Sightseeing in Bloomington

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Less than 90 minutes from St. Louis, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum houses the world’s largest collection of original Lincoln artifacts, complete with the Gettysburg Address. A life-size replica of Lincoln’s log cabin set back in a forest of artificial trees stands 40 feet tall just like the President’s iconic top hat. The museum also houses a re-creation of the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre, where the president was assassinated, and the state-of-the-art Union Theater, which projects films such as Lincoln’s Eyes, a broad overview of Lincoln’s personal and political life with a special focus on slavery. In the Ghosts of the Library exhibit, transparent phantoms of Lincoln and his contemporaries drift around powered by Holavision technology. Youngsters, supervised by parents, can try on period dress, pose for photos with life-size cutouts of young Abe, or reenact historic scenes in the Lincoln Home dollhouse located in Mrs. Lincoln’s attic, the hands-on learning center. Before heading home, patrons can browse the museum store—more than 3,500 square feet of artifact replicas and Lincoln-themed merchandise.

112 N 6th St
Springfield,
IL
US

By highlighting the goings-on in the community of Joliet, The Joliet Area Historical Museum scans the entirety of American history from the perspective of the town's inhabitants. Housed inside the former Ottawa Street Methodist Church, multimedia exhibits artfully assembled from audio-visual displays, touch screens, and life-size models illustrate the stories plucked from the eventful timelines of the town and its people. Occupying two full stories, permanent exhibit The Soaring Achievements of John C. Houbolt honors the life and work of former resident Dr. Houbolt, who had a primary role in NASA's race to the moon. The exhibit's life-size Lunar Lander even allows guests to step inside and glimpse the accommodations and controls, revealing a control panel more complicated than a single button labeled "Go to Moon." In addition to its permanent collection, the museum also keeps an active calendar full of special events; check the schedule for a complete list of programming.

204 N Ottawa St
Joliet,
IL
US

Across two floors and 6,700 square feet, KidsWork Children's Museum's prompts hands-on play with scores of new exhibits. A table-top interactive computer, or SMART table, stimulates kids' brains with interactive puzzles and games. A weekly music class on Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. invite kids to make some noise with instruments made from recycled materials. Interlocking wooden builder boards encourage open-ended play; there's also a floor piano, an interactive ATM, and story time at 10 a.m. on Tuesday mornings. The museum welcomes field-trip groups and birthday parties to explore its innards as well as special-needs families, members, and walk-in visitors.

While large groups are welcome, each child is celebrated through hands-on play. Just look at the gigantic, three-dimensional Pinscreen exhibit, a jumbo version of the classic toy that uses sliding pins to create a 3-D impression of whatever you press into them—in this case, your entire body. Along with the Lincoln-Way North Key Club, the Frankfort Fire Department helped construct the three walls by painstakingly inserting nearly 200,000 pins by hand. Their effort resulted in one of the museum's most popular interactive displays. More than that, it reflects the sense of community, curiosity, and creativity that the museum strives to engender in its patrons.

11 S White St
Frankfort,
IL
US

Throughout the Halloween season, mad scientists overrun a section of SciTech Hands On Museum to construct a haunted laboratory. The 20- to 25-minute, ghoul-infested journey hijacks 200 of the museum's interactive exhibits and exploits the brainpower of the museum's Fermilab physicist founders to create an experience as terrifyingly educational as a pre-calc class taught by a wild boar. Adults and older children brave enough to step across the spooky threshold will encounter wispy tendrils of smoke and fluttering strobe lights winding up and down the museum's two floors. Bubbling beakers, freakish goblins, the George Foreman Grill, and other byproducts of experiments gone horribly awry loom in the museum's shadowy corridors. Once troops have braved the Haunted Museum, the main museum awaits, where guests can interact with noncursed exhibits or slip into the gift shop or café.

18 W Benton St
Aurora,
IL
US

The Illinois Theatre Center enthralls audiences with a wide range of theatrical performances that range from offbeat musicals to retellings of classic dramas. The Spitfire Grill, a musical adaptation of director Lee David Zlotoff's award-winning film, revisits the tale of a young woman recently released from prison who gets a second lease on life and a studio apartment. Wistful comedy Heroes centers on the lives of three war veterans living in an old folks' home who spend their final days reminiscing about ration-packet picnics. All performances are held in an intimate 179-person theater.

371 Artists Walk
Park Forest,
IL
US

The Winery at Shale Lake sprawls over 212 acres of verdant terrain, with a 10-acre vineyard producing a menu of eight original wines for enjoyment in an array of charming settings. Spin around the 24-acre lake during a 30-minute bike ride aboard any of the Surrey cycles available for rent, or hike the scenic trail to slowly experience nature and the soothing melodies of Bigfoot quartets. Sip on up to five complimentary varieties of wine in the tasting room, built into the barn for a fine equine view through the picture window, and chow on gastronome goodies, including baked brie with raspberry sauce ($6), or white garlic and sausage pizza ($9). Kick back in the winter loft during colder months, playing pool and swirling sippers such as the Fifth Dimension, a sweet red foch wine, and the Beginners Luck, a semisweet chambourcin (all $4.50 by the glass). Live performers burst into song roughly twice a month, so thirst quenchers can enjoy sweet sounds while tickling their taste buds and their friends' bellies on Saturday evenings.

1499 Washington Ave
Staunton,
IL
US