The Land of Lincoln

Our second baseball trip in 2007 took us through the heart of Illinois. We were coming from seeing the Burlington Bees (Iowa) beat the Clinton Lumber Kings (Iowa) 10-7 on our way to see the Joliet Jackhammers (Illinois) play the Gary Southshore Railcats (Indiana). But we had given ourselves extra time to do some sightseeing. And Springfield, IL, is a great place to do that.

First, Springfield is the capital of Illinois, so they have all the grand buildings that house the politics and legal accouterment needed to run a state. Other museums and sites in the city include a restored prairie-style home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a natural history museum, a water park and a zoo. And, of course, Lincoln memorabilia and monuments abound here. The original state capitol building, his home and neighborhood, the Presidential library and museum, and, certainly, Lincoln’s tomb are just a few of the sights spread across Springfield.

One of the more interesting tours is the Lincoln home and neighborhood. This is the only house that he ever owned. The family lived there from 1844 until his election to the presidency, when they left for Washington in 1861. The entire four-block neighborhood is registered as a historic sight, not just the Lincoln house, and is a slice of the 19th century. Several restored houses provide exhibits that portray Lincoln’s life as a family man, lawyer and neighbor. It was our misfortune to be visiting the week that they were making repairs to the Lincoln house, so we didn’t get to go inside, but we got some nice pictures of the painters hanging off of ladders.

The Lincoln Presidential Library is also a historian’s dream, with its 12 million artifacts and the most pre-presidential material in the country. However, the Presidential Museum caters best to families with its special effects theater, the gallery with priceless artifacts, special interpretive areas for children and the grand Holavision, providing special insight into Lincoln’s time through talking ghosts of those who were there.

By far, though, the most impact comes from visiting the Lincoln tomb in Oak Ridge cemetery. At the time of his death, the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, remembered that they both had loved the setting of this cemetery and she insisted that he be buried there. The monument atop the tomb sits on a rise and can be seen through the trees as you drive into the cemetery. It is an imposing , solemn sight and if you can only see one thing in Springfield, this is the one.

The story of the President’s entombment is bizarre to say the least. His body was moved 17 times before it came to rest in its steel reinforced concrete crypt. After the assassination on April 15, 1865, Lincoln’s body traveled by train to Springfield, first stopping at 10 cities along the way in order that thousands of mourners could pay their respects. Along with the President’s remains were also the remains of his son Willie who had died in 1862 and had been buried in Washington D.C. At Oak Ridge cemetery, on May 4, the two caskets were placed into the public receiving vault. At the same time, a temporary vault was being constructed, intended for the President’s sarcophagus until the permanent National Monument could be designed and built. After verifying that the body was truly Lincoln’s, the casket along with Willie’s and another son, Eddie, were moved into the temporary vault.

After major fundraising by the National Lincoln Monument Association tasked to plan and develop the monument and tomb, in 1868 chose the designer, Larkin G. Mead of Vermont to produce the exterior statuary and a local contractor, W. D. Richardson, to construct the monument. By 1871, the tomb was completed enough to accept internment. But that was not the President. Instead, his son Tad died of a fever after returning from Europe. His remains became the first interned in the new tomb. Two months later, the President and his other two sons were moved. In addition, the Association decided to remove Lincoln’s remains from the original wooden casket to a metallic casket that could be better sealed.

Efforts continued by the Association to raise funds for the completion of the monument and tomb. In 1874, to prepare for the dedication of the monument and tomb, the President’s body was once again removed from its metal casket, verified as his remains and placed into a lead-lined, red cedar casket which was then placed into a marble sarcophagus. On the day of dedication, amongst speeches, much fanfare, and music, the Lincoln statue on a pedestal in front of the obelisk was unveiled. The Association’s Vice President, the Honorable Jesse K. Dubois, expressed the hopes of all Lincoln’s family, supporters and fellow Americans when he said, “There may he rest in peace.” This was not to be. Two years after the dedication, a plot to steal Lincoln’s body was devised.

In 1876, an engraver for a Chicago Irish counterfeiter’s ring, Benjamin Boyd, was sentenced to 10 years in Joliet Penitentiary. Big Jim Kennally, boss of the gang, hatched a plot to take the body, bury it in a sand dune on Lake Michigan and ransom it for Boyd’s release and $200,000. After all, the tomb was behind a simple padlocked gate and the seal on the sarcophagus was only plaster of Paris. How hard could it be to steal it?

