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Can’t get enough of the law?

Tap into these getaways not far from home

David Baugher//May 30, 2011

Can’t get enough of the law?

Tap into these getaways not far from home

David Baugher//May 30, 2011

Some lawyers want to get away from it all on vacation. But some actually make the law a focus of their getaway. For intrepid souls who can’t seem to get the courtroom out of their blood, nearby sites provide a window on the profession’s storied past, all within driving distance.

Old Drum, a hunting dog, was shot soon after the Civil War. A statue of him stands near the old courthouse in Warrensburg. Johnson County Historical Society

Old Drum. Warrensburg. The law is full of quirky moments, and its more unusual chapters are often written in little-known places. Warrensburg is no exception. The case in question concerned the shooting of a hunting dog named Old Drum not long after the Civil War. After a series of appeals, the issue began to gain local attention.

“By the time it got to the fourth trial, which is when it was in this building, there were four attorneys, and they were all veterans of the Civil War,” says Lisa Irle, curator of the Johnson County Historical Society (

The legal teams ended up including a future governor and two future senators, but the trial is most noteworthy for a speech by the plaintiff’s lawyer George Graham Vest, who gave a dramatic closing argument that became known as the “eulogy of the dog.”

Irle says it gained such notoriety that it was eventually read into the Congressional Record.

The closing argument was later named by columnist William Safire as among the best of the millennium. An article in Psychology Today even claimed it was the origin of the phrase “man’s best friend,” although this remains unconfirmed.

To this day, a statue memorializing Old Drum sits in front of the courthouse, which itself is of some historic note. Irle says the courthouse, constructed in 1838, is among the few remaining examples of the “federal” architectural style. It has been restored as a museum.

The Old Courthouse. St. Louis. More weighty trials took place in Missouri, as well. The Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis was the site of the infamous Dred Scott trial. Eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the landmark case concerned a slave attempting to win his freedom through the legal system. The high court’s eventual ruling kept Scott and his wife in bondage and was credited by many as yet another step toward Civil War.

“We get a lot of visitation from people in the legal profession,” says Bob Moore, a historian with the National Park Service, which oversees the courthouse ( “In fact, we’re having a tour of a judges’ group that’s coming through next month.”

Two restored courtrooms, galleries and an exhibit about the Scott affair are on display in the historic facility, which was built in 1828 and expanded 10 years later. Moore says the case had a huge impact on the country, though it is not as well-known as it should be.

“Certainly there is a lot of name recognition, but in terms of what actually happened — an enslaved person suing for his freedom — not many people really understand it,” he says. “We find when people come to visit it’s a very educational experience because they go away learning something they didn’t in school. A lot of time it’s the same for lawyers, too, because the law itself has changed so much.”

The Land of Lincoln. Springfield, Ill. The attorney who eventually would put an end to slavery altogether practiced law only hours away from where the Scott trial unfolded. Today, Abraham Lincoln’s legacy is preserved at his presidential museum in Springfield, Ill.

David Blanchette, communications manager for the Illinois State Historical Society ( says many artifacts from the future president’s law practice have been preserved. And a reproduction of his office is faithfully recreated right down to Lincoln’s tendency toward messiness.

“He also allowed his kids to run amok and was a very permissive parent, so they are playing havoc inside his law office,” Blanchette says.

About two blocks away is the sole remaining office where Lincoln practiced. Now a state historic site, it is adjacent to the old state Capitol, where he argued cases before the state’s Supreme Court and would go on to serve as a legislator.

In other parts of the state, three courthouses in towns where he practiced — Mount Pulaski, Woodford County and the now aptly named town of Lincoln — survive.

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