A Boy From Tampico

Most associate Ronald Reagan with California, but he spent his formative years in the midwest. On the centennial of his birth, a handful of small Illinois towns want a share of the limelight.

Back in 1965 Ronald Reagan published his first memoir, Where’s the Rest of Me?, borrowing the title from a line in the 1942 Warner Brothers film Kings Row. In the movie—Reagan’s favorite of all he starred in—he played Drake McHugh, a playboy whose legs have been removed by a sadistic surgeon. “Where’s the rest of me?” Reagan famously cried out when he came to, with thespian relish worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Read more »

Riding The Circuit With Lincoln

A new picture of prairie lawyers coping with bad roads and worse inns on the Illinois frontier, drawn from David Davis’ letters

One of the most important periods in the life of Abraham Lincoln was the time when he “rode the circuit” in central Illinois in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. Prairie lawyers and court officials traveled together from one county seat to another for sessions of the circuit court, moving by atrocious frontier roads and stopping in inns, taverns and boarding houses where accommodation was not always of the best.Read more »

The Madness Of Mary Lincoln

Her son had her committed. She said it was so he could get his hands on her money. Now, 130 years after this bitter and controversial drama, a trove of letters—long believed destroyed—sheds new light on it.

In August 1875, after spending three months in a sanitarium in Batavia, Illinois, put there by her son against her will, Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the martyred President, wrote: “It does not appear that God is good, to have placed me here. I endeavor to read my Bible and offer up my petitions three times a day. But my afflicted heart fails me and my voice often falters in prayer.

Read more »

“A Most Abandoned Hypocrite”

A newly discovered document almost certainly written by the young Abraham Lincoln shows him dismantling a shifty political rival with ruthless wit and logic

As soon as he moved to Illinois in 1830, Abraham Lincoln found himself on the opposite side of the political fence from Peter Cartwright, a well-known Methodist preacher and politician. They crossed paths in the Illinois legislature, but their best-known confrontation was as opponents in the 1846 congressional election, which Lincoln won handily. Late in that campaign Lincoln found himself having to combat a rumor that he was an “infidel,” or unbeliever, a charge uncomfortably close to the truth.Read more »

Pride Of The Prairie

At the dawn of this century a new form of residential architecture rose from the American heartland, ruled by the total integration of space, site, and structure

After dinner Frank Lloyd Wright would sometimes raise a wineglass, watch the yellow candlelight refracted through the red liquid and crystal, and, quoting the Chinese philosopher Lao-tze, remark that the reality of the vessel lay in the void within, “the place of greatest peace.” Wright was perhaps America’s last great architect to conceive of his work as a search for truth. And for Wright, truth was found not in the physical form of a building but in what it contained.Read more »

Lincoln From Life

Last year two scholars working separately uncovered a pair of previously unknown portraits of Abraham Lincoln. One of them—which seems to put us in the very presence of the man—turned out to be the first ever painted.

Until recently historians believed that Abraham Lincoln was not painted before 1860, the year artists hurried to Springfield to produce likenesses of the presidential candidate. But in the summer of 1988 a lost portrait of Abraham Lincoln turned up on a farm in his home state of Illinois. Painted in 1856 by the itinerant artist Philip O. Jenkins, the newly discovered canvas captures the face of Lincoln the lawyer, political leader, and prominent citizen.Read more »

The House At Eighth And Jackson

Clues uncovered during the recent restoration of his house at Springfield help humanize the Lincoln portrait

One good measure of our apparently inexhaustible interest in Abraham Lincoln is that this year eight hundred thousand of us will be led through his house at the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets in Springfield, Illinois. So many people edge past the horsehair furniture and stomp up and down the narrow stairs that the National Park Service had to close the place down in 1987, take much of it apart, and put it back together again, newly decorated and sturdily reinforced with steel, to withstand the next generation of pilgrims. Read more »

A National Monument To The Great Depression

You probably haven’t seen it, but it’s out by the tracks of the Chicago & North Western

DeKalb, Illinois, our nearest city, is the site of Northern Illinois University. Some twenty-five thousand young people, mostly urban, from Chicago and environs, make Northern their home. The school publishes a quality daily newspaper called Northern Star. Staff photographers roam the community and fill vacant spots in the paper with artistic shots.Read more »

Chicago: The Giants’ Footprints

Visitors to Chicago have tended either to love the city or to despise it, but its bursting vitality has awed everyone. Perhaps Mark Twain expressed it best. “That astonishing Chicago,” he wrote in Life on the Mississippi in 1883, “a city where they are always rubbing the lamp, and fetching up the genii, and contriving and achieving new impossibilities.” Read more »

Good Fences

The first settlers marked the borders of their lives with simple fences that grew ever more elaborate over the centuries

Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote Robert Frost, and he meant that fences did more than just enclose space; like his woods and roads, they bounded a social and psychological landscape. That fences also form a kind of historical document is suggested by the photographs on these pages. Read more »