If Springfield is the heart of Lincoln country, then Union Square Park is at the heart of Lincoln’s Springfield: formally opened in 2006, it was designed as the open-air space where Lincoln tourists can get their s__t together before wandering through downtown. Outside you’ll find two statues of the president: one, by Colorado sculptor Mark Lundeen, shows Lincoln taking a break on a hardwood bench, with pages of his second inaugural address in his hand. The other, by Decatur, Illinois artist John McClarey, shows Lincoln… singing?
Actually, no – while at first glance you might think Lincoln is belting out his favorite Celine Dion number, the statue is actually meant to show Mr. Lincoln as he bids farewell to Springfield and heads to Washington to begin his presidency. In fact, the title, “A Greater Task,” comes from his farewell speech. But why the big gestures? He’s steeling himself to go be president. Here’s how McClarey described it:
“Lincoln has made his turn toward the East where the center of power resides for our democracy. He stands stalwart with firm jaw and compassionate eyes. His coat is buttoned tightly against the impending storms raging across the land over slavery and secession. His right hand firmly grips the lapel of his coat to suggest his own commitment to American law and principle in dealing with the crises of the Union. His left hand is open to show a willingness to appeal to his countrymen for their support in what he thought was right.”
Of course, if a band had been behind him when he gave that speech, who knows what might have happened. That’s all I’m saying.
There’s an indoor visitors center on the north side of the park – it’s staffed, so you can get questions answered and find out about special events, and it’s home to a replica of the funeral train that brought Lincoln’s body, and the remains of his son, Willie, back to Springfield after the assassination. If you see that first, and then you check out the outdoor statues, you might think of Lincoln singing “Love Train” instead of “My Heart Will Go On,” which might actually be the better way to do it.