Travels & Traditions: Springfield, Illinois - #1010

BURT WOLF: Ah yes, there can be no doubt that Springfield, Illinois, is still Lincoln's hometown. On a more official note, you can visit the Lincoln Herndon law offices where Lincoln rose to prominence as an attorney.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): It was a perfect office for a young attorney, because the federal courtroom was directly underneath. When Lincoln was alone in this room, he would lie down on the floor and open the corner of a trap door that was in the ceiling of the courtroom. He would listen to more experienced attorneys arguing their cases. He worked in this room for four years, starting in 1843 and he learned a lot.

BURT WOLF: Just down the street is the home that he lived in with Mary Todd before he was elected president and moved to Washington. For seventeen years, the family lived in this two-story frame house. It was the only house that Lincoln ever owned and the place where Mary gave birth to three of their four sons. It's always interesting to see and compare the homes of where our presidents lived before they moved into the White House. Kim Bauer is the historical research specialist for the Henry Horner Lincoln Collection at the Illinois State Historical Library. 

KIM BAUER: In most of Abraham Lincoln's life he is beardless. 

KIM BAUER (ON CAMERA): He had no beard up to the time that he was president of the United States. Most people don't realize that because they see all the photographs of Abraham Lincoln during the presidency and he has a beard. There was an eleven-year-old girl who helped make his decision on growing a beard. Grace Bidell, from Westfield, New York, wrote Abraham Lincoln in October of 1860. She tells him that she thinks he's the greatest man that, probably alive and that her father is going to vote for him, but she has four brothers. And out of those four, two are probably are going to vote for him and two don't know what they're going to do. So what she suggests, to Abraham Lincoln, is that he grow a beard, and if he grows a beard, she thinks his other two brothers will vote for him for the presidency. He starts to grow a beard and by the time he heads to Washington in 1861, he has a full-grown beard. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): And the hat? 

KIM BAUER (ON CAMERA): Well now the hat is an interesting story too, because Abraham Lincoln quite often when he was going around the circuit as a lawyer, would put letters, legal documents, handkerchiefs, anything that he couldn't stuff into his pockets or if he didn't have a pocket, he would stuff into a stove pipe hat, which is the common image of Abraham Lincoln. So much so that William Herndon, his last law partner, called his hat, Lincoln's hat, his office. And Herndon even goes so far as to say that Lincoln's ears kind of stuck out and the reason why is because he wore these hats that were so full of letters and manuscripts. 

FRITZ KLEIN AS LINCOLN (ON CAMERA): Ladies and gentlemen, we are now into our fifth year since the policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident purpose of putting an end to the slavery agitation. However...

BURT WOLF: Fritz Klein has played Lincoln on stage, on television and in films.

FRITZ KLEIN AS LINCOLN (ON CAMERA): That agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my estimation, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

FRITZ KLEIN (ON CAMERA): I try to approach this from a sort of timeless perspective, where they're not just viewing me as Lincoln up there on a setting, but I'm in their world, addressing them and their concerns as much as I can.

FRITZ KLEIN: Lincoln walked with a hunch. I didn't use to, but I do now. Many of the mannerisms I do when I'm Lincoln, and they've crept into my personal life, even though I didn't want that. I've been thrown off horses in front of an audience. I’ve had dogs run across the set in the middle of a performance. One time when I was at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., I was not in character, just as a tourist, walking down into the museum, and a woman saw me, looked up and just screamed right out loud. 


BURT WOLF: Springfield is also the home of the Dana Thomas House, which is the best preserved and most complete early prairie house designed by the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Typical of Wright's prairie style, the exterior is characterized by low horizontal roofs, wide overhanging eaves and ribbon art glass windows. It looks almost the same as it did when it was commissioned in 1902 for Springfield socialite and women's activist Susan Lawrence Dana. More than 100 pieces of original Wright design white oak furniture are still in place, along with 250 art glass doors, windows and light panels and 200 original light fixtures. There's a raised main living level, open floor plan and centralized fireplaces. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Wright was thirty-five years old when he got the Dana House commission and it was a major piece of work. He was in the process of revolutionizing midwestern domestic architecture and this house gave him an opportunity to experiment with some new forms. 

