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Illinois Historical Items of Interest and Trivia
Some famous [and some not-so-famous] events in Illinois' History

Many thanks to
Carrol Mick for these.


Cahokia courthouse was probably built in 1737, nearly 40 years after Cahokia itself was settled by French missionaries. The courthouse remained in place for almost two centuries. Then, in 1904, it was moved to St. Louis for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition [of "Meet Me at the Fair" fame]. The Chicago Historical Society bought the building after the fair and set up part of it in Jackson Park in Chicago. Then, in the 1930s, as part of the Works Progress Administration, it was returned to Cahokia where it was reconstructed as a state memorial.

About 1779 Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, a black from Haiti, was released by the British, who had imprisoned him when the Revolution started, Du Sable settled on the north bank of the Chicago River near Lake Michigan and opened a trading post, becoming the first permanent settler at what would become Chicago. In 1800, he and his Potawatomi wife moved to Peoria.

The first Monday in March is celebrated as the birthday of
General Casimir Pulaski. An outcast Polish general who left Poland because he had been falsely suspected of trying to murder the king, Pulaski ran across Benjamin Franklin in Paris and was enticed into coming to America to help George Washington stage a revolution.

In 1805, the old town of
Kaskaskia was swept away by a Mississippi River flood. The river also changed it course and a part of Illinois was left on the west side of the river by Missouri. In 1937, the Ohio River flooded, covering most of Gallatin County with ten feet of water. When the waters reached the second floor of the main bank in Shawneetown, many residents, having been through this before, decided that it was time to do something drastic. An entirely new town was constructed on the hills above the old town.

The first newspaper published in Illinois was Kaskaskia's Illinois Herald published by Matthew Duncan beginning in 1814. Duncan was a Kentuckian who had come to Illinois as a hanger-on of the territorial governor, Ninian Edwards. A year later, Duncan was responsible for the first book printed in Illinois, Laws of the Territory of Illinois. It later came to be called Pope's Digest after Nathaniel Pope, who persuaded the legislature to authorize its printing.

Steamboats were of critical importance on the Mississippi River from about 1817, when Zebulon Pike brought one up to St. Louis, until diesel engines took over in the twentieth century. However, the roaring river was not always placid, and steam engines themselves were dangerous. A 1867 study of the river between Cairo and St. Louis found an area called the Graveyard to contain 133 sunken steamboats.

Charles Reed first settled the Joliet area in 1831, naming the area after Shakespeare's Juliet because Romeo was a town slightly to the north. But when the town was officially incorporated in 1857, the name was mistakenly changed to Joliet in honor of an explorer, Jolliet, who accompanied Father Marquette to the Chicago Portage in 1673. However, the name is pronounced JO-lee-ett instead of ZHO-li-ay.

The Family with Feet
- The members of the Eaton family of early Palestine were known far and wide for their extra-large feet. When the family decided to build their own fort because Fort LaMotte was too crowded, the new fort became known as Fort Foot.

"Free" Frank McWorter is one man who did not use the help of the Underground Railroad workers as a means of gaining his freedom. He was born a slave in South Carolina in 1777. In 1795, he was taken to Kentucky, where after fifteen years he was allowed to hire out on his own time. During the War of 1812, he began to manufacture saltpeter, which was used to make explosives. After being enslaved for almost twenty years, he purchased his freedom at age 42. He had, however, first purchased his wife's freedom. "Free" Frank, his wife and freeborn children arrived to Illinois in 1830. For two years they were the only settlers in Hadley Township, Pike County, Illinois. "Free Frank" built a successful farm and engaged in the stock raising business. In 1836, he founded a town called New Philadelphia, and during the period from 1835 until his death, he purchased thirteen family members from slavery in Kentucky, including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He spent about $15,000 to purchase freedom for himself and his family. Provisions in his will provided funds for the purchase of three more family members.

A soldier named Elizabeth
. A fort on the Apple River was attacked by more than 200 Indians on June 24, 1832, during the Black Hawk War. The settlers rushed to the fort, where their defense was led by a woman, Elizabeth Armstrong, because the men were away. They succeeded in driving away the Indians, with a loss of only about 50 horses. The town that was later built on the site of the fort was called Elizabeth in her honor. [Read another version of this story with more details on our Jo Daviess County website and here]

Taken From The Henry Republican

January 24, 1878
Transcribed by Nancy Piper

Matters and Things in Illinois in the Early Days.

I have before me a file of the Chicago American for the years 1830 and 1840. From it I glean some interesting facts and incidents of the early history of Illinois.

