My Ode to Springfield, Illinois

For several years, Springfield was home to me. As I reflect upon my time in this small midwestern city, I’d like to share a few gems with you.

One observation that struck me early on about Springfield was that I wondered if there is another U.S. city of similar size with as many restaurants and churches.

Springfield is a 2.5 hour drive to Chicago and a 90 minute drive to St. Louis. You can also visit by Amtrak from those cities or fly in from any major city in the U.S. There are several places to stay and I would recommend renting a car during your visit.

I loved driving around the county—predominantly flat with patches of rolling prairie hills. The small towns are a good insight into heartland America.

Summers in Springfield can be hot and humid. Winters are cold.

My favorite time of the year in Springfield was winter. Winters in Springfield reminded me of “Fog” by Carl Sandburg:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Winters in Springfield

Winters can be hard in Springfield but surely not as harsh as in the city of Fargo. I dressed warm, in layers.

In my notes that follow, bear in mind that few prominent sites in Springfield don't feature in My Ode. In spite of that, I hope you are able to visit the sites I am about to share, and draw from the experiences as much as I did at that moment.

Dana Thomas House

I am enthralled by architecture. Having a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in the city of Springfield was a gift. The Dana Thomas House inspired me to think about skillful design of restricted space. Visit the House, watch the introductory film presentation, and take a tour. I have done this on several occasions as a top destination for guests I hosted, international students I worked with, and visitors I met during my time in the city. My apologies to Lincoln fans — “With malice towards none...” — and to the late President.

The Lincoln Family Pew

At the First Presbyterian Church, I was amazed when I saw the pew where Lincoln and his family sat. It might not mean much to many but having grown up in a remote region of the world and having read about Lincoln, that sight was an amazing experience. I understand that other sites in the city have similar relics but the sanctity of the space and the pew that transcended time deeply moved me. If you can, visit the sanctuary of the church to admire the splendor of the stained glass windows.

Old State Capitol

Built between 1837-40, the Old State Capitol reflects an example of American Greek Revival architecture. The building, as an exercise of preservation and restoration, was completely dismantled and rebuilt during the 1960s. Take a tour of this crucial building. If you like architecture, look around the square as it has a lot to offer. Lincoln served at the Old State Capitol as a lawyer. It was in this building that Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech during his last term in the Illinois House of Representatives and it was in this building that his body lay in state prior to being moved to its final resting place, Lincoln Tomb.

Lincoln Tomb

Lincoln Tomb is located in Oak Ridge Cemetery, which is the second most-visited U.S. cemetery, the first being Arlington National Cemetery. I was pleasantly surprised by the rolling grounds of the cemetery with several hardwoods and conifers. Yes, for good luck I did rub Lincoln’s nose [you should too!] on a bronze head of Lincoln outside the tomb. The tomb is also the final resting place for Lincoln’s wife Mary, and three of their four sons. I like the simplicity of the space within. Tip: At the base of the hill is the receiving vault constructed about 1860. The final funeral services for President Lincoln were held there on May 4, 1865. I have often visited this location [a closed and gated vault] because it is a reminder of our own impermanence in this world—rich or poor, black or white, civilian or President.

WUIS

For many, a visit to local public radio station isn’t of any significance. For me, WUIS was an authentic space of sorts. A small team of dedicated reporters cover local and state stories, along with national programs that air. Located on the grounds of the University of Illinois Springfield, WUIS is an NPR member station that has the potential to attract visitors to Springfield from all over the world. In many parts of the world, this kind of public radio station does not exist. Therein lies the opportunity to creatively begin an initiative.

One of the memorable programs I listened to was “This I Believe Illinois,” an “annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world.” I was in awe as I listened to the high school seniors’ essays and silently wished the best for them as they were about to go forth and change the world for the better. Such promise in youth!

The Pharmacy Gallery & Art Space

I am drawn to the arts. Furthermore, art inspires me. Local artists’ work—sculpture, drawing, painting, installation—at The Pharmacy has always motivated me. At the same instance, I worried about the emphasis on STEM in U.S. schools and colleges but understood the need for such an effort. [Note: I have written about the importance of community music bands in the U.S.] Do visit The Pharmacy Gallery. Take your child or grandchild along. A brush or piece of pastel chalk or lump of clay coupled with a young mind could evoke powerful humanitarian stories for generations to come. Our world needs fascinating storytellers.

Incredibly Delicious

During my travels, I rarely feature a bakery or restaurant. However, on this occasion, I would like to acknowledge Incredibly Delicious. Over the years, I have spent several hours of quality time with dear friends and also by myself. Everyone in Team Incredibly Delicious was always pleasant to interact with, the food touched the right spot, and the pastries were wicked.

In Pensive Mood

As an introvert, I draw energy by spending time alone. In a small city like Springfield, there aren’t many get-away spots. However, the above is one of my favorite spots and I’m not sharing it’s geolocation. Nonetheless, many locals would probably recognize it because they would have driven by on several occasions. Thanks, bench.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

A short drive from Springfield will take you to Sugar Creek in Glenarm, Illinois. I took many visitors there, guests I hosted, and students I worked with. Find out why this venue made my list: Off the Beaten Path: A Covered Bridge

Camp Butler National Cemetery

Not every country honors its fallen military heroes in the manner many Western nations do. Every time I visited the Camp Butler National Cemetery, I was reminded of the sacrifices one has to make and its impact on a loved one, a family, a community, and a nation. I’ve taken international students to the Cemetery so that they could contemplate the importance of honor and sacrifice, what it means to be free, and hoped that they might think of their own contributions to society as they grew.

Until we meet again

As always, the impermanent nature of life is central in my heart and mind. A visit to a place as solemn as the Camp Butler National Cemetery made me appreciate the time I had in a city I called home for many years. Thanks, Springfield. My journey continues and until we meet again...

4 Replies to “My Ode to Springfield, Illinois”

  1. I was moved by the intimacy of your sharing and the simple elegance of evoking place with its ability to interweave historical memory and personal experience. The Pxley touch deserves to be widely shared. It reminds us that every place is special and deserves notice. For travelers and stay-at-homes alike.

  2. Munindra,

    We miss you.

    Thanks for reminding us of the things we have to be grateful for in Springfield, Illinois.
    …and for the NPR Illinois 91.9 WUIS shout out!

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