Thursday, May 15, 2008

Authenticity in Tourist Attractions? Unlikely

Just like adults who whisper at Christmas time about presents from Santa and the Mickey Mouse at Disney World who never acts out of character in the Magic Kingdom, I am hearing whispers and questioning what is real at the attractions we visit on our 10,000 Mile Grand Tour.

I will not question the authenticity of our experiences at January’s bloodless bullfight in Texas. The hand-pulled Los Ebanos Ferry crossing the Rio Grande River to Mexico was authentic. And, the alligators in St. Martin Lake were certainly not staged.

Let’s just say that I want to believe that what I am seeing and traveling to visit is real. I want to believe that the Evangeline Oak in Martinsville, Louisiana is the authentic oak Longfellow immortalized in his epic poetry. A retired professor told me the real one died and had been replaced many years ago.

I wanted to believe that I was standing in the kitchen, the bedroom, the authentic house where Abraham Lincoln’s parents lived in the 1840s. Thomas and Sara Lincoln did, in fact, live on the property at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, but not in the house. A well-meaning volunteer told me the truth in an apologetic whisper. The original cabin had been dismantled and reassembled at the site of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. When the Fair ended, the cabin was disassembled again to be returned to Lerna, Illinois but it never reached the homestead farm. “Somehow, they lost the whole cabin,” he said with a shrug. “The barn and water well are original,” he added when he detected my disappointment.

I felt better about the Shiloh Church and Cemetery. There’s a worn monument surrounded by a protective fence marking Thomas and Sara Lincoln’s graves. It’s authentic. Community service clubs dedicated new markers to Abraham Lincoln’s father and stepmother nearby, a nice gesture but not what I consider authentic.

I must admit that my enthusiasm for attractions is becoming jaded. I’ll be wondering: Is it real? Is it reconstructed? Is it renovated? In truth, spare me. I really don’t want to know it’s not authentic; after all, I was the kid whose Dad whispered one day that Santa was a myth.

You can learn a lot about Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, simply be passing through central Illinois. Although there are countless places where he lived and left his mark on history, we only visited three of these places, two are mentioned in this blog entry. We also saw a notation at Cumberland County Covered Bridge in Greenup giving Lincoln credit for assisting with the building of the original span across the Embarras River. The bridge today is a reconstruction dedicated in September, 2000.

From Greenup, Illinois: Take Route 130 North, and then follow the signs to Lincoln Log Cabin Historic Site on Lincoln Highway Road in Lerna, IL. The Thomas Lincoln Cemetery and Shiloh Church are also along Lincoln Highway Road, 8 miles south of Charleston, IL.

May 6, 2008

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