Chicago's first frame house was built in 1831. Seven years later there was "a bustling little city of 6000 inhabitants."

The editor give some notes of a trip he had just made (1839) down the Illinois river. He passed through the following towns:

Enterprise, with 4 houses; Webster, 5 houses; Henry, 6 houses; Lacon, 25 houses; Chillicothe, 30 houses; Allentown, 3 houses; Rome, 25 houses. He speaks of a catfish caught in Peoria lake weighing 150 pounds.

"The new state capitol at Springfield is nearly finished (1839) costing $250,000. The corner stone was laid July 4, 1837".

The people were all going crazy over the cultivation of Morus Multicaulus or mulberry trees, with which to feed silk worms, there being a great mania at that time for raising silk, but it soon, like all other manias of speculation, subsided as suddenly as it had arisen. The American speaks of a man down east who refused $5000 of one mulberry tree, and afterwards sold one quarter of it for $10,000. Buds from it sold for $5 each.

October 28, 1839, Chicago had its first big fire - eighteen buildings were destroyed on Lake street.

Elijah Lovejoy, the noted abolitionist and editor, was mobbed and shot dead at Alton, November 7, 1837, by proslaveryites.

General Lafayette had visited Illinois in 1825, and the people hadn't got over talking about the great event in 1839.

The total vote of the state at the presidential election in 1824 was 4707.

The first paper ever printed in Illinois was the Illinois Herald, at Kaskaskia in 1809.

Sangamon county in which there then only a few log-cabins, embraced the entire northern part of the state in 1821. The county had nine representatives in the legislature in 1836, and they were called the "long nine," measuring in the aggregate 54 feet, Abraham Lincoln was one of the nine.

The year 1836 was one of feverish speculation in Illinois, followed in about a year by a general smash-up.

Illinois was admitted into the union as a state in 1818. Shadrach Bond being elected the first governor. There were about 40,000 inhabitants.

Hon. Ninian Edwards was the only territorial governor Illinois ever had. The territory, then containing 9000 inhabitants was organized in 1809, and continued such for nine years. Governor Edwards being kept in office all that time, by presidential appointment and re-appointment.  Ninian Edwards was a prominent Kentuckian, and a devoted friend of Henry Clay. He resigned the office of chief justice of the Kentucky state court of appeals in order to accept the proffered appointment as governor of the territory of Illinois. When the territory became a state, he was the first to be chosen United States senator, but resigned in 1824 in order to accept the governorship of the state to which he had just been elected. Hon. Daniel P. Cook, after whom cook county was named, was Governor Edwards's son-in-law. Cook county was organized in 1831. Mr. Cook represented Illinois in congress consecutively from 1819 until 1826, the state at that time being entitled to only one representative.

There were several hundred negro slaves and some Indian slaves held in Illinois while it was a territory, and a strong effort was made by these slave-owners and their sympathizers to make a slave state of this. Slaves were first brought here from San Domingo in 1720 by the early French pioneers. These Frenchmen indulged the confident belief that "the wealth of the western world consisted of pearl fisheries, gold and silver mines, and the wool of wild cattle."

The first steamboat to ascend the Upper Mississippi was the General Pike. She reached St. Louis August 2, 1817. The first steamboat ever seen on the Ohio river (in 1811) created a tremendous sensation. A great comet was visible that year, and the ignorant, superstitious settlers, when they saw the steamer in the night, really believed that it was the comet, with its great fiery tail.

The territory of Indian was organized in 1800, and included the area now embraced by the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. General William Henry Harrison was appointed territorial governor. The entire territory contained a population of 4875 whites, 135 slaves and about 100,000 Indians. Louisiana was annexed to this territory in 1804.

The Indian tribes located in Illinois in 1816 included the Pottawatomeis, Kickapoos, Ottawas and Chippewas. Among the notable chiefs at that time were Pepper, White Hair, Great Speaker, Bull, Toad, Pipe Bird, Blue Eye, Sunfish, Yellow Lips and White Dog.

The name of Chicago is of uncertain origin. It (spelled Cheeaqua) was the name of a long line of governing Indian chiefs, and it is variously interpreted to mean "the voice of the Great Spirit," thunder,skunk and wild onion.

During the first four years of the territory of Illinois, the governor was really the only law-making power, there being no legislative body. The first territorial legislature consisted of five senators and seven representatives, and there were only five counties.