Kennally recruited Terence Mullen, a saloonkeeper, and Jack Hughes, a counterfeiter of nickels, to do the job. They in turn recruited Lewis Swegles, whom they thought was a grave robber; after all, they knew nothing about robbing graves. But the surprise was on them. Swegles was a paid informant for the Secret Service and he ratted them out, giving up all the details as they were being planned.

When the actual theft was attempted, it was more a matter of how inept could criminals get. First, they didn’t know how to pick the gate lock, so they had to saw through it. Then when they attempted to take the sarcophagus, they couldn’t lift it from its platform. When a detective’s pistol accidentally discharged outside the tomb, the would-be robbers ran for it, but not effectively. They ran back to their saloon in Chicago, where they were picked up by the Secret Service a few days later.

The custodian of the tomb, John Carroll Power, in the meantime, was concerned that if inept criminals could get that close to the casket, what damage professional grave robbers could do. Thus, he and a small group of trusted friends hid the body in the basement of the crypt under a pile of detritus left over from the construction. It simply looked like a wood pile. Two years later, they managed to bury it under a few inches of dirt. The small group of confidants were eventually named “Lincoln Guard of Honor,” and told to never divulge the whereabouts of the casket.

The only person outside of the group of confidants who knew of its location was the President’s only living son, Robert Todd Lincoln. When his mother passed away in 1882, he told the Guard of Honor to bury her with his father. In 1887, the remains of both the Lincolns were encased in a brick vault. Beforehand, the Guard of Honor once again opened the casket to verify the remains as the President’s.

By 1900, the original tomb was in need of repair and Robert Lincoln was unhappy with the disposition of his parents’ remains. He wanted a permanent crypt built. Therefore, in 1901, after major reconstruction had been done on the tomb, the President’s body was once more exhumed and the casket opened for one last viewing.

According to reports, Lincoln still looked like himself in life. His face had a tan complexion from the shooting, but his hair, beard and mole were all the same. Thirty years in the grave had done little to change his visage. Some 23 people were present at the final viewing. Then the President’s casket was placed in a steel cage 10 feet deep and encased in concrete in the floor of the tomb. The empty white marble sarcophagus was placed over top of the location.

A second renovation of the tomb took place in 1930-31, reconfiguring the entrance to the tomb to accommodate more visitors. A red granite sarcophagus replaced the white marble one because, during the reconstruction, the white sarcophagus was placed outside the tomb to make room for the workers and eager souvenir hunters destroyed it.

All of the Lincoln immediate family, except Robert, are buried in the Oak Ridge crypt. Robert and his family are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. In the Presidential crypt, names are engraved in the walls over the location of each family member. Lincoln’s sarcophagus stands in the middle of the room. Behind it is a small window, above which are the words of Secretary of War Stanton at the moment of the President’s death: “Now He Belongs To The Ages.” And safely, too.

If you make the trip to the Land of Lincoln, a good place to start with your planning (besides your Baseball American Directory!) is the Looking for Lincoln website <>. This is a coalition of central Illinois historic sites that tell the stories of President Lincoln. It is well worth the telling.

Information about the Lincoln crypt came from:
“A Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body,”
“Lincoln’s Tomb,” Museum of Funeral Customs leaflet
“Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site” pamphlet
Lincoln Tomb docents

Florida Food

Our favorite subject, other than baseball itself, is food, as anyone who’s read any of our blogs will know. We do spend a great deal of time sampling local—and not so local—fare, both at that ball park and on the road. And our trip to Florida was no exception.

First, you need to know that a great many people from the Cincinnati region have retired/relocated to the area between Clearwater and Naples and have brought the local Cincy favorite fare with them. So we were delighted to be able to indulge in the food from our youth. (We haven’t lived in the Cincinnati region for 38 years.) When we weren’t enjoying the unusual ball park food, we were in search of Skyline Chili restaurants and pints of Graeter’s ice cream from Publix grocery stores.

