The “wouldn’t it be cool if…?” idea turned out to be a huge success. For the Love of Lincoln was met with interest, enthusiasm, and – at one location – even fanfare. From historians to brewers, folks we met along the way were genuinely intrigued and curious about our journey. For the Love of Lincoln was a success also because we learned a tremendous amount about Abraham Lincoln, from his early years to his days in the White House.
The journey was organized to follow Lincoln’s life from birthplace to final resting place. We focused on related sites in the Midwest, knowing full well that Lincoln’s life and career also took him to places like Gettysburg and Washington, DC (destinations reserved for a subsequent journey). We also included Chicago since it figured prominently in Abe’s political career and – well, it’s our hometown.
We departed Chicago on Abe’s 206th birthday, Thursday, February 12, 2015; the journey then took us to Kentucky, Indiana, and back into Illinois. It went down like this:
KENTUCKY. Louisville was our base for the two nights we spent in Abe’s birth state. We got into town just in time to check into our hotel, freshen up, and head over to Against the Grain Brewery. There we met with brewery co-owner Sam Cruz and John King, Executive Director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers. They were a riot! Their humor paired nicely with ATG’s exceptional beers and scrumptious barbecue.
Our first stop the next day was Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. Aside from the beautiful natural setting, the park afforded us the most comprehensive look at Lincoln’s first few years of life. Ranger Stacy Humphreys augmented our experience by spending a large amount of time with us, explaining what life might have been like on the frontier at the time of Abe’s birth. After absorbing all that knowledge, we needed to let loose. So off we went to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Jim Beam Stillhouse. There we were treated to a personal VIP tour by Jennifer, the Trade & Hospitality Manager. Jennifer was a blast! The tour ended at the Tasting Room and I left with my own bottle of Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey. Alas, the drinking was not over yet. We drove back into Louisville and had dinner at Sidebar, a legal-themed bourbon bar. Bourbon already was on the docket that day so I had a glass of Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel on the rocks. It was on to our last stop of the night, BBC Production Taproom. It felt like walking into a friend’s garage or basement, one of those really laid-back places where it’s all about the beer. We had been there for a few minutes when the bartender asked, “Aw hell, are y’all the Abraham Lincoln chicks?” Why, yes. Yes, we are.
INDIANA. Of all the places Lincoln called home, Indiana has got to be the most significant and the most overlooked. It’s the most significant because Abe spent fourteen years on the Indiana prairie, and they were the most formative years of his life. It’s where Abe “grew up”, as he said, and developed the beliefs that factored into his legal and political careers. Indiana is also the most overlooked because Abe was just a regular guy when he lived there. No one knew he would go on to be our nation’s greatest president so many sites weren’t preserved, nor were many artifacts retained. Still, it’s worth a visit to Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial if only to walk the same ground that Abe walked as a young man. The National Memorial includes a living historical farm, which is run by volunteers, and it provides visitors a glimpse into Lincoln’s early family life. It’s where Abe’s character and morals were formed and nurtured. Ranger Paula Alexander spent four hours with us, sharing her wealth of knowledge, and allowing us to get a better idea of how Abraham Lincoln grew up to be one of the nation’s most respected leaders. After another afternoon of hard work, our reward was spending the evening at Tin Man Brewing Co. in Evansville. Owners Nick and Sara were gracious hosts and they proudly showed us around their immaculate and impeccably organized brewing facility. Liz and I did our best to sample all of their outstanding beers but couldn’t get too crazy as we had an early start planned for the following morning.
ILLINOIS. Ah, the Land of Lincoln. We had no idea as we crossed the border just how much our home state would surprise us. A host of hidden gems were unveiled on this leg of the journey, the first being Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site. Located about thirty minutes northwest of Springfield, the site is a recreation of the village of New Salem, where Lincoln lived from 1831 to 1837. He struggled to make a life for himself in New Salem, taking on jobs like store clerk and land surveyor, and never actually owned a home there. But the site is relevant because it was while Abe lived in New Salem that he was first elected to the Illinois General Assembly, thereby launching his political career.
Next on the itinerary was a stop at Rolling Meadows Brewery, a production facility that is not open to the public. Liz and I expected to meet owner Caren Trudeau, and we did, but what happened shortly after our arrival left me speechless. Liz and I followed Caren into the brewery building, figuring we’d tour the facility, take some photos, and interview Caren as we had the previous brewers/distillers. What we didn’t count on was being greeted by what I can describe only as fanfare. The Trudeaus had invited a group of their closest friends to welcome us, and put out a spread of homemade and local foods. There was plenty of beer, of course, and I cannot rave enough about it. Every brew we sampled was outstanding. But what stands out the most is the genuine welcome we received and the enthusiasm of the group as a whole for our project. Even now, the whole experience still seems so surreal. Oh, and we were there for six hours. Yes, six hours of eating, drinking, laughing, and forging new friendships. As if the night couldn’t get any better after our visit to Rolling Meadows, we arrived at our home for the next two nights: Residence Inn by Marriott Springfield South. I stayed at the same hotel with my family when we visited Springfield last year, and I was thrilled to stay there again on this trip. After being on the road for the previous four days, Liz and I welcomed the subtle luxuries afforded by this Residence Inn. Having our own bedrooms and bathrooms was a great start, and we took full advantage of the complimentary breakfast and wi-fi.
Our last full day in Springfield was spent at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, with James Cornelius, the curator of the Lincoln collection. When I say talking to James is the closest we will ever get to talking to Abraham Lincoln himself, you have to believe me. I already knew the museum was amazing, but seeing it along with James’ commentary was unbelievable.
Before we knew it, the morning of our departure arrived and it was time to head back to Chicago. But before we jumped on northbound I-55, we made one final stop: Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. Our journey traced his life, beginning at his birthplace; it was only fitting that we pay tribute to our hero at his final resting place. Oh, but the fun did not end there! There was a welcome party waiting for us at Lagunita’s Brewery in Chicago. Folks lined the halls leading to the tap room and cheered as we walked in. Talk about surreal….
For the Love of Lincoln – the journey – may have come to an end, but this is just the beginning of the adventure. Liz and I have heaps more planned so please stay tuned!
Disclosure: A number of the tours, attraction admissions, meals, and drinks were complimentary, thanks to our awesome partners. Our stay at Residence Inn by Marriott Springfield South also was complimentary. But, as always, all words and opinions are strictly my own.