Some queer modes of punishing criminal offenders were in vogue those days, among which were whipping on the bare back, confinement in stocks, standing in the pillory and branding with hot irons. Burglary was punishable with 39 strips on the bare back; perjury and larceny 31 stripes, horse-stealing form 50 to 100 stripes; hog-stealing from 25 to 39 stripes; bigamy from 100 to 300 stripes; children and servants, for disobedience, on conviction before a justice of the peace, not exceeding 10 stripes. When offenders who were fined were unabled to pay their fines, the sheriff was required to hire them out for wages until the amounts were earned and paid into the public treasury. Sitting on a gallows with a rope around the neck was the novel punishment awarded in some cases. "Profanely cursing," hunting on the Sabbath day, disorderly behavior at divine worship, reveling, quarreling, fighting, etc., were finable offenses, as also was the keeping of gambling tables. In a fatal duel, the aiders and abettors, as well as the one who fired the fatal shot, were alike declared guilty of murder. Imprisonment for debt was also lawful.

The total revenue raised in the territory for the three years - 1812, 1813 and 1814 - amounted to $4875, about half of which was in the hands of delinquent sheriffs.

The first county organized in Illinois was Edwards, named after the territorial governor.

During the territorial condition, voting by ballot was abolished, because "the ignorant and those in embarrassed circumstances are thereby subject to be imposed upon by electioneering zealots."

The "medical doctors" were incorporated in 1817, with headquarters at Carmi and Kaskaskia, and no new-comer could practice medicine unless able to pass an examination, and thus secure permit, paying a fee of $10 therefor.

As late as 1817, the pelts of deers, racoons, etc., were too(to) a great extent the currency of the country, there being but little money afloat.

In 1840 there was great complaint in Chicago of wolves destroying poultry in the city.

At the Chicago charter election in March 1840, 1013 votes were polled.   Thomas Drummond was announced to address "a democratic-whig meeting: at Galena in 1840. This is the same Drummond who is now so ably presiding as United States circuit judge.   March 25, 1840, the whigs of Sangamon county nominated Abraham Lincoln for a member of the legislature. Hon. E. D. Baker, afterward United States senator, was at the same time nominated for the state senate.

In the fall of 1840, bears and deer were still found in the region where Kankakee county now is. Venison was quoted "a drug on the market."

March 18, 1840, winter wheat was quoted at Chicago t 56 cents per bushel, and spring wheat 40 cents; whisky 40 cents a gallon; oats 20 cents per bushel; corn 38 cents; beef $4 per 100 pounds; lumber $18 for clear and $12 for merchantable; oak wood $3.25 per cord; hickory wood $4; potatoes, 20 cents a bushel; butter 15 cents per pound; flour, $2 pe cwt. There was no coal used hereabouts in those days.

In 1830 Chicago had 100 inhabitants, Michigan City, 10, Milwaukee 10, Toledo 30.

In 1839 freights by steamer from Buffalo for Chicago were quoted 87 1/2 cents per 100 pounds for light, and 62 1/2 cents for heavy.

In 1840, Elgin, which was originally laid out by James T. Gifford, in 1836-7, had 200 inhabitants. It was named after Elgin, Scotland, its first settlers being natives of the latter city.

Abraham Lincoln was one of the whig presidential electors in 1840.  The party's motto at that time was: "One presidential term - the integrity of public servants - the safety of the public money - the general good of the people.

Wilmington was originally named Winchester. It was laid out in 1836, and in 1840 had a population of 100. -- Correspondent Chicago Journal

Odd Facts About Illinois Towns
[Source: The Lacon Home Journal 14 January 1915]

    Lacon has the only pontoon bridge in the state.

    Chillicothe is the best hunting and fishing resort in Illinois.

    Herring has thirty-six coal mines.

    Peotone, in Will county, is famous for its pigeons.

    Quincy specializes in the manufacture of stoves, there being nine establishments.

    Nauvoo is the wine and grape town.

    Lomax is the best town boomer.

    Alexis, in Warren county, is a recognized center for Clydesdale horses. 

    Wyoming is the biggest shipper of feathers.

    Homewood, twenty miles south of Chicago, makes golf clubs for the entire country.

    Ottawa is the great producer of sand, especially molding and glass sand.

    Rantoul busies itself with the manufacture of linings for coffins.

    Havana is a great fish shipping point.

    Abingdon has the largest number of factories of any town in the state of its size. Also noted as an educational center.

    North Chillicothe has the biggest gravel pit.

    Charleston is headquarters for broom corn.

