Lincoln's Tomb Site At Risk With State Budget Cuts Thousands will honor Lincoln's death in Springfield, Ill. this weekend. Yet, the tomb's caretakers are facing criticism from scholars and are struggling to find funding to maintain the historic site.
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Lincoln's Tomb Site At Risk With State Budget Cuts

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Lincoln's Tomb Site At Risk With State Budget Cuts

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Springfield, Ill. expects tens of thousands of people this weekend. The city will re-enact Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession to the Oak Ridge Cemetery. The event commemorates the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's death, and it comes as those in charge of his tomb struggle to find funding to maintain the historic site. Rachel Otwell of member station WUIS reports.

RACHEL OTWELL, BYLINE: Adam Goodheart has written extensively about the Civil War and has visited Springfield a number of times.

ADAM GOODHEART: I find it a very powerful place. I'm very moved by many of the monuments to Lincoln there, including Lincoln's own house.

OTWELL: National Geographic sent Goodheart on the same journey that was Lincoln's last, the route of the train that took his body from Washington to Springfield. Along the way those many decades ago, hundreds of thousands of people viewed his body. Goodheart says he was especially moved by an exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

GOODHEART: Where they actually have bits of fabric that are stained with his blood, some of the dried flowers that were placed on his coffin during the funeral. And seeing those relics really just seemed to compress those 150 years since his death and make it very immediate.

OTWELL: But that wasn't the case at Lincoln's tomb, located in the middle of a large cemetery on the outskirts of town. He calls the tomb a disappointment, saying it lacks charm.

GOODHEART: There's one pretty startling omission, which is that it doesn't mention the Emancipation Proclamation or Lincoln's role in liberating African-Americans from slavery.

OTWELL: Chris Wills works for the state's Historic Preservation Agency, which oversees management of the tomb. Over the past 15 years, his agency's budget has been slashed in half. He says that's because Illinois has a large budget gap.

CHRIS WILLS: That's created a huge squeeze that the state is now having to deal with. One of the ways that's been dealt with over the years is to cut back on funds at the Historic Preservation Agency.

OTWELL: That's led to staff cuts and less access to historic sites. Pam VanAlstine heads the Lincoln Monument Association, a private foundation helping fill some of those budget gaps. But her group has only about 20 volunteers, people like Ruth McCarty, who's just finished her last tour of the day. She's standing in the tomb's entrance. It's covered in marble. A bronze statue of Lincoln is in the middle and a tarnished metal ceiling is above.

RUTH MCCARTY: We've already had people from Thailand here today and Mexico and Ireland. And it's just amazing how far people travel.

OTWELL: Here at the Illinois State Capitol, VanAlstine is about to lobby legislators against a move that she says would make keeping the tomb open to the public even more problematic. The state's new governor, Bruce Rauner, wants to dissolve the Illinois Historic Preservation agency to save money.

PAM VANALSTINE: I am so worried about the preservation part. Will we be able to keep these sites open? Will we be able to preserve their history? That's my concern.

OTWELL: As Springfield commemorates Lincoln's sad final journey, questions still linger over whether his final resting place will be well cared for and open to the public for generations to come. For NPR News I'm Rachel Otwell in Springfield.

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