I was a little sad to realize I’d crammed a couple days of vacation around a Monday. The Lincoln Presidential Library and the Lincoln Home were open, but the old Illinois State Capitol wasn’t.
It had been well more than 40 years since I’d visited it. I’ve been there one or twice, through school, Scouts or both. It seemed that in those days every kid in Illinois did the Lincoln tour: New Salem, his home in Springfield and the old Capitol, where he delivered his “A House Divided” speech. If you were lucky, there was a paddlewheel boat ride on the Sangamon River.
These are memories. These also are touches with history. If you’re already looking ahead to new year’s resolutions, I can think of nothing better than taking the time to take young people to places where they can see, touch and feel history. Make memories.
Much is within easy reach. Right here in Eastern Jackson County we have Truman, the trails, the Mormon experience, Frank and Jessie, Civil War skirmishes and others.
But keep your eye out for new things, too. At the Kansas City Public Library, I ran across a simple brochure outlining a “Streetcar Route History Tour.” I grabbed a cup of coffee and hopped on the streetcar. Near the River Market is the first Kansas City Board of Trade building. To the south is the building where Tom Pendergast called the shots for years. Plus Union Station, the Midland Theatre and others. (It’s not in the brochure, but you could get off the streetcar, walk a block west and find your way to Harry Truman’s old haberdashery at 104 W. 12th, though as far as I know there’s no marker to help you out.) This takes less than an hour, and the streetcar is free.
The point is that we should take our kids to the Smithsonian museums and other far-flung places that tell the American story but we also should grab onto what’s near and attainable with a little effort.
• Hit these five, all in Missouri and Kansas and the farthest off being about four hours away. (I wouldn’t suggest trying all in one long weekend, but suit yourself.) They are the World War I Museum in Kansas City, the Truman Library in Independence, the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, the Eisenhower Library in Abilene and the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. Taken together, you have the story of America from its emergence as a world power a century ago through the race to moon. Struggle and triumph. Better days.
• Missouri’s State Capitol (two and a half hours by car, a few minutes more by train), which also is the site of the Missouri State Museum.
• Take three days to do the Lincoln thing. Take Amtrak to Springfield (leave Independence at 8:34 a.m. and arrive in time for dinner). The Lincoln Library (only opened a decade ago), the home and the Old Capitol are all walkable from the depot. And check out Prairie Archives, a glorious bookstore of the kind that is too quickly passing from the scene.
Did I mention the Truman Library? And World War I? Go. And go again. Take the kids.
– Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter: @FoxEJC