    Joliet has 3,000 men quarrying limestone, 500 making horseshoes, 1,570 manufacturing barbed wire and 2,800 rolling mill employees.

    Granite City has the only Bulgarian paper published in the United States. It is a daily with a circulation of nine thousand.

    The average velocity of the wind in Chicago is 17 miles per hour, the highest rate in the country.

    Elgin has 3000 people making watches.

    Elizabeth and Golconda on the Ohio are among the few places flourspar is mined.

    Rockford might as well call herself the Furniture City, with 24 factories. The hosiery industry employs two thousand.

    Pearl buttons are made at Beardstown, Keithsburg and Meredosia.

    Marseilles is the paper city, with paper mills, pulp factories roofing paper and box board factories.

    Peoria has thirteen distilleries and fourteen railroads.

    East St. Louis has the largest horse and mule market in the world. The iron industry employs thirteen thousand men and the packing establishments eight thousand.

    DePue is the greatest zinc smelter in the world. She is closely followed by LaSalle and Peru.

    Potomac, in Vermillion county, is noted for its fine artesian wells.

    Hamilton is at the eastern end of the Keokuk dam, producing two hundred thousand horse power.

    Aeroplanes are made at Coal City.

    Chatsworth specializes in draft horses.

    Pullman makes twelve thousand paper car wheels yearly.

    Naperville is famous for its beautiful orchards.

    Rock Island has ten immense stone shops, run by water power, costing six million.

    Monticello sells patent medicines in every state.

    LaSalle is the cement city, with eight Portland and hydraulic cement plants. Over 4000 tons of coal are produced there daily.

    DuQuoin produces salt.

    Beet Sugar is made at Riverdale.


From 1816 to 1836, Fort Armstrong was located on the limestone island in the Mississippi called Rock Island. In 1829, Congress decreed that the island would always be kept for a military purpose. Developed an arsenal during the Civil War, it remains one today.

Robert A. Kinzie went into the United States Land Office in the town of Palestine in southern Illinois in 1831 and purchased 102 acres for the price of $127.68. The land was located on the shore of Lake Michigan, where there were few settlers. However, within three years the area was incorporated as the new village of Chicago.

Early black settlers worked with settlers of European ancestry in antislavery efforts. One example took place in Will County which was a center for abolitionist activity in the 1840's and 1850's. The small black community in Joliet worked cooperatively with white abolitionists in helping UGRR passengers to freedom. Most fugitives who came through Illinois had set out in Missouri, found their way to the Mississippi River, and crossed it, unaided. An exception to this took place in 1841, when George Thompson, Alanson Work, and James Burr attempted to rescue Palmyra slaves. Their plan was discovered and they spent several years in jail. Work's son, Henry Clay Work became the noted composer of "Marching Thro' Georgia" and "Kingdom Coming".

Elizabeth Reed
was convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic-laced sassafras tea so that she could marry another man. She was tried, convicted, and imprisoned, but then tried to escape the Palestine jail by burning it down. Moved to Lawrence County jail in Lawrenceville, she was hanged on May 23, 1845, before a crowd of 20,000 people--the first female executed by hanging in Illinois. Read the rest of this story at our Crawford county website

You know the Donner Party was no party. It was a group of about 80 pioneers who sought a new land and who got caught by the worst winter snows the Sierra Nevada of northern California had seen in decades. Many of those who survived did so only because they ate the corpses of their fellow travelers. What you might not know is that the Donner party started from Illinois. George and Jacob Donner put together a group of hardy souls from Kentucky and southern Illinois and arranged to depart from the grounds of the capital building in Springfield on April 16, 1846. Unfortunately, the Donner men took advice from the wrong people and poorly timed their journey through the distant mountains. The place where so many died is now called Donner Pass, and it's a major eight-lane highway.

Sergeant John Gill led a squad from Pekin that fought in the Mexican War in 1847. When his soldiers came upon a disabled coach with no horse, they explored it and acquired some unique booty--a bag of gold, a roasted chicken, and a wooden leg. Later they found out the leg belonged to the infamous Mexican commander, General Santa Ana, who had left the coach in a hurry after it broke down. Gill brought the leg home as a souvenir. It was later presented to the State of Illinois and is in the State Historical Museum.


English author Charles Dickens was one famous speculator who invested in the
Cairo City and Canal Company. But the company failed and many investors lost their money. Maybe that why Dickens called the community a "detestable morass" and portrayed the town as the despicable "Eden" in Martin Chuzzlewit. Others said babies born in Cairo had fins or were web-footed. Dickens's impression of Illinois couldn't have been totally bad, because his brother, August Noel Dickens, came to the U.S. some years later. He landed in the small Lee county town of Amboy, where he started a newspaper in 1854.


