Monday, August 6, 2012

#30. Visit Lincoln's Boyhood Home

Three Midwest states lay claim to former President Abraham Lincoln: Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. He was born in Kentucky and is buried in Illinois, but he came of age in Indiana. From 1816 to 1830, Lincoln grew from a seven-year-old youth to a 21 year-old man on his father's 80+ acre farm in southern Indiana.

Rendering of Lincoln at the Boyhood National Memorial
According to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial website, "[Lincoln's] sense of honesty, his belief in the importance of education and learning, his respect for hard work, his compassion for his fellow man, and his moral convictions about right and wrong were all born of this place and this time."

While I find this statement somewhat presumptuous and boastful, it is undeniable that Lincoln's 14 years in Indiana helped shape his character and personality. If Indiana wants to claim this as a direct reflection on its humble and honest values, I think it's a stretch...but whatever is necessary to boost tourism.

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is obviously meant for tourists, but it's much more off the beaten path than most tourism spots. To find the memorial, I had to drive down a deserted country road with no signs advertising the Memorial.

For a while, I thought my GPS was taking to an incorrect address; but alas, just when my faith in Garmin was faltering, I came upon the Memorial entrance.

I began my tour at the Visitor's Center but decided to skip the ubiquitous short informational film and brochures detailing the minutia of Lincoln's life. I did not dismiss it because I wanted to (I'm a sucker for useless historical facts and lame museum displays) but because there was an entrance fee and I was feeling cheap.

From there I wandered to the Cabin Memorial Site. There is a bronze casting of what is believed to be the site of the Lincoln's third log cabin. In 1917 this site was located and marked, but it wasn't until 1936 that the State of Indiana excavated the area and found sill logs and a stone hearth. (This is further proof of my love for useless historical facts.)

Even if this wasn't the site of the actual cabin Lincoln lived in, it was crazy to see how small the foundation was. It was probably smaller than my bedroom; seeing the change between life two centuries ago and now is startling.

In addition to the supposed homesite is the burial place of Lincoln's mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln. She died in 1818 of milk sickness, a then-mysterious poisening by milk from cows who have eaten white snakeroot, a shade-loving plant found in Indiana. The disease was known as "puking fever" and "the trembles."

Thank God I was not a pioneer.

While the gravesite made me glad to live in the modern age, the Lincoln Living Historical Farm was quaintly nostalgic. The farm is a pioneer homestead complete with livestock, a cabin, outhouses, gardens and man with handlebar mustache and wire-rimmed glasses. This man, a park ranger who seemed to wish it was 1812 isntead of 2012, pointed out four luxurious updates to the Lincoln cabin that were uncharacteristic of log cabins of that time:

  • glass windows 
  • whitewashed walls
  • wood floors  
  • swinging doors

Even in rural Indiana, Abraham Lincoln was ahead of his time.

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