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June 8, 2009 / howardmestas

NEW SALEM VILLAGE

NEW SALEM (2)

What a memorable day for learning about Lincoln’s early life and his road to greatness. Of all the legends in American History with simple men strapping up their own boot strings and rising to the top, his story is priceless. Seeing where he got his start in New Salem and then comparing it to his home in Springfield was an eye opening moment. Of course, the events in our day were mixed up with our schedule having us see his burial chamber in the middle of two formative periods prior to his presidency.

In the morning, we saw the old Illinois State House, but that turned out to be a bummer since nothing original was really in there. It was like visiting London Bridge which was disassembled and relocated in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I’m sorry, but the effect just wasn’t as cool as it could have been. Ditto for the visit to his law partnership offices where nothing was original except for the flooring, at least that’s what they think.

But the day in Springfield wasn’t a total bust. Seeing the actual home where he and his family lived, and being able to place my hands on the same hand rail he touched was an awesome experience! Having the whole city block preserved with most of the original homes was also quite special. It was an eerie, transcendental experience in the home thinking about how happy and successful the family was there, while knowing just how much tragedy and turmoil they were destined to experience. I was thinking how I wished I could go back in time and tell him, “Hey Abe, don’t get into politics man.” But then again, our country might not have survived as we know it. While visiting his tomb a little later, I thought about all the choices he made and what must have been going through his mind when the south seceded after he was elected president. Talk about a crappy start to your new job. I have an even greater respect for Lincoln than I did before, and I am prouder than ever to be an American. I would give anything to be able go back and tell him before he died that there would one day be an African American president, and that he would announce his candidacy in Springfield.

The afternoon took us into New Salem, which was place where Lincoln would develop all the skills that would separate him from the life of a backwoodsman to a career in law and statesmanship. New Salem was a commercial village where frontiersmen would stop for goods and services on their way between bigger cities. As destiny would have it Lincoln’s raft became stuck on the check dam supporting the gristmill, which was the economic focus of the village. With time to kill, he wandered in for a visit and liked it so much he would end up spending the next six years there. This would end up being the turning point in his young adult life as he would become the person we are most familiar with. Many of the legendary stories we like to read about, like his famous wrestling match, and his first love happened in New Salem. His popularity and prominence in the community was so great that even with no military experience, he was voted captain of the militia force that headed off for the Black Hawk War. After his professional skill became polished, he made the move to Springfield, and the rest is history, or more precisely, America’s destiny.

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