In 1860, Edward, Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria's son and heir, spent two days hunting near Breese. He was 19 years old at the time and beginning a long life jaunting around that would keep him occupied until he finally became king more than 40 years later. He also had dinner with friends of Chicago Mayor John Wentworth. "Long John" Wentworth supposedly introduced him with "Boys, this is the Prince. Prince, these are the boys.".

In the 1860s, bands of young hoodlums were responsible for getting
Idin labeled "the hell-hole of the Illinois Central". The young thieves would hide along the railway embankments, then rush on board and steal passengers' luggage when the train stopped.

Belvidere Standard contained notices of anti-slavery meetings in Boone County which possibly were also attended by McHenry County residents.

Col. Elmer Ellsworth, head of a squad of New York firefighters called the "Fire Zouaves" in Washington, D.C., was killed by an innkeeper while taking down a confederate flag outside a building in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 14, 1861. The 24-year-old soldier from Illinois became the North's first "martyr." He had worked at Abraham Lincoln's law office in Springfield during 1858.

260,000 Illinoisans--about 15 percent of the population of the state--actively fought in the Civil War, making it the second-highest perscentage of citizens going to war of any state. Only Kansas had a higher proportion of soldiers to population. More than 35,000 of the Illinois soldiers died. Illinois produced 177 generals.

Frederick Douglass had tea at the White House with Lincoln, the renowned black abolitionist leader told a friend, "Lincoln is the first white man I ever spent an hour with who did not remind me that I am a Negro."

Allan Pinkerton, the detective from Dundee who later headed President Lincoln's secret service, attended a secret meeting at Henry Wagoner's mill, raised $300 or $400, and arranged for a train coach on the Michigan Central Railroad to transport the slaves John Brown freed from Missouri. John Brown and his party had been hotly pursued across all the states they traveled through before reaching Chicago on the Rock Island Railroad.

Built in 1863, the
Red Covered Bridge near Princeton is one of five original covered bridges still standing in Illinois. Users of the bridge must obey the old posted sign: "Five dollars fine for driving more than 12 horses, mules or cattle at any one time or for leading any beast faster than a walk on or across the bridge.

According to tradition, a pre-Civil War homestead in Amboy known as the "Old Pankhurst Farm" was an Underground Railroad stop. The regional headquarters of the I.C. (Illinois Central) were located in Amboy.

Jennie Hodgers
of Belvidere enlisted in the Union Army as a man, Albert D. J. Cashier, in 1862. She served as a handyman with the 95th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. When she broke her/his leg, her secret was revealed. She is buried in Livingston County under the name Albert.

Alton State Prison, the first state prison in Illinois, was abandoned in 1860 because it was on low-lying, miasmic ground. But during the Civil War the site became a Confederate prison. In 1863, the over- crowded prison was hit by a smallpox epidemic, with up to ten prisoners dying each day. Union authorities moved the prisoners to an island in the Mississippi, but none returned to the mainland alive. The Confederate Cemetery in Alton contains 1,354 Confederate graves.

Daniel Wels of Buffalo, New York, already had a wife when he showed up in Chicago and fell in love with a respectable young woman named Rose. Discovering after their marriage that he was already married, Rose left him and arranged for him to lose his job. Welsh, furious shot her. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang on December 10, 1869. Many people felt he should be reprieved because Rose's death was basically her own fault. So Welsh's lawyers managed to get enough signatures on a petition to force the governor to grant a reprieve. Welsh lived at Joliet prison for 25 years.

The 1867, a
new Illinois law declared that "eight hours of labor...did constitute and be a legal day's work, where there is not special contract or agreement to the contrary." To get around the law, special contracts were devised and many employers, often banding together, simply told workers they would be fired if they didn't work as they were told. Other employers "leased" convict labor. For example, in 1884, the average yearly wage for a shoemaker in Illinois was $355; the same work could be done for $159 by convict labor.


"Wild Bill Hickok" --the very name rings of the Old West (as well as a bit of television). Wild Bill was born James B. Hickok in Troy Grove, a village he abandoned as a teenager, seeking adventure in the West. Working in any job he could find, including guerrilla fighter in the Civil War, "Wild Bill" ended up in the Abilene, Kansas, area, where he served as sheriff in 1871. Renowned as a marksman, Hickok was shot in the back and killed on August 2, 1876, at Carl Mann's Saloon in Deadwood City, Dakota Territory, by Jack McCall. According to some versions of the story, many years earlier Hickok had killed McCall's younger brother by hitting him over the head with a hoe. Other reports insist that McCall had no more reason than that he wanted to be known for besting a famous gunman. McCall was hanged.

