By Meghan Harmon
For long-time residents of central Illinois, Abraham Lincoln can loom so large over day to day life that we forget he’s there. He’s on the side of cabs. His name is on schools, parks, hotels, and apartment buildings. His likeness can be seen painted in murals on buildings, in statues, and even on bike racks all throughout Springfield and the surrounding area.
For me, there is one event I can count on to jar me back into awareness of the history around me: the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon. Held the first Saturday in April each year, this race attracts people from all over to come together and “Run Where Lincoln Walked.”
The 13.1-mile journey is aptly described on the Springfield Road Runners Club website:
The race course starts and finishes at the Old State Capitol where Lincoln gave his famous House Divided speech. Just across the plaza from the Capitol, within the first quarter mile of the race, is the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. This is the only building still standing where Lincoln practiced law during in his 25-year career. Not even a mile into the race, runners go back in time for two blocks, passing by the only home Abraham Lincoln ever owned. During mile nine, runners enter Oak Ridge cemetery and are able to view Lincoln's final resting place. Mile 10 takes runners through the local city park named after the 16th president. During the final mile of the race, runners will pass by historic Union Train station directly adjacent to the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library, which is just one block from the finish line.
Due to continuing Covid-19 concerns, this year’s race (which typically garners around 1,500 participants) has been moved to a virtual format. If you are wondering how you can still learn about the historic spots on the race route while social distancing, I invite you to make a research appointment at our library.
During your visit, turn to our Newspapers on Microfilm collection to learn what Springfield was like when Lincoln was practicing law, aspiring to be a state senator, and running for president. Digital access to Springfield’s historical newspapers is available to researchers in our Reading Room. Users can search for specific terms or simply browse through issues of the paper in their entirety.
Our Published collection contains thousands of books on every aspect of Lincoln’s life. Perhaps you’d like to read Lincoln’s Springfield-based speeches, a general biography, or histories of the buildings along the race route. There are countless possibilities.
Runners will pass the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office building and remember stories they’ve heard about Lincoln and his law partner William Henry Herndon. During a library visit, researchers can view a collection of books Herndon personally owned. Most contain Herndon’s signature, but a few contain notes in the margins. An example of a book which contains extensive marginalia from Herndon is A Few Words about the Devil: and other biographical sketches and essays by Charles Bradlaugh. Search our card catalog to find all these and more.
Book with handwritten notes from Herndon (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
Our Manuscripts division holds an incredible number of letters, diaries, and other unpublished documents. Many people wonder if they can view items in Lincoln’s own hand when they visit. We keep items like these in our secure vault storage, but the good news is that there is always something worth seeing on display in our museum. The library also has use-copies (reproductions) of Lincoln’s letters available which can be viewed in our Reading Room. To see what’s available, visit ArchivesSpace.
Don’t forget to look to our Audiovisual department to actually see what these locations looked like during Lincoln’s time. Pictured here is the Lincoln Home draped in mourning. There is truly something special about passing the home during the half marathon – the pebbles on the street make a haunting noise as the runners plod by. I tend to look at the house and wonder how muddy the streets might have been on an early April morning.
Lincoln Home Draped in Mourning (ALPLM)
As the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon moves to a virtual format this year, you might also wonder how you can learn about Lincoln virtually. Lincoln’s collected works are freely available online. We use this resource daily at ALPLM. Check it out here. Other incredibly valuable sources are the Papers of Abraham Lincoln (images and searchable transcriptions of annotated documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln) and the Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln (images of documents from every legal case handled by Lincoln and his partners).
We hope this spring you can meet both your running goals and your research goals. You can start by making sure you register for the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon and for a Researcher Card at ALPLM. Need any help along the way? Don’t hesitate to contact one of our librarians. We are here to help you access the collections, request materials, and schedule your library appointments. Call the reference desk at 217-524-6358 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to welcoming you to the library!
Meghan Harmon is a reference librarian at the ALPLM.