BURT WOLF: This is one of only three Wright-designed double pedestal lamps. It has a hipped roof shade and free hanging moveable glass panels that use the same iridescent glass and pattern found throughout the interior of the house. It is considered to be one of Wright's most important lamp designs. The dining room's butterfly light fixtures are the most elaborate and geometric of Wright's career. The dining room table can be expanded to accommodate forty people, all seated on Wright-designed oak chairs. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): When I saw that dining room table designed by Wright for forty people I thought this house is going to have some kitchen. Wrong. Almost all of Susan Dana's food came in from a catering service. The kitchen is minimal. Maybe you could toast a bagel here you know? In 1902 there weren't any bagels in Springfield so you couldn't even do that. Nevertheless, the Dana Thomas House is well worth a visit. 


BURT WOLF: Springfield is packed with nationally famous historic landmarks, but perhaps its most famous international landmark is its strip of the mother road, Route 66. From Chicago to LA, over 2,000 miles all the way.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Each year thousands of tourists show up in Chicago and buy a used car or a used motorcycle and head out to LA. For about 85 percent of the trip they're on the original Route 66. It was built in 1926 as the first road designed specifically for automobiles and it captured the imagination of the auto buff and it's held onto it too. 

During the 1920s, Henry Ford began producing automobiles that many people could afford. No longer a luxury for the rich, tens of thousands of people started driving cars. But there was one major problem. 

We didn't have a road system designed for them to drive on. America was covered with dirt roads that were originally developed to transport agricultural products to market. We also had some old roads that had been used by stagecoaches to connect one town to another. 

And that was pretty much it. Both federal and state governments quickly recognized the need for a national highway system. And in 1926 began building the great mother road. The ribbon of concrete that ran from the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago down to the banks of the Mississippi at St. Louis, and then west to the beaches of the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles. It became a symbol of America's progress. And so powerful was its attraction, that hit songs invited us to get our kicks on Route 66.

Route 66 was the first major element in the national road system built for the automobile. And for almost 50 years, it was the main street of America. It changed the way we traveled but it also changed the way we ate. 

As Route 66 headed out of Chicago, on its way to St. Louis, it passed through Springfield. Springfield became the state capitol of Illinois in 1837. And visiting legislators and lobbyists required eating-places. It was also Abraham Lincoln's hometown, and tourists began arriving from all over the world. And they expected suitable eateries during their visit. Springfield is home to an important university, and a major medical center. Tourists and local residents make varied demands on Springfield's restaurants and that has made it an ideal community to study how American eating habits changed during the 20th Century. And that is precisely what John Jakle and Keith Sculle have done in their book called Fast Food.

KEITH SCULLE (ON CAMERA): Well, in the 1890s, Springfield was a really hoppin' place. People were coming to town to do business with the county courthouse, but especially to do business with the state capitol, located just a few blocks away. So in between those two nodes, you had a very vibrant economy for restaurants to thrive. But it was also a very lively street trade: vendors for example, with push carts and so forth. There was a fellow by the name of Ed Crastos who is the most memorable. At least he’s the one that’s come down in the literature who was the guy that sold chili on little tin pans.

BURT WOLF: Springfield has had a long love affair with chili. During the 1960s Springfield was a hotbed of chili activity with three chili canneries producing over four million cans of chili each year. The state government passed a resolution proclaiming Illinois as the chili capitol of the civilized world, and recognized the spelling of chili with two L's. 

KEITH SCULLE (ON CAMERA): People who ate out, at the beginning of the century weren't seen in the best light. They were people that lived downtown on a regular basis. They might have lived in boarding houses, but they might have been about in the communities’ life downtown on the streets and so forth. There were associations apart from family life that those people had. As travel became far more common, people had to, of necessity, eat out. Well, roadside restaurants changed the way the country thought about food, and about the way they actually practiced eating. Very influential. 

MAN IN CAR (ON CAMERA): Can I get a special with a root beer and cheese?

WOMAN (ON CAMERA): I need a cheese special with a root beer. 