Mary Todd Lincoln
, widow of the assassinated president, was a patient at Fox Hill Home in Batavia for several months in 1875, after a jury judged her insane from grief over the death of her son, Tad. Later, she was allowed to go live with her sister, Elizabeth, in Springfield.

The first woman in the United States to graduate from a law school was
Ada H. Kepley, who graduated from Union College of Law in Chicago on June 30, 1870. This was a year before Phoebe Couzins, the first woman to graduate from a university law school, won her diploma from St. Louis University.

It was a warm, beautiful spring day in 1873. Over 200 people had gathered on a bridge crossing the Rock River at Dixon to witness a submersion baptism in the river. But before the ceremony was over, the bridge collapsed, killing 42 people and injuring more than 100.

Many towns can proudly point to public figures after whom they were named. Aledo has no such luck. It won its name in a kind of Scrabble game. Land speculators had to name the are they were trying to promote, but they couldn't agree on one. Finally they decided to draw letters out of a hat, and ALEDO was the result. Parker Station, Texas was re-named after Aledo, IL to avoid confusion after the Texas and Pacific Railroad's opened a line connecting Ft. Worth and Weatherford in 1879. When confusion over mail delivery occurred, the little town was told to get a new name. The name was changed in 1882 to Aledo, the hometown in Illinois of one of the railroad officials


Augustin Tolton, born a slave in Missouri in 1854, went to school in Quincy. There he was encouraged to go to Rome to become a Catholic priest. Ordained in Rome in 1886, he returned to Quincy, where he was pastor of St. Joseph's Church. He later founded St. Monica's Church for Negroes in Chicago.

The oldest herd of cattle in North America still owned by the same family still lived where it was founded, in Creston, Illinois. No, that doesn't mean the cows are ancient - it means that the herd has continued to reproduce itself, generation after generation. The famed herd of Angus cattle was started in 1881 by
B.R. Pierce, who bought the animals from Scotland.


On February 13, 1875, a Chicago Sun reporter predicted that a horrible theater fire was going to happen--there were too many unsafe conditions in the city's theaters. Twenty-eight years later, Chicago's Iroquois Theater--only 38 days old and billed as "absolutely fireproof"-- fulfilled that prophetic warning when it was destroyed by fire on December 30, 1903. The 2105 patrons who had come to see Eddie Foy in Mr Bluebeard were unaware that sparks from an electric arc lamp used as a floodlight had ignited the bottoms of the scenery backdrops. The fire rapidly spread through the theater, killing about 600--most of them women and children. This second (and even more deadly) "Great Chicago Fire" led to the passage of a better fire code, and every theater in the United States installed an asbestos or iron curtain.


The courthouse for Macoupin County in Carlinville, called the "White Elephant", was one of the most expensive rural courthouses built in Illinois. The original estimated cost for the building was $150,000 in 1867, but the final cost, three years later, was $1.3 million. In July 1910, county residents had a massive festival to celebrate retiring the debt.

Charles Pajeau, Evanston, put together a set of simple wooden pieces that children could tinker with and called them Tinker Toys. They went on the market in 1913 and sold a million sets.

For a time in the 1940s and '50s, Hollywood, its image and its industry, was virtually controlled by three women who were essentially gossip columnists and broadcaster. One was Hedda Hooper, the second was Sheilah Graham, and the other was Freeport-born
Louella Parsons (real name: Louella Oettinger). A snide comment from one of them in the press could destroy a career, while frequent mentions of others might build their careers. Actually, Louella started the whole business, by writing the very first movie column, which was published in the Chicago Herald in 1914. Forever after attached to the papers of William Randolph Hearst, she moved from New York to Hollywood in 1925, where she quickly became a power with her radio interview show, "Hollywood Hotel."

It was July 24, 1915. The employees of the Hawthorne Works in Cicero were looking forward to their annual outing. They were taking the excursion boat Eastland from the Chicago River out into Lake Michigan for a day on the water. More than 2,500 eager people had boarded the boat at the Clark Street bridge when some foolishness made most of the crowd rush over to one side of the big boat. It suddenly flipped, hull up, in the river, drowning 812. Read more about this at our Cook County website

When the Eastland capsized in the Chicago River in 1915, one of the passengers listed as missing was G.S. Halas. But George, soon-to-be owner of the Chicago Bears, who had booked passage in order to get to Michigan City, Indiana, for a baseball game, had missed the boat. Perhaps one of the luckiest mistakes that has happened to anyone.

Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to build the biggest skyscraper in the world. His son, John Lloyd Wright, had a lot more fun out of miniature logs that children could use to construct things. In 1916, the J.L. Wright Company began producing the now famous Lincoln Logs, which allowed children to construct any idea they could come up with. Wright's company merged with Playskool in 1943. The logs are now produced in Walla Walla, Washington, from Ponderosa pine--one of the few toys made of wood.

When Eugene Williams, an African-American swimming in Lake Michigan, accidentally floated into a "whites only" swimming area in Chicago, he was stoned to death. When police took no action, the black population gathered in the streets, and a riot broke out on July 17, 1919. After six days, the rioting was stopped by the National Guard, but not until 38 people (both black and white) had died, more than 500 had been injured, and thousands of others were left homeless by the resulting fires.


Illinois went "dry" as the 18th Amendment started prohibition in 1920, opening the floodgates to Chicago's criminal era.

A food plant explosion killed 42 in
Pekin on January 3, 1924.

archie, the literary cockroach who can't manage a shift key on a typewriter and so writes everything in lower case, and mehitabel, rowdy queen of alley cats, are the creation of walnut-born
don marquis. he began his career by writing for joel chandler harris's uncle remus's magazine. the philosophic cat and cockroach first appeared in his immensely popular column, "the sun dial," for the new york evening sun. marquis's first book, archy and mehitabel, was first published in 1927.


Pinball game, invented in 1930 by Chicago's In and Outdoor Games Company.

2-cent Pulaski stamp was issued at Chicago 1931

Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa recorded jazz on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York City 1938

A fire on February 8, 1934, at the state arsenal in Springfield, where numerous state records were kept, caused $850,000 damage and destroyed records that couldn't be duplicated.

One of the most consistent actors in Hollywood, with rarely a down time in work,
Fred MacMurray, originally of Kankakee, started his career as a a saxophone player in a jazz band. Though most frequently a heavy in his early movies in the '30s and '40s, MacMurray became best known as a comedy actor and, later, as the father on TV's "My Three Sons." He was married to actress June Haver for many years.


An ordinance plant explosion at Elwood killed 49 in 1942.

Romantic Hollywood lead
Rock Hudson was born in Winnetka as Roy Scherer, Jr., whose name was later changed to Fitzgerald after his mother remarried. In California, driving a truck, young Fitzgerald was found by an ever-hopeful agent, who worked for least once the handsome truck driver learned to read a line. Audiences discovered Rock (a name he took from a particularly prominent and durable one called Gibraltar) could act in Giant, which won him his only Oscar nomination.

John Belushi and his younger brother Jim were born in Chicago. John in 1949, and Jim in 1954, and raised in Wheaton. John became famous on "Saturday Night Live" and starred in the classic film The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykrod. Jim also appears in movies and worked on the program in the years following John's death of an overdose of drugs on March 5, 1982. He is buried at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. The story of his hectic life and tragic death is told in "Wired", by Illinoisan Bob Woodward.

Carl Sanburg call
Burl Ives "the mightiest ballad singer of any century," but his sheer bulk and acting ability brought Ives many roles, both on Broadway and in Hollywood. The Hunt Township, [Jasper County]-born signer started playing the banjo and listening to folk music as a child. He collected folk music and tales in his books Wayfaring Stranger and Tales of America. Though he was in many plays and movies and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Big Country in 1958, he is best remembered in the role of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.


Alcoholic Dorothy Mae Stevens Anderson was discovered passed out in an alley on the night of February 1, 1951. Chicago's temperature had dipped to -11 degrees F that night, and the woman's blood, legs, and eyeballs were frozen solid. Her body temperature was 64.4 degrees F., heart rate 12, respiration rate 3, and blood pressure nonexistent. In a hospital, she regained consciousness within 24 hours. Instead of losing her life, Mrs. Anderson lost both legs and lived until 1971.

Solar-powered radio receiver, invented by the Admiral Corporation in Chicago in 1955, using newly invented transistors.


