More Shame for the State of Illinois

There are times when I’m embarrassed to admit I’m from Illinois. My ancestors moved westward with the frontier in the early 1800s from Virginia, through Cumberland Gap, stopping in Ohio and Indiana before finally settling on the Illinois prairie. Reality is that Central Illinois was a great place for growing up and gave me a firm basis for the values I hold and who I am today. However, the shameful political history is an embarrassment and against all values learned on Illinois soil.

As if the recent governor debacle isn’t bad enough when I sat down to write about my visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum I made a new discovery. The Governor’s Office under the orders of now – thankfully -ex-governor Rod Blagojevich  has closed 25 historic sites and state parks including four designated National Historic Landmarks. Reviewing the list I see that none are in Chicago or Cook County, the great sinkhole of state funds goes untouched while places like the Carl Sandburg home, Fort Kaskaskia (Illinois’ First Capitol), Kickapoo State Park and the Vandalia Statehouse are shuttered and barricaded. Any member of the public entering the closed parks or sites will be arrested and charged with trespassing. Now, isn’t that a friendly use of taxpayer money?

Sites directly connected with Abraham Lincoln are among those closed. Just in time for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Vandalia Statehouse was the location of most of Lincoln’s time as a member of the Illinois state legislature.

lincoln-log-cabin-2Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site was the location of Thomas Lincoln’s farm from 1840 until his death. While Abe never lived on the site he owned and maintained the farm for his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, after his father died in 1851. He stopped to visit Sarah in early 1861 on his way to his presidential inauguration.

Located eight miles south of Charleston, Illinois the historic site encompasses a replica of Thomas’ log cabin surrounded by a subsistence farm with heirloom crops and cattle breeds. The Stephen Sargent home, reflecting the practices of successful cash crop farming in the 1850s, is also part of the site. Nearby is the Reuben Moore Home where Lincoln and Sarah met for a final time. A living Abraham Lincoln never returned to Illinois.

The need for a replica log cabin holds quite a story. In 1893 the original cabin was disassembled and shipped to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Somehow after the exposition the cabin was lost – perhaps used as firewood. Many photographs existed and a replica was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934.

Before the Blagojevich closing both the Lincoln and Sargent farms supported an active living history program. I’ve visited many such programs around the country and this was absolutely one of the best. The participants weren’t actors or characters, they lived life as the original families would have – growing crops with tools of the period, raising cattle, mucking out the barns, cooking over wood-burning stoves, eating with crude utensils. Authenticity went right down to the hand sewn period underwear worn by the interpreters. This was the only site in the state of Illinois to offer regular first person interpretation.

lincoln-log-cabin-kids1In 2008, volunteers gave over 13,000 hours of their time to ensure that Lincoln Log Cabin was open and accessible to visitors from all 50 states and many other countries. Volunteer support enables the Fifth Grade Live-In and Summer Youth Educational Programs.

The Lincoln-Sargent Farm Foundation is a nonprofit private group that supports the educational programming at Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. Foundation board members are evaluating what potential exists for the foundation to assist the site during the forced closing. Please consider making a donation to help support the efforts of the Foundation in maintaining educational programming and the preservation of rural heritage. Click here to download a form for mailing.

I’m betting the hard working, dedicated volunteers will find a way to overcome the obstacles created by “their” state government. Plus, my check will be in tomorrow’s mail.

 

 

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