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In the spirit of Lincoln
Abe tour focuses on the supernatural

Published Monday, September 12, 2005

Garret Moffett doesn’t claim that actual ghosts will greet visitors along his new downtown walking tour, “Lincoln’s Ghost Walk: Legends and Lore.”

But you never know. After all, Moffett says, a supernatural thread ran throughout Abraham Lincoln’s days in Springfield and the White House.

“I started looking and found there was quite a lot out there about his visions, seances in the White House and Mary Todd’s plunge into insanity,” said Moffett, 39, a historical tour guide from Macomb. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s just strange about Lincoln lore.”

The 90-minute tours - held twice each night Thursdays through Saturdays - begin at the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, 209 N. Sixth St., and stop at the First Presbyterian Church, the Lincoln Home and the Lincoln Depot before returning to the Old State Capitol Plaza.

None of those sites are home to any real Lincoln ghost tales, Moffett said. The most famous possible Lincoln hauntings have occurred at the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery and the White House in Washington, D.C.

But the downtown stops put the Lincoln legends in context, Moffett said, by touching on the former president’s religious beliefs and his alleged prophetic visions.

“In some speeches, he suggests that he may have been aware of his own gift,” Moffett said.

In his farewell address to Springfield at the depot on Feb. 11, 1861, for example, Lincoln said he was leaving for Washington “not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return. …”

Lincoln was assassinated four years later, and some historians, Moffett said, believe that line was a reference to a dream about his death from a few nights before his departure.

Naturally, such stories invite skepticism. But Moffett doesn’t mind those who aren’t convinced.

“We don’t try to push any beliefs on anybody,” he said. “But when people leave, they’ll say they’ve really learned a lot of history.”

Moffett has operated Haunted History tours in Macomb for about four years. With the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum this spring, he wanted to capitalize on the increased tourism in the area.

He approached the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau with the ghost walk idea, then spent most of year researching and developing a script. He said his research was revised and approved by Lincoln experts at the presidential museum and Lincoln Home National Historic Site before the tours began a few weeks ago.

“This is not some hack that just got a bunch of Lincoln stories off the Internet,” said Moffett, who guides while wearing an 1860s-inspired costume.

Tours begin at 5:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The 8 p.m. tours are lantern-lit journeys.

Moffett is usually out by 3 p.m. to solicit customers. So far, practically all of them have been out-of-towners looking for something to do at night.

That’s precisely who the SCVB had in mind when it agreed to Moffett’s proposal, said director Tim Farley.

“The goal is to keep people here more than one day,” Farley said. “If we don’t, we really have failed. We want people to see all the sites available in Springfield, and that really will take more than one day. The longer people stay, the bigger impact they’ll have on our economy.”

If the ghost walks are popular, Moffett hopes to return to Springfield next year.

He’s currently developing scripts based on the 1908 race riots, Lincoln’s day-to-day life in Springfield and Lincoln’s famed storytelling ability.

“There’s a need for this in Springfield,” Moffett said. “And I want to get into it before someone else figures out this idea.”

The ghost walk runs through Oct. 29. Fees are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 7 through 11 and free for children under 6. There is no limit to tour sizes, and private tours can be arranged for groups.

Daniel Pike can be reached at 788-1532 or daniel.pike@sj-r.com.

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