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Abraham Lincoln would certainly be gratified and proud to see his boyhood homestead as it stands today -- tranquil, unspoiled and virtually unchanged from his youth. The green pastures and dense woodlands still dominate the southern Indiana landscape, where dogwood blossoms scent the air.

Abe spent his formative years at the Spencer County, Ind., homestead. He worked the farm with his father, mastered the back-breaking task of splitting rails, developed his life-long love of learning, and sadly, helped prepare the coffin to bury his beloved mother. In total, he spent 14 years of his life in southern Indiana. The Lincoln family had moved to Indiana when Abe was just a fast-growing boy of 7. He grew to be a tall, capable young man of 21 years in the Hoosier state.

Today, the 200-acre expanse is administered by the National Park Service and actually includes two points of interest -- the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and the Lincoln State Park.

The Memorial grounds are open daily year-round from dawn to dusk. Completed in 1943, the Memorial Visitor's Center greets arrivals as they enter in the park. The exterior features a sequence of five unique sculptures illustrating phases of Lincoln's life. Each scene is a moving testament to the strength and character of a truly great man. The building is entirely a Hoosier creation, constructed of Indiana limestone and sandstone, with all timber cut from trees native to the area. It includes a museum, exhibits, two memorial halls and an auditorium where a short film, titled, Here I Grew Up, is shown. The Visitors center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5. It is a good idea to stop at the center first to obtain all the necessary information on campsites, restaurants, and nearby attractions.

On a small bluff just North of the Visitors Center lies the grave site of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abe's mother. After only two years in Indiana, she died in October of 1818. Her tombstone rests serenely in the shade of ancient oaks and towering hickory trees. Lincoln once said of her, "All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. God bless her." She passed away at age 35 of the much misunderstood milk-sickness, a poisoning by milk from cows that had eaten the white snakeroot plant.

A lofty flagstaff sits near the grave of Mrs. Lincoln. The pole stands an incredible 120 feet high, approximately 12 stories. On holidays or special occasions, a huge American flag is flown. On our first visit we had the good fortune to see this gigantic flag, waving against the backdrop of indigo skies. The hoisting, lowering and folding of Old Glory requires four to six people. It measures 20 by 38 feet and weighs 45 pounds, making it one of the largest U.S. flags in the National Park Service, if not the largest. The park rangers have issued a friendly challenge to anyone who can find a taller flagpole in any of our nation's park system.

In 1819, Abe's father set out for Kentucky to find a new wife. He married Sarah Bush Johnston in December and they returned to Indiana with her children from a previous marriage.

The farm they returned to is now the Lincoln Living Historical Farm. City-dwellers can especially appreciate the typical farm of the period. Hacking a life out of the unrelenting wilderness was obviously not for the faint of heart. Men and women had to be entirely self-sufficient, not to mention stalwart and resourceful.

The site is reconstructed in complete detail, down to the cat dozing on the quilt rack. Knowledgeable staff members dress in period clothing and demonstrate the daily activities of pioneer life. Although none of the original buildings have survived from the Lincoln homestead, the foundation and chimney base of one of the cabins are preserved in a bronze casting.

The farm is open seven days a week from April until October. During the remainder of the year the farm becomes an exhibit in place with the buildings closed. The farm can be easily reached by trail or vehicle.

Just across the highway from the National Memorial site is the Lincoln State Park. Possibly the most outstanding feature of the park is the 1,514-seat, covered, outdoor amphitheater. Come rain or shine, the touching story of Young Abe Lincoln is presented from mid-June until the end of August each summer. This outdoor drama is remarkable in that it re-creates history where the actual events occurred.

With a rousing combination of music, dance and drama, the tale of the lanky boy named Abraham comes to life on the stage. The program depicts his rare enthusiasm for learning, his boyish pranks and the tragic death of his mother. It's a performance which inspires a deep sense of pride and patriotism in all who watch. For the younger set, it is an entertaining and fun way to learn about the humble, but highly significant beginnings of our 16th President.

With more than 11 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy to moderate, Lincoln State Park lets you walk in the footsteps of a president. As a boy, Lincoln spent many contented hours roaming the woods in the area that is now the park.

Both parks are located on Indiana Highway 162, four miles from Dale, Ind. Visitors traveling on Interstate 64 can use Exit 57 and travel south on U.S. Highway 231, following the signs to Lincoln Parks.

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