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.
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.
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.
The Niabi Zoo houses 900 animals from 160 species hailing from a quintet of continents on its 40-acre grounds. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this Midwestern menagerie abides by rigorous standards for bird and beast welfare. Traverse the educational trails, sighting zebras, ostriches, and giraffes trying on oversized bowties in the African exhibit or large cats such as the jaguar, leopard, and bengal tiger. The Niabi Zoo also protects 200 acres of area land for native wildlife preservation and bocce-ball tournaments.
The sun and the stars serve as constant companions at Hillcrest Event Center, where a 9-hole golf course, a swimming pool, and camping grounds entertain visitors day and night. A breezy par 30, the executive course caters to all experience levels, inviting beginners to take on its short holes while letting seasoned golfers hone their approach shots. After navigating the water hazards, guests can purposely head to the Olympic-sized swimming pool, which ripples at the center of a 3,000-square-foot sundeck where waiters serve poolside food and drinks. Or, dine at The BBQ Pit, home of the Illinois BBQ Fest.
As the sun sets, the crackling glow of fires peppers the campgrounds, illuminating the nylon sides of tents or canvas hulls of mobile RVs. Tent sites include access to the resort's hot showers and restrooms, while the RV facilities' hookups pump water and electricity into mobile homes so residents can bathe in private and use electric carving knives for whittling. When the sun rises, residents can begin their day with a hike on the resort's nature trails.