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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular house, with a low roof pitched at about 15° and a chimney at either end. The front door is flanked by two windows on either side: the door and one window on either side are shaded by a small wooden portico. The upper floor has five windows, of the same style and width as those below them, but square. The attic is marked by a sort of dormer or pediment with a pair of two small windows. It is the Vachel Lindsay House in Springfield, Illinois.]

Vachel Lindsay House, Springfield, Built 1850's.

 p107  Home of a Poet

Considerably overshadowed by the widespread fame of the Lincoln house a few blocks away, the Vachel Lindsay home in Springfield, nonetheless, holds its own as a historic shrine, particularly as an object of veneration to literary pilgrims. It was in this attractive old dwelling, shaded in summer by great elms and maples, that Vachel Lindsay, known in American literary history as "the tramp poet," was born, and it was here that he died fifty-two years later.

But this is not its only claim to recognition. For it has close associations with Abraham Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln. Here both of them came often as visitors in the days before they left Springfield for Washington and here Lincoln's sister-in‑law presided as chatelaine for many years. And at a later date the brooding spirit of Lincoln seemed to cling to this house, impressing the mind of the youthful Vachel Lindsay and inspiring him, when he grew to maturity, to write numerous poems on the Lincoln theme, the best known of which is "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight."

Research by Paul M. Angle reveals that this house, which stands at 603 South Fifth Street (just back of the Governor's Mansion), was owned and occupied in the middle 1850's by Clark M. Smith, a leading  p108 Springfield merchant. Smith is believed to have moved into this dwelling soon after his marriage to Anna Maria Todd, younger sister of Mary Todd, wife of Abraham Lincoln.

Here the Smiths lived and played important roles in the social life of ante-bellum Springfield. It was in a back room on the third floor of Smith's dry goods store, which fronted on Springfield's courthouse square, that President-elect Lincoln began writing the address he was to deliver at his inauguration in Washington. He chose this place in order to avoid the crowds who came to see him at his law office. The Smith desk on which he wrote the address is now on display in the Illinois State Historical Library in the Centennial Building in Springfield.

While the Smiths were still living in the Fifth Street house there came to Illinois from Kentucky a young doctor named Vachel Thomas Lindsay. He practiced medicine in Springfield, married an Indiana school teacher and artist named Esther Catherine Frazee in 1876, and, and a few years later became owner and occupant of the Smith abode on Fifth Street. Here Vachel Lindsay was born on November 10, 1879.

From Edgar Lee Masters' biography, Vachel Lindsay, A Poet in America, we learn that when Vachel was eight or nine years old he played with his cousin, Ruby Lindsay, who lived next door to the Abraham Lincoln home on Eighth Street. The then custodian of the Lincoln home, who was fond of youngsters, often invited little Vachel and his cousin into the Lincoln house and here the future poet first became imbued with the Lincoln spirit.

When he grew to maturity, Vachel Lindsay wandered out into the world, walked up and down America, became famous as "the tramp poet," read, or rather chanted, his poems to farmers and college students, and then, after his marriage to Elizabeth Conner at Spokane in 1925, returned to Springfield and settled down in the house in which he was born. Here his two children were born and here he wrote many poems. And here, in 1931, he became a victim of melancholia and took his own life.

The house is still in sound condition. It is of frame construction, two stories high, and has suggestions, especially on the porch and cornices, of the Greek Revival, though the Grecian style is much modified by later influences. The interior is typical of its period, with living rooms containing windows that reach from floor to ceiling. Vachel Lindsay wrote many of his poems in the room on the second floor in the northwest corner. His final resting place is in Oak Ridge Cemetery, not far from Lincoln's tomb.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07