I hear a great deal about people visiting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., but I don’t hear a lot about visits to Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. During our trip to Peoria, we decided to make a pitstop in Springfield. Lincoln is a fascinating figure who helped define the country we live in today. In my life, he is a complicated figure. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which he may have done to bring the country back together, or perhaps he was moved by God. Whatever the case, the man did what he did, and that changed the lives of some of my ancestors. My relatives that ran the Watson plantation in Georgia would have been affected. The other side of the family would have been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. So, like America itself, my history is complicated, making Lincoln a proper figure to visit on my cross country trip.
History is something that we rewrite regularly. Our relatives are memorialized as heroes after death, regardless of how ordinary they may have been. Suddenly, imperfect men and women become gods and goddesses. I don’t view any of my relatives, or figures in history that way. Life is complicated, and we are born into a set time and place, and we can’t say what we would have done, or would not have done if born in a different time. I am very comfortable with the idea that we are flawed, fickle individuals that may be sure of what we believe one day, and completely uncertain the next. It is okay to be this way, for it is what we were born to be. Thinking, feeling people who change our minds when we gather more data. You don’t have to apologize for what your forefathers did or believed, but recognize the past for what it is. Don’t make excuses, or pretend that what occurred was righteous.
Springfield is a mid-size city about an hour away from Peoria. Lincoln’s tomb is in an unassuming, but grand cemetery in the middle of the town. We arrived at the tomb on a cool, cloudy day. The first stop was to make a wish and rub Honest Abe’s nose. The nose is worn from the decades of hands that have come through, whispered their wishes to Abe, and rubbed his nose. After that, we headed for the tomb itself.
Inside the tomb, people milled around, quiet and solemn. Bradley and I made our way through the hall, stopping by each statue and plaque to read the captions. It is interesting visiting the tomb with Bradley. At some point in history, our marriage would have been illegal and the faith my husband was born into, once thought that black people were less than human, and his marriage to me would have made him eligible for “blood atonement.” Brigham Young thought it was better to slit a person’s throat than to let them marry and procreate with someone with African heritage. So, being there with my husband, a man who is the closest I’ve ever found to a kindred was interesting. We stood in front of Lincoln’s tomb, silent and in awe that we were in front of the final resting places of Lincoln, his wife, and all but one of his children. A complicated man, yes, but aren’t we all complicated? Isn’t our country this wonderful and terrible place all at once? Aren’t we all beautiful and tragic, depending on which one of our breaths you catch.