Cincinnati-style chili is unique and it seems people either love it or hate it. For those of us raised on the stuff, it’s an addiction. And it can’t be found in many places outside of Ohio. This delicious meal consists of a layer of spaghetti, topped with a chili sauce based on a Greek-style dish. The sauce is tomato-based, made of boiled hamburger and either chocolate or cinnamon, depending on the brand. (There are about 260 chili parlors in Cincinnati, each with its own variation of the original sauce.) The next layer is of pinto beans, then a layer of onions, all topped with thin-shred mild cheddar cheese. If you order all these layers, you’re having a 5-way; one less layer is a 4-way; two less layers is a 3-way down to just chili and spaghetti, a 2-way. We found a Skyline in Clearwater, one in Ft. Myers and one in Naples (although we didn’t travel that far south). We were lucky enough to imbibe in our favorite meal three times while on this trip, loving every morsel of it!

Likewise, we also had the opportunity to delight in our favorite ice cream, Graeter’s. It’s made of something like 27% milk-fat and begins to melt as soon as it touches the bowl or a spoon, leaving a lovely tasteful coating on your tongue. A few years ago, Oprah announced on her show that it’s her favorite ice cream and their website crashed that afternoon due to the overload of orders. Yes, it’s that good!

Beyond our hometown foods, though, was the unique ball park fare that we came across. Since several of the games we attended were Gulf Coast League (one of the instructional leagues), there were no concessions at all. (We were lucky if there were bathrooms of some sort!) And other games often only had the bare necessities of ball park food—hot dogs, hamburgers, peanuts, pop and beer. However, we did come across a few very interesting, and often quite tasty, food treats. The Port Charlotte Stone Crabs had crab cake sandwiches that were yummy and fantastic French fries (coated and crispy!). They also sold a passable Cuban sandwich. Of course, being great aficionados of Cuban sandwiches, we did spend much of our time in Florida looking for a bad one; this one was fine.

In Dunedin, the Blue Jays actually had food trucks (all the rage everywhere now) in their parking lot outside the gates. Here we could get hot food—Mexican, BBQ, Asian, and “fried everything.” The samples we had (the BBQ and the Mexican) were quite good. Inside the park, the concessions only sold non-heated items, peanuts, candy, ice cream, etc., and drinks. They didn’t want to compete with the trucks.

At the Threshers stadium in Clearwater, the food wasn’t noteworthy, but they had a “Beers of the World” stand that truly was beers of the world. They had so many choices, it would be difficult for any beer fan to choose what they’d like.

By far, the most unique food we had was at the Ft. Myers Miracles park. Specifically, they had two sandwiches that are absolutely worth trying if you’re in the neighborhood. First, the Carolina dog would please most all BBQ fans with a hankering for a whole meal on a bun. The sandwich consisted of a hot dog smothered in pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw. At first, Ginny was skeptical of having her whole meal at once, but a couple of bites convinced her it was a worthy choice. However, the coup de grace was most definitely the Richard Simmons burger. Just the name made us curious. Was this an ounce of such lean ground steak that it would be paper dry? Or a chicken breast the size of a walnut? Oh no. The name is sarcasm at its best (or worst, depending on your outlook). The sandwich was layered with a hamburger patty, a chicken breast, a sausage (split in half), bacon and cheese slices between each layer. The diameter was a normal size for a burger, but was about five inches tall. We had to eat it from around the sides in hunks because we couldn’t get our mouths open wide enough for the thing! While it was very messy, it was quite the tasty adventure. Who knew all that meat at once could taste that good? On top of serving these great sandwiches, the park offered an all-you-can-eat deal for just $10. It’s certainly worth it. But bring your appetite and your stretch pants!


The Philippi Mummies

In Philipi, West Virginia, in the old converted train depot, you can see two mummies. No, not the fake Halloween kind. Not the flesh-eating living dead. Not even the Boris Karloff movie version. But real, honest to goodness mummies. And they’re kept in the bathroom. Well, it’s a converted bathroom, but it still has white tile and an echo.

When we planned our baseball trip of 2009, Ginny laid out our travel plans so that we could pass through Philippi just to see the mummies. Of course, she had found this information in Weird U.S., one of her favorite tour resources. As she says, “It’s fun to see the strange stuff.” It doesn’t hurt that Dan is a toy train collector and loves to stop at old train depots. That’s how she enticed him to the place.

