Abundant Historic Sights Prove Illinois Is 'Land of Lincoln'
Byline: Mike Michaelson
Illinois is dubbed "Land of Lincoln" for good reason.
While Springfield is best known for its ties to the 16th president, no matter where you wander in Illinois it virtually is impossible not to come across some link to Abraham Lincoln.
This is not surprising, considering that Lincoln rode into Illinois as an ambitious, hard-working young man of 21 and stayed until some 30 years later when he left to assume the awesome burdens of the presidency.
You'll find places where Lincoln lived, worked, ate, practiced law, served as a politician and debated Stephen A. Douglas, his famous political opponent.
You'll also discover places where Lincoln stayed overnight - sort of a Midwest version of the "Washington slept here" phenomenon. It seems that Honest Abe got around almost as much as Honest George.
Lincoln was a frequent guest at the home of Dr. William Fithian of Danville, a Civil War surgeon who practiced medicine well into his 80s. Today, his home is preserved as a museum and you can visit an upstairs bedroom with the half-canopy bed where Lincoln slept.
From a balcony of this room the circuit-riding lawyer, feet swollen and unable to squeeze back into his boots, stood in stocking feet to address a crowd assembled in the garden. The impromptu speech on Sept. 21, 1858, was part of his campaign against Douglas for U.S. Senate.
The museum also chronicles the colorful political career of Joseph G. "Uncle Joe" Cannon, a Washington power broker who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 46 years and was speaker of the house from 1903 to 1911. You'll find Uncle Joe's signature beaver hat and a collection of ornate walking sticks on display.
Other diversions in Danville include Celebrity Way, honoring favorite sons Gene Hackman, Donald O'Connor, Bobby Short and Dick and Jerry Van Dyke. You can canoe the Middle Fork River, a National Scenic River, go horseback riding in Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area (rental horses available) and hike and mountain-bike in Kickapoo State Park. Reclaimed from the ravages of strip mining, the park is dotted with lakes and ponds and covered with a deep forest of oak, hickory, beech and maple.
Ready to eat? Cook yourself a steak or hamburger on a do-it- yourself grill at Danville's Moon Glow, a 1950s-style tavern.
Trace the genesis of the seven famed Lincoln/Douglas debates of 1858 to a four-room cottage at tiny Bement, built by village banker, merchant and local politician Francis Bryant, a friend of Douglas. In the parlor, following a challenge by Lincoln, the two men ironed out details of their series of debates. Bryant Cottage now is a State Historic Site, decorated and furnished appropriate to the period.
In Vandalia, seat of state government from 1819 to 1839, Lincoln cut his political teeth as a freshman state representative. Douglas also served in the graceful Federal-style statehouse completed in 1836 (third built in Vandalia). It has been restored and furnished to appear as it did in Lincoln's time. Here, Lincoln delivered several famous speeches against slavery. …