Sunday, April 30, 2006

Honest Abe and Flat Illinois

We attended the Midwest Archives Conference this past week, which took place in Bloomington, IL. I'm married to an archivist, and so a mini-trip to the conference with dad taking care of the son, swimming in the pool, etc, seemed an attractive proposition.

Bloomington appealed to us in a kind of midwest way- it felt like home, in some ways like the Quad Cities or Des Moines. We even stayed at the Chateaux, which is owned by, and is comparatively similar to, a hotel I grew up near, Jumer's Castle Lodge in Bettendorf, IA. There's a long stretch of the town that is simply strip mall. We were able to walk to Starbucks, Coldstone, a mall, Osco-Jewell, and if you continued down the street, you could get it all- McDs, Home Depot, the repeat box stores ad nauseam. It was a little disconcerting staying in the "chateaux" with all these box stores next door- but as a traveler I'll also confess it was nice to have some familiar things nearby to take advantage of and rely on. Known commodities.

We did find at least one local haunt, the Ozark House restaurant, which is a country club attached to a golf course. This is not a chain, rather a restaurant in the middle of a middle class neighborhood, and the older gentleman we sat next to (who had the barbecue pork special) told us he'd been dining there for more than 40 years. Much of the clientelle appeared to also have been eating there for years, extended families, etc.

While we're on the restaurant topic, I will add that the best and most interesting restaurant we ate at, Flat Top Grill, is coming to Madison at the Hilldale Mall some time this fall. Take a look at the format. It's a "build your own" stir fry joint, reminiscent of the wok extravaganza we used to have in the caf at Luther College in Decorah. Anyway, we loved it.

Enough about food, though. What I really intended to write about was the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield. It's about a 50 minute drive down from Bloomington to Springfield, by worth the excursion. It's a modern museum, so does a stellar job of providing narrative in a multi-media format that you can either browse (or be entertained by, if young) or delve deeper into, if interested. As just one example, there's a hall of holograms where various talking heads are making speeches, and if you move close, you can hear just the one speech, which goes on for quite a while, and then you need to move to another hologram board to hear another speech- no text.

All three of us enjoyed visiting the museum. I'm more of a book guy, but found the museum compelling. The vibrating seats in the movie theatre were a bit over the top, though.

It just so happened that I'm also reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's tremendous biography, Team of Rivals (see this aggregate site for a review, Metacritic which recently joined CNET). The last biography of Lincoln I read was as a child, maybe in first grade, so this 900 page tomb is a bit more exhaustive than the "honest Abe" approach. My own brief review: If you're wanting to read a book on "leadership", you can do no better than this book. Lincoln's story, and his choice of cabinet members, is amazing.

We returned along Route 66 to Bloomington, and then interstate all the way back to Stoughton. I've included one photo on the blog of a giant Bunyan that stands on Route 66.

Finally, this question: The ceiling in the last room of the museum, Lincoln lying in state, includes these words, "Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior." An apt metaphor, I guess, if we are thinking of George as the father of our nation (creation), and Abraham as the redeemer (redemption). Nevertheless, and I probably protest too much, this seems to typify our exaltation of our nation into the realm of the salvific. Can't Lincoln simply be a great president and man?

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