I wish I could have witnessed that intimate moment when Lincoln, as Presidentelect, said farewell to his neighbors at Springfield. I grew up in a county-seat town in central Illinois and as a boy I heard how Lincoln, the lawyer, traveled the eighth judicial circuit, put up at the West Side House on the courthouse square, and joked and jousted with the local wits under the locust trees. I remember descendants of those trees. Here is the scene on the morning of February 11, 1861, at the little brick station of the Great Western Railway in Springfield:
Clouds hung low. A cold drizzle set the mood. When the engineer sounded his whistle, the people made way as Lincoln walked onto the car and stepped out onto its platform. And he said to them, in part: “To this place, and the kindness of these people I owe everything … I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.” Need I go on? The words are famous, down to the closing “I bid you an affectionate fare- well.” For years I had an old photograph of the West Side House and a copy of Lincoln’s remarks tacked on my study door. In central Illinois, he was one of ours.