Travels & Traditions: Springfield Illinois - #210

BURT WOLF: Springfield, Illinois. It's Abraham Lincoln's hometown and the place to see what his personal life was really like. To find out why he suddenly grew a beard just before he became president. To see the house he lived in and the monument where he eventually came to rest. But Springfield is more than just Lincoln. It's the place where you can tour one of the great works of Frank Lloyd Wright, who was often described as the most important architect of the 20th Century. Where you can visit one of the finest collections of Amish quilts in the world, or drive along the mother road of the United States. It's a town where the signature dish is a horseshoe sandwich and where the corn-battered, deep fried frankfurter was invented. In short, Springfield is the spot for a quintessential American holiday. So please join me, Burt Wolf, for Travels and Traditions in Springfield, Illinois.


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 ... that's probably alive and that her father is gonna vote for him, but she has four brothers. And out of those four, two are probably are gonna 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.


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: About twenty miles northwest of Springfield is the reconstructed pioneer village of New Salem. Lincoln came here when he was twenty two years old and stayed for six years. He clerked in that store, chopped wood in that yard, served as a postmaster and started his political career. Twenty three timber houses and stores have been reconstructed and furnished as they were in the 1830s. Interpreters in period dress go about the daily work of the time and talk with visitors. Dave Hedrick took me on a tour.

DAVE HEDRICK: Lincoln actually boarded here in the 1830s. This is what is now referred to as a bed and breakfast, but then it was called a tavern.

BURT WOLF: And they're making breakfast.

WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: Oh no, we're cooking dinner.

BURT WOLF: Oh, I missed breakfast, huh?

WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: Well, you know, we're gonna have some nice Brunswick stew.


WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: And spider corn bread and blueberry fool.

BURT WOLF: That is an ancient whisk.


BURT WOLF: Look at that. And it works.


BURT WOLF: Just as well as any of our more modern whisks.

WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: WE have this sort of fancy egg beater.

BURT WOLF: Oh, look at that. I've seen those before. So you just run it like this.

WOMAN: Yeah.

BURT WOLF: ... and it spins down the center. And if you put some strings here, we could also have music, you know.

WOMAN COOK #2 JONE VAN WINKLE: (Laughs) And you could sing.

BURT WOLF: Actually people pay me a great deal of money not to sing.


WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: And this is the blueberry fool. I need to later on add a little bit of whipped cream to it.


WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: You know, pure fat.

BURT WOLF: And this is an old ...

WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: This is what we call a tin oven sometimes it's called a reflector oven. You can put meat on a spit.

BURT WOLF: Inside, right.

WOMAN COOK #! BARBARA ARCHER:... and then you have ...

BURT WOLF:... to the fire.

WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: You face it to the fire.


WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: And then you have a door here where you can baste it.

BURT WOLF: And check on what's cooking.

WOMAN COOK #1 BARBARA ARCHER: And check on what's cooking.

BURT WOLF: When will dinner be ready?


BURT WOLF: I'll be back.


BURT WOLF: Keep up the good work.


DAVE HEDRICK: This is the second Berry Lincoln store. Abraham Lincoln and his partner, Bill Berry, bought a store on credit, went deeply in debt, so their solution was to buy a larger store on credit.

BURT WOLF: It's so American!

DAVE HEDRICK: And then went deeper in debt. And here we have Jeremy, and he's our broom maker.

BURT WOLF: Hey Jeremy, how you doing?

JEREMY BLEUER: Pretty good.

BURT WOLF: How do you make a broom?

JEREMY BLEUER: Well, first you take a hickory stick and you've got to shave it all off, let it dry.

BURT WOLF: That becomes the handle.

JEREMY BLEUER: That becomes the handle. Then you take this broom corn, it's called broom corn.

BURT WOLF: It's a special kind of corn grown just for making brooms?

