welcome find for coffee enthusiasts weary of hotel coffee and Starbucks. Sip fresh roast amid fascinating photos of this historic home being lifted and trucked to its present location. Fresh pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and ice cream can be had as well.
Nearby also is the Elijah Iles House (donation suggested, open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons from 12-4 pm, 628 S. 7th St. [map], 217-492-5929, www.ileshouse.org). The Greek Revival home is Springfield’s oldest, built in 1823 by Pascal Enos, one of Springfield’s founders. The house serves as both a museum of Springfield history and as a showplace for 19th-century furnishings, woodwork, and hardware. As part of the commemoration of 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s funeral this year, the home is hosting “Bear Him Gently to His Rest,” an exhibition of photographs taken during the two-day funeral.
It seems as though every city has a signature food, and Springfield is no exception. You can taste examples of the infamous “horseshoe”a gut-busting, open-faced meat sandwichat almost every establishment in town.
The first horseshoe was served in 1928 at the swanky Leland Hotel near the Illinois State Capitol. It got its name from its horseshoe-shaped slab of ham with potato wedges resembling nails, served on a hot platter “anvil.” By the ’70s, the ’shoe had become the town’s standard workingman’s lunch, with stacked hamburger patties topped with french fries and covered in “secret” cheese sauce becoming the norm.
D’Arcy’s Pint on the outskirts of town makes perhaps the best-known horseshoe, serving as many as four thousand a week. You can taste fine examples of the artform much closer at Norb Andy’s Tabarin, (519 E. Capitol Ave. [map], 217-679-3449, www.norbandys.com) and at the more upscale Maldaner’s (222 S. 6th St. [map], 217-522-4313, www.maldaners.com), where beef, turkey, and chicken versions topped with a rarebit cheese sauce are served at lunch. Breakfast ’shoes can be found all over town. Creative variations like the gyro horseshoe (on pita) or hot dog horseshoe (with tater-tots) at Z Bistro (220 S. 6th St. [map], 217-522-4049, www.zbistro.com) are fun, too.
Many who attended the 2007 Convention will remember Saputo’s (801 E. Monroe St. [map], 217-544-2523, saputos.com), just a block south of the hotels. Inauspicious from the outside, the Saputo family has been expertly serving Italian standards such as lasagna, linguini, chicken alfredo, and eggplant parmigiana since 1948. No surprises on the menu or on the table. Just perfectly prepared food, with polished service and atmosphere.
On the other hand, The Feed Store, (516 E. Adams St. [map], 217-528-3355) is utterly unique. Jump in the swift-moving cattle line and have your order ready as you approach the register. You’ll want to keep going back through just to try each of the soups offered daily. It’s a unique cafeteria-style atmosphere with an innovative menu of eccentric sandwiches, salads, and soups. But, sadly, it’s open weekdays for lunch only.
Definitely worth a little stroll is Arlington’s (210 Broadway [map], 271-679-6235, www.arlingtonsspi.com). A pleasant little oasis tucked away on Broadway, it serves hot sandwiches and gourmet burgers in a refurbished factory. A wide variety of beers, wines, and house cocktails also grace the menu. Personally, I can’t resist ordering pierogis whenever I see them.
And for breakfast? Save your energy and fuel up at Cafe Andiamo (204 S. 6th St. [map], 217-523-3262, www.cafeandiamo.com), just a block away from the Convention hotels. They have all the basics covered, along with a nice offering of panini and deli sandwiches and pizzas at lunchtime. I’d be content to eat the breakfast strata every morning.
Certain to draw your curiosity as you walk back and forth on Adams Street is the flea market-meets-pawnshop known (somewhat confusingly) as Springfield Furniture (625 E. Adams St. [map], 217-522-5122, www.recycledrecords.com). Inside you will find an irresistible assortment of collectibles, antiques, instruments, and art. Next door at its sister establishment, Recycled Records, one could easily lose track of an entire afternoon flipping through stacks of used vinyl, cassettes, and movies.
In that same vein, just one block further west is Prairie Archives (522 E. Adams St. [map], 217-522-9742, www.prairiearchives.com), a sprawling offering of more than 100,000 used books. Lincoln biographies and Civil War histories dominate the front half of the store, but entire rooms are devoted to other topics, and genres reveal themselves as you explore deeper into the building.
Those with cars will want to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House (301 E. Lawrence Ave. [map], 217-782-6776, www.dana-thomas.org) and Lincoln’s Tomb (Oak Ridge Cemetery, 1441 Monument Ave. [map]) on their way out of town. The former is an absolute masterpiece of the architect’s Prairie Style, and is rare in that it retains almost all of its Wright-designed furnishings and fixtures.
After having learned of the trials and tribulations of Lincoln’s interment during the Ghost Walk, Lincoln’s Tomb will take on an even greater air of importance and dignity. It’s a fitting way to say goodbye to the city so infused with the spirit of the man.
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