Abraham Lincoln is buried in the state capitol of Springfield, Illinois at the Oak Ridge Cemetery. Because of Lincoln’s tomb here, it is the second most visited cemetery in the United States, just behind Arlington.
I was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln. My birth certificate is on file in the Union County Courthouse in Jonesboro. In 1858, as Abraham Lincoln prepared for the third of his debates about slavery with Stephen Douglas, in a park just a few blocks away, this courthouse was under construction.
So, on a family getaway to Springfield when I was no more than eight or nine years old, my father lifted me on his shoulders so I could rub the shiny bronze nose of the 16th president of the United States. It’s one of those things you do — rub Abe Lincoln’s nose for good luck.
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Rubbing Abe Lincoln’s Nose in Springfield
No one knows exactly how the tradition began of rubbing Mr. Lincoln’s nose. The bronze bust was installed in the 1930s as a part of the tomb’s renovation. It sits on a concrete pedestal about 5 feet tall, which places the nose at about 6 feet high.
When bronze is rubbed several hundred times a day, it begins to glow. And so did Abe’s nose, which was not subdued in the first place. Therefore, the caretakers at the Illinois State Historical Society became concerned about the long term impact of so much affection. The bust is hollow on the inside and they feared that visitors would eventually rub a hole in the president’s nose.
So, sometime in the 1970s, shortly after the nose-rubbing escapade with my father, the Historical Society elevated the bust another three feet. Even if my 6 foot tall father stood on his tippy toes, my brother, sister and I would not have been able to touch or rub the famous nose. I’m sure the disappointment was intense for the children of other fathers, shorter than my dad.
Obviously, that didn’t sit well with area school children. They began a letter writing campaign to make the president’s nose to a more accessible. Within a year, the bronze bust was returned to its original height.
Today, during the busy spring months when busloads of school children visit Lincoln’s Tomb, caretakers keep a step stool handy so that children can easily reach up to rub the great nose. My father and I sleep better these days knowing that our nose rubbing crime has been vindicated.
Visiting Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield
It’s estimated that about 600,000 people a year visit Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield to pay their respects to the president who lost his life in order to save the Union.
I would highly recommend walking in Abe’s footsteps, which you can literally do by visiting his home, his law office, and the re-created Old State House.
The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which opened in 2005, is where you can see an original copy of the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation.
A visit to Springfield can reinforce the optimistic understanding that our country has seen some dark times and serious disagreements, but we worked through it and came out better on the other side. We can do so again.
Learn More about Abe Lincoln’s Springfield