JEREMY BLEUER: Yeah. It's not actually corn, but that's what we call it. Then you put it on the handle and you wrap it up tight and this is what this machine does. It takes this ... it should be sinew, which is ... right now it's nylon wrapped in wax. And it goes something like this. I made this last week.

BURT WOLF: This is beautiful. May I try it?

JEREMY BLEUER: Yeah, sure.

DAVE HEDRICK: This is Peter Lukin's house and Peter was a shoemaker and we demonstrate the process of making shoes and this is Ken, Ken's learning how to make shoes today. And this is Don.

BURT WOLF: Hi Ken, hi Don. What are you making?

DON FERRICKS: Well, I'm making a shoe. What I'm doing now is putting the wooden pegs in. This is what's gonna hold the shoe together, is these wooden pegs.

BURT WOLF: And this is the sole?

DON FERRICKS: This is the sole.

BURT WOLF: Then you put the heel on last.

DON FERRICKS: Right. The heel is the same thing as the sole leather. It's just put on in layers.

BURT WOLF: It's very much the way we make shoes now.

DON FERRICKS: Very close.

BURT WOLF: Did you ever see any of the work of a guy named Manolo Blahnik.

DON FERRICKS: No, I haven't.

BURT WOLF: Oh, I'll have to send you some of some of his designs. You'll like them. How long will it take you to make a pair?

DON FERRICKS: Oh, I could do a pair easily in one day.

BURT WOLF: About six, seven hours of work?

DON FERRICKS: About seven hours.

BURT WOLF: Great, so I'll be back around what do you figure, about nine ... about eight o'clock tonight, you'll be ready?

DON FERRICKS: I'll be home by then.

BURT WOLF: Thanks a lot.

DON FERRICKS: Okay, thank you.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the same decade that Abraham Lincoln was packing up to leave the neighborhood for Washington, DC, a group of Amish in Pennsylvania were packing up to come into the neighborhood. They established their community in Arthur, Illinois, in 1865.

BURT WOLF: They were master quilt makers and their work represents some of the finest folk art produced in Illinois. Over 150 of their quilts have been brought together in a collection housed in Springfield's Illinois State Museum. Jan Wass is the curator of decorative arts.

JAN WASS ON CAMERA: A quilt is three layers of fabric. We have a top layer, a batting, which is usually cotton or wool, and a back layer, its lining. And in order to make the layers stay together, we use a small running stitch called quilting.

JAN WASS: The Amish used little pieces of cloth from their clothing. After they had finished making a garment, they would use the remnants to make their quilts, and this was in a sense, a form of recycling, because they were very frugal, practical people. And they didn't want to throw anything away. And sewing the little pieces together into a quilt was something that was both beautiful and practical. The Amish used the same colors in their quilts that they used in their clothing. And I think people are very much surprised at how bright they are, because they think of the Amish as wearing black. But actually when you look at their clothing, the women's dresses, the children's dresses, the men's shirts, they're bright colors, at least blues, greens, purples, reds.

BURT WOLF: While I was in Springfield, I stayed at a bed and breakfast. First time for me and very interesting. It's called the Inn at 835 and by some extraordinary stroke of luck, it just happens to be at 835 South Second Street, which is a pleasant, tree-lined road about three blocks from the capitol building and the major downtown attractions. It was originally constructed in 1909 by Miss Belle Miller, a local businesswoman who believed that there was a future for rental apartments, even though at the time everyone in Springfield lived in a home or a rooming house.

BURT WOLF: She divided the place into six similar apartments. You come off the staircase hall into an entrance area. There are good-sized living rooms with wood-burning fireplaces, and elaborate bathrooms.

BURT WOLF: She must have had a good sense of the market because as soon as the apartments were ready, they were rented and stayed rented for over ninety years. In 1994, Court and Karen Conn purchased the building and slowly transformed it into an Inn. The rooms have pretty much the same feeling that they have had for the past century. Each room is furnished differently and has its own separate feeling. The apartments that were on the ground floor have become the public rooms. Nothing corporate about the Inn.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Each morning, everybody who was staying at the Inn comes down to breakfast, which is cooked and served by Court and Karen. Very informal, very relaxed, very homey. The Inn has been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and honored as a landmark by the City of Springfield.

