Lincoln’s boyhood home is well worth the trip

Because Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana near the Kentucky border is not on a main highway, it’s not crowded. At least it wasn’t crowded the sunny Sunday afternoon in August when we swung into the parking lot after winding our way along the shady road that led there from Indiana Highway 162.

I was surprised by the size of the park’s visitor’s center. It’s scope is impressive–massive amounts of limestone and lumber. Inside, the interpretive displays and the short film about Lincoln’s life offered background information to frame our visit–one I recommend.

Our son was most impressed by the size of Lincoln’s shoes. Replicas, available for trying on in front of a life-size cardboard figure of grown-up Abe, offer the chance for a boy (or a girl) to see how he or she physically measures up. But, it’s through the woods where one sees what helped make the 16th president, who was born today 200 years ago, so unique.

Across the parking lot in the midst of the woods on a hilly spot is a cemetery with a simple grave marker. It belongs to Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Lincoln’s mother. Although the actual burial site is not known, the marker is an estimation of the grave’s location. Nancy died of milk sickness when Lincoln was nine years-old.

Caused by drinking milk from a cow that ate white snake root, milk sickness was more common during dry spells in certain sections of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio when there was not much else for cows to eat. As the story goes, Nancy knew she was dying, and afterward, Lincoln helped his dad bury her.

Down the hill from the cemetery is the site of the original house’s location. The size of the foundation’s outline attests to Lincoln’s humble beginnings. A short distance away, the Living History Farm shows what life was like for Lincoln as he headed towards his teen years. The one-room house, out buildings, barn, animals. and people dressed in period clothing tell about the days when Lincoln sat reading by firelight after a day of chores.

In a clever form of story-telling, a walk through the oldest stand of oak and hickory trees in the forest goes along the Trail of Twelve Stones— stone markers from various sites that were significant in Lincoln’s life. The first stone is from his birthplace in Kentucky, for example. One stone is from the battleground at Gettysburg. Another, my favorite, has four bricks from his wife Mary Todd Lincoln’s house. When you follow the trail, you get a sense of the scope of Lincoln’s experinces.

As majestic an awe-inspiring as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. may be, I was inspired by walking through the woods where Lincoln once walked. Because this is an off-the-beaten-trail location, largely untouched by development, a lot of it looks, smells and sounds the same it did almost two centuries ago.