BURT WOLF: The Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop is considered to be one of the earliest restaurants to have a drive-up window. This is the ancient forerunner of McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.


WOMAN IN CAR (ON CAMERA): Hi. Two maid-rites and a root beer.

WOMAN (ON CAMERA): I need two maids and a beer!


BURT WOLF: It opened in 1924 and still serves it signature dish. A mixture of crumbled steam ground beef, onions, mustard, and pickled relish on a steamed bun with a side of French fries, and homemade root beer in a frosted mug. And because of modern freezer technology and Federal Express, Maid-Rite ships containers of the cooked meat and buns to Made Right devotees throughout the United States. Root beer goes back to 1869 when a Philadelphia pharmacist by the name of Charles Hyers put together a blend of sugar, water, spices, and tree barks. It produced a mildly alcoholic, naturally effervescent drink. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Traditional root beer usually contained birch bark, dandelion root, molasses and wintergreen oil. But the distinctive flavor that we associate with root beer comes from the addition of sassafras root which used to grow wild all over the eastern part of the United States.

BURT WOLF: The Federal Food and Drug Administration found that sassafras contained a carcinogen. So today's root beer is artificially flavored. But even with artificial flavoring, each year Americans consume over 200 million cases of commercially produced root beer. In addition, there are thousands of people who make their own root beer at home. Ah, but is it made right? 

KEITH SCULLE (ON CAMERA): By the 1930s, things had changed to some degree. The professional people in the community still found it desirable to eat at home for the most part. They had no need to eat out and on the road. Now, however, people who were traveling and by then in automobiles, and that meant more and more people traveling, found it convenient, in fact, necessary to eat on the road. And restaurants began to change their pitch a little bit. They began to have a little pizzazz in their decor. Some of the food began to change its pitch a little bit. They were presentable. They were desirable places to eat. They were even fun places to eat. 

BURT WOLF: Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Springfield developed a middle class approach to restaurants offering foods that were attractive to travelers and office and factory workers. Good eating meant friendly service and ordinary but reliable food in sizable portions. The town’s signature dish is called the horseshoe, toast on the bottom, hamburger in the middle, cheese sauce on top and French fries around everything. The place to taste a traditional horseshoe is Norb Andy’s.

The thirties also saw the introduction of the first Mel-O-Cream Doughnut. Mel-O-Cream Doughnuts are a local specialty. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): I'm a hole-in-the-center kind of guy myself, with maybe a little glaze or sugar on the outside. And I've always wondered who put the hole in the center of the doughnut. Well, no less an institution than The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. has reported on the subject. They tell us that a young man named Hanson Crockett Gregory of Clam Cove Maine, was watching his mother make some doughnuts, and asked her why they were always soggy in the center? She said if she cooked them till they were done in the center, they were burned on the outside, and so she took them out early. Well, young Hanson, culinary genius that he was, took a fork, poked a hole in the center of the uncooked doughnut, so when they fried up, they were perfect, thereby creating the first ringed doughnut in history. 

BURT WOLF: And as long as we're dealing with doughnuts, here's a couple of additional bits of trivia. During World War I, a Salvation Army worker in France prepared a batch of doughnuts for some American troops, which proved to be extremely popular and regularly requested. When word got around that the American units loved doughnuts, they got nicknamed Doughboys.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The folklore around dunking says that an actress by the name of Mae Murray was having breakfast one day, in Lindy's Restaurant in New York City, and she dropped her doughnut into her coffee. Well, she didn't miss a beat. She picked it up, continued eating, and announced that both the texture and the flavor had been improved; thereby, dividing the doughnut-eating world between those who dunk and those who don't dunk. I dunk. 

BURT WOLF: The years that followed the end of the Second World War saw a continuing rise in the number of roadside eating places. The Cozy Dog Drive-In opened on Route 66 in 1950. For over 100 years, the frankfurter, on its bun has been part of American gastronomy. But Ed Waldmire changed that. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Ed was visiting his brother in Muskogee Oklahoma, when a diner cook served him a frankfurter that had been baked in a batter. It took about 15 minutes to cook it in something that was really a homemade waffle iron. But Ed realized that somewhere in that dish was an idea that could change the gastronomic history of America, and he began experimenting. 