Dr. Carl Holmberg, a chemistry professor at Syracuse University in New York, vanished from his office in 1955. Rockford paint-factory worker Verne Hansen was arrested on February 4, 1961, for drunk driving. A routine check showed the driver's fingerprints to match those of the missing professor. "I suppose I will have to go check up to see if the story is true," Hansen acknowledged when told of his true identity. He remembered nothing of his previous life.


Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Robin Yount, born in Danville, was chosen the American League Most Valuable Player in both 1982 and in 1989. He was the first player since 1940 to be named MVP in two different positions.


One of the great sights of Illinois was the state's tallest tree, an eastern cottonwood. It stood for more than 180 years near Morris in Grundy County...until high winds felled it on June 17, 1992. The tree was 138 feet high, with a trunk circumference of 32 feet 6 inches, crown 90 feet 6 inches, and bark 6 to 8 inches thick. some branches were 3 feet thick and 90 feet long. Because the trunk was hollow 30 feet above the ground, wind gusts simply broke it off like a toothpick. For 20 years the tree had been listed as the largest eastern cottonwood in the U.S. Parts of the fallen tree are being preserved in museums.

Current Times

When Griggsville developed a serious mosquito problem, the enterprising townspeople used their location to their advantage. The town's position is along the migration route of the purple martin, North America's largest swallow and mosquito-eater. The townspeople built a 40-foot tower with 504 nesting units in the middle of the business district to encourage the purple martin to take a break from its migration. The idea worked and today thousands of the insect-eating birds summer in Griggsville. Needless to say, mosquitos are no longer much of a problem to this community. It now justifiably calls itself the "Purple Martin Capital of the World."

Greater Prairie Chicken is found only in very small area of Marion, Washington, Wayne, and Jasper counties. Once large in numbers, the bird was hunted for food. The males are known for "boomin" during mating season, when large orange air sacs inflate on their necks to attract females. They stomp their feet, long neck feathers become erect, and they make crashing, whooping noises across the booming ground. Farming has destroyed the prairie chickens' open habitat. Ringneck pheasants have taken over their territory.

Playboy Enterprises reference library in Chicago is the most unusual in the world. The shelves contain over eight thousand volumes and three hundred periodicals, most of which you would never see at a public library. A professional librarian and three assistants serve cocktails and make sure no one is clipping pictures. One of the most unusual holdings is a complete collection of Playboy magazines in Braille.

One of the sights that greeted the wondering eyes of pioneers was the millions of black, white and orange butterflies that fluttered across the tall prairie grasses. Called
gorgone checkerspot butterflies, they disappeared along with the prairie. The Illinois Nature Conservancy acquired a 700-acre prairie site, called Nashua Grasslands, near Dixon, to which naturalists are bringing rare checkerspots--when they can be found--back to the prairie. Unlike most prairie species, the checkerspot was never able to adapt to the rough grasslands that usually replaced prairies. It needs a specific plant, the prairie sunflower, in order to survive. There is also a move afoot to reintroduce buffalo to the refuge by the year 2000.

The Department of Conservation now has a fund derived from a tax on computer software to purchase land for state parks and forests. In 1820, Illinois had 13.8 million acres of forest. Today, 90 percent of the remaining 4.26 million acres are privately owned and most of those are small areas. About 25 area of 1,000 acres or more remain in the entire state. The newly purchased Sinnissippi is the only state forest in northern Illinois. There are only
four other state forests:

Sand Ridge at Forest City in Mason County - 7,500 acres
Trail of Tears at Jonesboro in Union county - 5,100 acres
Big River at Oquawka in Henderson County - 3,000 acres
Hidden Springs at Strasburg in Shelby County - 1,200 acres

William Paley, excited at the sales results when his father's cigar company advertised on early radio, bought a small, existing group of radio stations that he turned into the communications giant, Columbia Broadcasting System.

Clyde Bolton, an assembly line worker at Ford Motor Company's Chicago plant, was name the "best dressed." Bolton showed up for work in ruffled shirts with pink collars, white suits, and/or tuxedos. Bolton's simple explanation was the he felt "better when" he was well dressed.

On this day..... January 14 in Illinois:
Robert MacCameron born in Chicago 1866
Jewish reformer
Hannah Greenebaum Solomon born in Chicago in 1858
John Dos Passos, author of the trilogy U.S.A., born Chicago in 1896

On this day..... January 15th in Illinois:
Lincoln and his partner
William Berry bought a store in New Salem 1833
Loie Fuller born Fullersburg 1862
Gene Krupa born 1909 in Chicago
Religious leader
Paul Casimir Marcinkus born 1922 in Cicero


©Genealogy Trails