Kadner: Lincoln’s Tomb a reminder of his life
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org November 20, 2012 9:20PM
** ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, APRIL 23 ** A stone monument marks Abraham Lincoln's grave at the Lincoln Tomb Thursday, April 19, 2007, in Springfield, Ill. A new book by Thomas J. Craughwell details a bungled plot in 1876 to steal the Lincoln's body from the tomb and hold it for ransom until the state of Illinois paid $200,000 to get it back. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: December 22, 2012 6:23AM
Pay a visit to Abraham Lincoln and his family in Springfield.
Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” has received rave reviews, but you may not realize that Lincoln’s Tomb here in Illinois is the final resting place of Lincoln, his wife and three of his four children.
The former president’s oldest son, Robert, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and there’s actually a Southland connection to him but more on that later.
Lincoln’s Tomb, located in Oak Ridge Cemetery, was dedicated in 1874 and is topped by an imposing 117-foot-tall obelisk. The interior rooms are finished in highly polished marble trimmed in bronze.
During a recent visit, I was struck by the solemn demeanor of visitors as they made their way through the winding corridors leading from the rotunda of the memorial to the burial room.
The inscription in the room reads, “Now he belongs to the ages,” words spoken by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton as he stood by the president’s death bed.
Admission is free, and it’s only about five minutes from the Abraham Lincoln National Library and Museum.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information about the tomb at the museum, which seems an oversight to me. There should be more of an effort to direct people to Lincoln’s Tomb once they’ve paid him homage by making the trip to Springfield.
In 1865, on the day that Lincoln died, a group of Springfield citizens formed the National Lincoln Monument Association and spearheaded a drive to raise funds to build the tomb. Their efforts resulted in a magnificent memorial.
The movie offers merely a glimpse into the sacrifices the Lincoln family made in service to their country.
The president, like so many hundreds of thousands of others during the war, would ultimately pay with his life. Mary, his wife, would be driven close to madness.
One son, William “Willie” Lincoln, died in the White House at age 11 in 1862, most likely from typhus. Another, Edward Lincoln, passed away in 1850, a day short of his fourth birthday.
All of them, along with Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, known for wearing a little Union Army uniform as a child growing up in the White House, are entombed in Springfield.
Corridors lead from the rotunda of the memorial to the rear burial room. Located in niches along the corridor walls are eight statues depicting various phases of Lincoln’s life.
Four bronze tablets on the walls are engraved with Lincoln’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, a portion of his second inaugural address and a biographical sketch.
But it’s standing in the burial room that you get a small sense of what Lincoln meant to the country and this state.
The only other place in Springfield I’ve felt as close to history is the Old Capitol Building, another great historic landmark with free admission. It was in the rooms of the old Capitol that Lincoln not only served as a state legislator but actually ran his campaign for president.
I promised a tidbit on Robert Lincoln’s rather distant connection to the Southland, and it’s an interesting piece of history.
Oscar L. Dudley was the chief agent for the Humane Society in Chicago during the 1870s, in charge of rescuing stray dogs and cats. But just as numerous on the streets of Chicago in those days, Dudley discovered, were stray children.
He took it upon himself to rescue abandoned, neglected and abused street urchins, but because there was no government agency assigned to take care of them, Dudley began taking them to his home.
He decided a permanent institution was needed, a location where the homeless children could not only be boarded but properly schooled. He presented his idea to a group of influential citizens in Chicago, one of whom happened to be Robert Todd Lincoln.
In 1887, the two formed a partnership that would eventually result in the first training school for dependent children in Illinois, the Illinois Industrial Training School for Boys.
At first located in Norwood Park, it eventually moved to Glenwood, later becoming the Glenwood School for Boys and the Glenwood Academy.
But back to the Lincoln Tomb ...
I found myself standing a distance away, admiring the terraces beneath the obelisk, the craftsmanship of the memorial, the majesty of the project.
And I smiled as I watched visitors rub the nose of the giant bronze of Lincoln’s head outside the entrance to the tomb.
All of this inspired by a man who came from the most modest beginning, self-educated, elected to office when the very fate of the country hung in the balance.
It is difficult, even now, despite the books about his life and the movie, to comprehend just how beloved and reviled Lincoln was at the time of his death.
Many schoolchildren will likely be forced to see “Lincoln,” through school outings or by well-intentioned parents.
Do them a favor and take a trip down to Springfield. Take them to the tomb.
And tell them this is how the people of Illinois paid tribute to a man who gave his life so the Union might survive.
“There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen,” Stanton, once Lincoln’s great political enemy, said on the day the president died.
At Oak Ridge Cemetery, you can feel the meaning behind the words.