We entered the town across a picturesque covered bridge and immediately off to the left was the lovely remodeled train depot. The inside has been totally refurbished, in part due to the Great Flood of 1985.

The remodeled train depot at Philippi, WV, home to the mummies.

The remodeled train depot at Philippi, WV, home to the mummies.

We entered with some trepidation. Who knew what we’d find? Inside was a clean and bright space with light oak floors and matching glass cases and wood shelves with well-organized displays about the Civil War, local history and state interests. We were greeted immediately by a friendly, short, white-haired woman who looked to be in her 70s. She asked where we were from and when we answered Rochester, New York, the inevitable question was how we had come to be so far south. Dan had to explain our baseball trips and Ginny explained that we were interested in the area. She didn’t want us to look so crass as to travel here just for the mummies—although we had done so. After strolling around the small space, we found the door, which in a former life had actually been the men’s room, but was now the mummies’ room. The sign on the door read that the charge was $1, so Dan paid the docent and we entered.

We have both been to many museums, the Smithsonian included, but we had never been in a bathroom that accommodated mummies. What was not white tile was painted white, with a window just below the ceiling, but not low enough to see in unless on a ladder. On the left, on a raised platform (probably where the sinks used to be), placed inside a wooden crate were six five-gallon glass jugs with what looked like aluminum wrap over the spouts. And just in front of us lying in their separate open pine boxes were the mummies. The coffins were sitting on a type of dais and pulled up along side was a step stool so anyone could get a bird’s eye view looking down into the boxes.

Brown, wrinkly figures lay swathed in white sheeting that was draped strategically across parts of the torso—those places that, had they been alive, would have cause for an X-rating. White silk and plastic flowers were laid across the chest areas. They were what one might expect of mummies: skin shrunken around bones and browned, like a smoked turkey.

On our baseball trip of 2009, we met the mummies of Philippi, WV.

On our baseball trip of 2009, we met the mummies of Philippi, WV.

While Ginny tried to maneuver around the small area to see the best angle from which to get a picture, Dan took a quick close look then backed away. So Ginny climbed the step ladder and took a few shots trying to not get a glare of light off the glass laid over the mummies’ coffins. It was a new camera and she was still learning all the new-fangled capabilities and settings. Then she noticed Dan standing in the far corner—that is, as far as could be in a former men’s bathroom. He said, “Can we go?”

She said, “Just a couple more.”

“Come on, let’s go.”

“In a minute.”

Finally, she took one last look at the couple and said, “Pretty cool.” He said, “Can we go—now?”

“OK, OK. Geez. Squeamish?”

“No,” he whined. “I want to go find the real men’s room.”

When we came out of the mummies’ room, there were no other patrons in the museum. So Dan bombarded the docent with questions. And she was happy to share her knowledge with us. She explained that the person who had performed the mummification had been a local farmer in the late 1800s, Graham Hamrick. The docent, Susie Lambert, stated that Hamrick was interested in a safer method of embalming than what was used at the time, arsenic and mercury. He experimented with what he said was a technique using salt peter and sulfur, which he had read about in the bible. Lambert went on to say that Hamrick started his experiments with milk, then vegetables and moved on to small animals.

Lambert explained that once he was ready to move on to humans, Hamrick, with the help of a local judge, he was permitted to experiment on two females and a baby who had died at a local insane asylum. Sadly, their bodies lay unclaimed by family and friends.

In 1892, when the US government outlawed the use of mercury and arsenic for embalming, Hamrick received a patent for his method and formed the Hamrick Embalming and Mummifying Fluid Co. When he died in 1899, Hamrick’s son took the mummies on the road with the P.T. Barnum circus, after which he kept them in his barn. Many years later, they came into the possession of the Philippi museum (Lambert). Lambert said that during the Great Flood of 1985, the mummies were under water for four days. This destroyed the remains of the infant mummy and claimed the hair of the other two. But that was the only damage. Since that time, the mummies have spent their time in the renovated men’s room of the renovated train depot, but are cared for with respect.

In a television interview in 2011, Lambert spoke fondly of the museum’s “little ladies.” She stated simply, “We give them a home which is more than they had in life” (“Traveling West Virginia,” Eyewitness News, Oct. 20).