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.

BURT WOLF: 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 gonna 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.

BURT WOLF: Springfield even has an informal monument to this great American highway. For over fifty years, Bill Shea pumped gas on Route 66. Today, he is the proud owner of one of the great private heaps of gas station and Route 66 memorabilia. Obsolete tools, old gas cans, pumps, signs, he even purchased an entire filling station, which he is reconditioning. A national repository of junkabilia, or ebay heaven, who knows?

BURT WOLF: So what's cooking in Springfield? Let's see. The earliest restaurants in Springfield were build downtown and catered to people associated with the government. They were family-owned places and that's pretty much what they still are. Maldaner’s has been here since 1884 and is a landmark all by itself. Big portions and friendly service. Cafe Brio is a good spot for food with a Tex-Mex flavor, open and colorful. Augie's for good straightforward cooking. Interesting black bean cakes. 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. Springfield is also the ancestral home of the corn battered encrusted deep fried frankfurter, properly known as a cozy dog. You can expose yourself to this gustatory delight in its original habitat, the Cozy Dog Drive In.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Amazing. This is very good.

BURT WOLF: Another spot we enjoyed was Saputo’s, opened in 1948 by identical twin brothers, the Southern Italian menu is based entirely on their mother's recipes. And even today, the basic elements in every dish are prepared by a family member.

Perhaps the most unusual guy I found in Springfield was Kenny Gand. His regular job is teaching school, but he is developing a worldwide reputation for his extracurricular activities. Let me put it to you this way, you love your old glove, but you're having a snit. The laces are loose and the stuffing's unfit. The buckles are busted and the lining is torn, the fingers are fragile and the ribbing's forlorn. It's tired and it's tender and it looks like an ender. But all is not lost. Just call the Mitt Mender.

KENNY GAND: A lot of people that send me their gloves to have repaired - they have a lot of sentimental value in them. They used them when they were a small child and grew up playing with that glove and never got rid of it and they've seen advertisements of my services and they've contacted me and were made very, very happy again.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You got a lot of great gloves.

KENNY GAND ON CAMERA: There's a lot of good antique gloves in this cabinet and on the wall behind us. A lot of these gloves have accumulated over the years at either a flea market or a garage sale. A couple of years ago, my boys found this glove at a flea market. This glove is special because it has Mickey Mantle's signature in the glove. It's a left-handed glove and it's value would be close to three hundred dollars.

BURT WOLF: You know in the old gloves, you couldn't catch with one hand. You really needed two hands to make a catch.

KENNY GAND: You had to use two hands in the early ages of the game of baseball.

BURT WOLF: And now it's time to head over to Washington Park. Beautiful grounds, lots of space, and one of the world's great carillons. A carillon is a stationary set of chromatically tuned bells set in a tower. The earliest carillons that we know about were in China and date back over 2000 years.

During the Middle Ages, musicians in Belgium and The Netherlands began developing them into a popular musical form and built bell towers throughout northern Europe. Each tower also had one bell used for striking the hour and warning citizens of fire, flood, invasion or when their local cable company was going to turn off a network. 

 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.

BURT WOLF: 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 & TRADITIONS. I'm Burt Wolf.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It’s Stephen Douglas for you Abe.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So Lincoln kept all this stuff in his hat? Amazing. BURT WOLFON CAMERA: Abe - this thing about honesty. Don't you think that's gonna be difficult for future presidents to follow?

FRITZ KLEIN AS LINCOLN: Actually, I know of a few that are having a real hard time with it.

BURT WOLF: Yeah, listen Abe it’s really been wonderful.

FRITZ KLEIN AS LINCOLN: I've enjoyed it.

BURT WOLF: Thank you.