BURT WOLF: Eventually he developed a secret recipe, and the equipment necessary to produce a corn batter encrusted, deep-fried frankfurter on a stick. His wife named them Cozy Dogs and developed the logo. Ed introduced them at the 1946 Illinois State Fair. And his reputation was made. 

It was a perfect food for people in motion. And so Ed opened the Cozy Dog House on Route 66. In recognition of his contribution to American road food he has been inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): But in spite of the fact that there are a number of patents in connection with the making of a Cozy Dog, knock-offs have proliferated throughout the United States in the form of a corn dog. But a corn dog is not a Cozy Dog. And the authentic version is only available here in Springfield Illinois, made by Ed's son, Buz.


BURT WOLF: Springfield is the land of Lincoln but it is also the land of corn. As soon as you pass through the suburban areas, you are surrounded by cornfields. In the old days, cornfields were used only for growing corn. But these days, the big idea is multi-tasking. And so cornfields are being put to additional use. This is the Springfield Corn Maze.

DOUG SCHMIDGALL: Flags in the air.

BURT WOLF: During the growing season, it is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. But not when it's raining or the fields are muddy. It all started in 1993 when a producer from Walt Disney teamed up with a designer of mazes to put a maze into a cornfield. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): A maze is a puzzle with many junctions and paths. You go in one place, come out another. The trick, of course, is to figure out which path will lead you out. The great American authority on corn mazes is a guy named Brett Herbst. He has a company that teaches farmers how to put a corn maze into their field. You know, another word for corn is maize. So it's only fair that a field of maize have a maze. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): How did you come to put a maze in your field?

DOUG SCHMIDGALL (ON CAMERA): I've seen advertised in a magazine, about three years ago. And thought it looked kind of nice, and I decided to go ahead and try one.

BURT WOLF: Something in a magazine special that appealed to you?

DOUG SCHMIDGALL: I liked the design that I'd seen from the air. I believe it was a design of a tiger, or something like that. It looked kind of neat. This one is a design like a dragon. We had a little contest and a young man by the name of Wade Morrison give us a design, and we etched it out. On one side, there's the head with the fire coming out of it, and the other side is a tail, kind of like a hammer on it. And it's got wings on it and everything like that.

BURT WOLF: How much do you charge them to go in?

DOUG SCHMIDGALL: A dollar for the easy maze, and $2 for the hard maze.

BURT WOLF: What do you charge them to get out?

DOUG SCHMIDGALL: Fifteen dollars to get out if I got to come find them. 



BURT WOLF: The Rees Memorial Carillon here in Springfield is one of the largest and finest in the world. Its open tower has sixty-seven bronze bells that were cast in The Netherlands. The total weight is 90,000 pounds. They’re played manually by means of a keyboard and today Jim Rogers is on the keyboard. And finally, you should pay a visit to Lincoln's tomb.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The death of Abraham Lincoln on April 15th, 1865, came only six days after the surrender of the Confederate Army. The celebrations that were taking place to mark the conclusion of the War Between the States came to an abrupt end.

BURT WOLF: As the nation mourned its president, the National Lincoln Monument Association started planning a memorial in Springfield Illinois, where Lincoln had lived from 1837 to 1861. The monument holds the remains of the sixteenth president, his wife and three of their sons. The 117 foot tall tomb is constructed of granite quarried in Quincy Massachusetts. Near the entrance is a bronze bust of Lincoln. The shiny nose is the result of visitors rubbing it for good luck. 

On Tuesday evenings during the summer months, the 144th Illinois Volunteer Reactivated Infantry demonstrates Civil War military drills and conducts flag retreat ceremonies. 

At each ceremony, a selected visitor receives the United States flag that flew over the tomb during the previous week.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Springfield, Illinois, lots of Lincoln, interesting museums, an important strip of America's mother road and down home cooking. It's the perfect spot for a family vacation. I hope you've enjoyed this visit and I hope you will join us next time on Travels and Traditions. I'm Burt Wolf.