Saturday, January 31, 2004

Cold, cold, cold blog.

The weather nerds say that yesterday was the coldest day in Chicago since January 1997. I wouldn't have remembered that, but I found some of my written material from about then that mentions it.

February 3, 1997.

Last Friday we decided to take a short trip the next day. To the kind of destination that lends itself to that kind of planning (that is, very little planning). So on Saturday morning, the first day of February, with clear skies and temperatures actually above freezing, we drove down to Springfield, Illinois.

I had been to Springfield before, almost ten years ago, the first year I lived in Chicago. That time I went with my boss Ernie M. to attend some sort of statewide savings and loan officers' meeting. The magazine I used to work for covered that end of the business, but I think for Ernie it was a chance to pal around with S&L types. That trip was in May -- I think May -- I remember it being warm, anyway. A 5-point something earthquake struck while we were there, but we didn't feel it. At the moment it hit, we were in a car, busy dodging potholes on the city's streets.

This time we went mostly to get out of town. The weekend before we hadn't even left the apartment, except when Yuriko went downstairs to get the mail. There was good reason to stay in: it never got above 10 F. the whole time, and it was windy too. But by last Friday it was in the low 40s during the day, good enough for a short trip.

Taking the major route, I-55, it's about three and a half hours to Springfield, but it isn't a particularly interesting drive in the winter. We arrived around noon Saturday and repaired to Lincoln's tomb, in a cemetery on the north side of town. It's an impressive marble edifice, sporting various statues of the President, who reposes inside with Mary Todd Lincoln and three of their four children.

We had lunch downtown, finding more or less by chance a New Mexico-style Mexican restaurant. I had a kind of tasty Mexican pork potpie, a novelty for me. Not far away was the National Historic Site that includes Lincoln's house, so we walked there after lunch. The whole site is actually a block of original or reconstructed houses from the 1840s and '50s. The tour of the Lincoln home is short, weighing in at about 20 minutes, since the house isn't very big. Interesting to note just how recent indoor plumbing really is; not even a prosperous attorney had it 150 years ago.

The next morning we got up fairly early and went back to town to see the old state capitol. It's a fine old building, Greek Revival style, and was used as a capitol in the mid-19th century. It became too small, or the government became too big, necessitating the present one. But in 1841, when the old one was new, it encompassed practically the entire state government. There were several cast iron stoves in each room, but it still must have been cold in winter, with its high ceilings.

We drove back using some smaller roads. That improves the scenery a bit, but winter in Illinois isn't ever going to be a picturesque wonder. We stopped at Starved Rock State Park and walked around a bit among its hills. It was nice, with some snow still on the ground, but a little too much slush on the trails.


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