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Before we departed on our one-month paddlewheel steamboat adventure, Gail checked weather reports. The forecasts showed rain following us all the way up the Mississippi River. So far we have been extremely lucky, with sunny and humid weather every day of our trip. But on our “river cruising” day yesterday, the rain finally caught up with us. We are expecting rain for the rest of our trip. We have put away our shorts, and we are now using jackets and umbrellas.
But otherwise, our re-route from the Upper Mississippi River to the Illinois River has all been good news.
We met with Shelly, the American Queen representative who is helping passengers revise their travel plans. AQ has offered to fly us from Chicago to La Crosse once we disembark, let us stay three days in La Crosse, then fly us from La Crosse back home. AQ will also cover any change fees to make this happen. So we will get to visit our granddaughter after all! We have said this many times, but we continue to be awestruck by the incredible level of customer service from this company.
As far as the itinerary change, Gail couldn’t be happier. There was not much she wanted to see in the ports along the Upper Mississippi. Now, we get to visit one of her dream destinations: the “Land of Lincoln.”
Today’s port is Havana, Illinois. The town, first settled in 1827, earned its name because it was next to an island that resembled the shape of Cuba. We actually arrived here last evening. We walk ashore after dinner and had the rare opportunity to see the steamboat all lit up at night.
The American Queen at night
The world’s largest paddlewheel steamboat has never ported in Havana before, and the crew had to do some improvising. Here we are lashed to a tree. Some carpet pieces ensure that the tree doesn’t get rope burn.
There isn’t much to see in Havana itself. One highlight is a children’s park right next to the dock. If you didn’t stumble upon a small plaque, you’d never know it was once a prehistoric Native American mound!
Today, we took an all-day premium excursion appropriately named “Honestly Abe,” all about President Abraham Lincoln. When Gail first heard about it two days ago, she rushed over to the Excursion Desk to make sure we could reserve spots. The excursion would involve taking the bus an hour to Springfield, the Illinois state capitol.
Our first stop was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This was a superb state-of-the-art museum that we could have spent all day in. In addition to historical displays and artifacts, we saw life-sized dioramas and 3D hologram shows.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
We ran into some of Gail’s distant relatives and got a quick photo with them
Journey 1: Pre-Presidential Years
Journey 1 included a terrifying slave auction that Lincoln witnessed in New Orleans when he was 19 years old. The experience probably formed his strong anti-slavery sentiments.
Journey 2: White House Years
A cast of Lincoln’s face and hands, made two days after he became a presidential nominee in 1860
Our tour guide was Garrett, a knowledgeable speaker who conducts 150 Lincoln tours every year, mostly to school children. (Garrett has several side jobs. He is an actor who portrays Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s unofficial bodyguard. He is also a bodyguard himself and accompanies the lead singer of Foreigner on tours.)
Garrett, our exceptional tour guide, made the time to give us an additional stop that wasn’t on the tour itinerary. We got to visit the Lincoln Tomb, where the president, his wife and three sons are interred.
The Lincoln Tomb
Lincoln’s bust is a good-luck tradition for military soldiers. Entire busloads of troops stop here before they are deployed. Rubbing Lincoln’s nose ensures that you will return home safely.
The tour did include lunch at Maldaner’s, the oldest restaurant in Springfield. The restaurant was two blocks away from the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, also known as the Lincoln Family Church. Gail really wanted to see this. So we rushed off the bus and ran two blocks to the church in the pouring rain before lunch. We weren’t sure our photos came out, so we ate fast and ran two blocks back to the church in the pouring rain before we had to get back on the bus.
Ironically, when we arrived at our next stop, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, we discovered that we were now one block away from the church! So after a brief guided tour of the home where Lincoln and his family lived in Springfield, we ran back to the church yet again in the pouring rain. Garrett had mentioned that the church sometimes allows military veterans to go inside the church to see the Lincoln Family Pew. So Gail telephoned and said she is a cousin of Lincoln. Michelle met us at the door and gave us a tour!
The First Presbyterian Church of Springfield
We were not allowed to take photographs inside the church, but it is gorgeous, framed by a huge organ and seven stained glass windows. (Photo by David Spencer from State Journal-Register)
The Lincoln family pew. Gail was allowed to touch it! (Photo from Hiveminer)
The Lincoln Home National Historial Site
Inside the home, the only artifact that visitors are allowed to touch is Lincoln’s actual stair rail. Gail was allowed to touch it!
Our last stop of the day was Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, where the future president lived as a young man. This was a recreated village, with several buildings spread out across several acres. This site was also a destination for AQ’s hop-on hop-off buses, and we saw several other busloads of cruisers when we arrived. We had a full hour here, but few people wanted to venture out in the pouring rain. We were two of the few who dared to tromp around in the mud under umbrellas.
Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site
New Salem included several ingenious glass panels you could look through, to envision where buildings once stood
It was a full day from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. By the time we got back on board, we were exhausted, cold and soaking wet. But this was one of Gail’s favorite and most rewarding days so far.
The water level of the Illinois River has risen noticeably… from when we docked last night… to when we reboarded this afternoon… to when we prepared to depart Havana
There are more storms on the horizon!
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