Learn about the courtship on the Abe & Mary: Quite Contrary Walking Tour

This photo is courtesy of Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

While you may know a lot about Abraham Lincoln, Jenifer Brownell, site interpreter for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum (ALPM) said that Mary is more mysterious.  “Mary is a bit obscure,” Jenifer said at the beginning of the Abe & Mary: Quite Contrary Walking Tour.

Jenifer outside of the church with Lincoln’s pew.

This tour officially starts Tuesday June 6, 2017 and will be offered at both 10:00 am and 1:30 p.m.  The tour offers you a chance to get the low down on the Lincolns in a way that goes beyond the politics.

I loved the opportunity to join Jenifer and another ALPM worker named Michael to take the 1.5 mile, 60-minute tour that explores downtown Springfield and tells the story about the  people and places that helped Abraham and Mary’s relationship blossom, and in some cases tear them apart. We started out meeting at the library, then heading to the Lincoln statue across the street where our tour began.

The tour offers insight into places in Springfield that prior to the tour I had no idea had a historic connection to Honest Abe.  It is amazing that the two ever came together with such divergent backgrounds.  Jenifer explained that Mary, who was born in 1818 to Robert and Eliza Todd, grew up in the lap of luxury.  She was one of seven children.  While she lived in a mansion with servants, Mary had an abrupt childhood when her mother died when she was six.

The Todds had nine more children, so Mary was now one of 16!

To add to the huge family, Mary’s stepmother did not approve of her interest in politics and other unladylike topics so there was always friction between the two. Always interested in politics from an early age, it is said that Mary told Henry Clay who was also from Lexington, Kentucky that she was going to marry the President one day. This gives a glimpse into her ambition, determination and lofty plans for the future. (By the way, the Henry Clay house is beautiful and open for tours in Lexington along with Mary’s childhood home).

Most everyone knows the story of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood. Born in Kentucky living in a one room cabin with a dirt floor and little education, the two upbringings could not have been more different, however, love can and often does conquer all.

The two met in December of 1839.  “Mary’s Sister Elizabeth married and lived in Springfield,” Jenifer said.  “First she sent for their sister Francis and successfully married her off to Dr. William Wallace. Then it was Mary’s turn.”

Elizabeth was married to the prominent Ninian Edwards and they lived in a mansion near the Old State Capitol.  At a cotillion in 1839 Mary saw Lincoln and is said to have commented that she would like to dance with Lincoln.  By the end of the night, mission was accomplished.

The two courted until 1841 then broke up that January for unknown reasons.  Jenifer alluded to the fact that the Todd sisters and their spouses were not thrilled with the choice of Lincoln for a suitor or husband, but Mary saw something in Lincoln that they apparently did not and history shows she had pretty sound judgment!

The tour takes place in downtown Springfield and during the tour you will pass the Old State Capitol and may want to add that into your downtown tour either before or after the walking tour.  The Old State Capitol is open Monday – Sunday from 9-5. You also pass by neighborhood of the only home that the Lincolns ever owned.  “This is the only National Park in the State of Illinois.” Jenifer added.

Lincoln’s home is open Monday – Sunday from 8:30 to 5:00 should you wish to add that in as well.  Check out the visitor’s center for more information.

We also passed the lovely First Presbyterian Church where the Lincoln had their church pew.  I have been to a service and saw the pew, but never went on a tour there. After checking the website (http://www.lincolnschurch.org/history-arts/tours.cfm) I learned that tours start after June 5, 2017.  “During the summer, the docents offer weekday tours in June, July, and August. Hours are Monday thru Thursday 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. The red doors on Seventh Street are open for these weekday tours…”

I won’t give away all the stops and the stories and ruin your fun, but it is a fascinating tour with historic stops that will surprise you with all the twists and turns of a modern romance.  The thing that was different in their case was Jenifer said in Lincoln’s day that men and women married primarily out of need rather than romance.  It is clear though that the Lincolns union was one of love and attraction that would hold them together through years of loss, war and unite them until the grave.

If you take this tour like I did, you won’t be disappointed.  Reservations can be made by calling 217-558-8844 or through the website and reservations can be made up to one month in advance. Reservations can be made by calling 217-558-8844 or through the website and reservations can be made up to one month in advance.




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  1. Debbra Dunning Brouillette

    I loved this post, Cindy. I’ll have to make a trip to Springfield one of these days as it sounds like it would be a fascinating stop. I’d like to hear more about the relationship between Abe and Mary. I’ve visited Lincoln’s Boyhood Home in Indiana years ago but it would be fun to go there again, too.

  2. Cindy

    Thanks Debbie, It was great fun, I want to tour the pew and I am thinking I need to revisit sights with grandkids this summer.

  3. Tami

    This is a tour I would absolutely LOVE to take. History and romance at it’s best!

    1. Cindy

      Yes you are quite right, it was!

  4. Carol Colborn

    We were in Springfield in 2012 and were amazed at the best presidential library and museum, I believe. But I didn’t take this tour about Mary. Interesting!

    1. Cindy

      It was a great way to learn about their personal side.

  5. Holly

    Love history and learning new things. Something I would like to see.