Monday, December 4, 2017

Only 364 more days to Ill. Bicentennial, so I’m contemplating a journey

I know it’s a month early to be making New Year’s resolutions, but the fact that Illinois is now officially beginning the process of celebrating our state’s 200 years of existence makes me want to make one.
I hope to see (finally) the red dots at Ill. extremus

In my case, I want to make trips sometime during 2018 to Galena and Cairo.

NOW I’M SURE many who are reading this are wondering how rattled is my brain. What could possibly make me think those small cities at the far northwest and southernmost tips of Illinois are worth seeing?

It’s just that in my case, I have spent years making a joke out of the fact that I have never actually seen either of those Illinois municipalities. I’m a Chicago native who was educated in Bloomington and also lived and worked in Springfield.

And in my duties as a reporter-type person, I have visited much of the state of Illinois – which is in its own way a unique place.

Now for those who think the downstate (as in “not Chicago-area”) portions of Illinois are too radically different from us to take seriously, I’d say get real.
This flag will fly across Illinois
CHICAGOANS HAVE MORE in common with places like Peoria or Rockford or East St. Louis than we do overly-haughty Noo Yawkers who forget that Staten Island is more true to their image than Manhattan, or snooty Bostonians who think they have a monopoly on our American history (although I confess I enjoyed Boston the one time I visited it).

But the joke is that Galena and Cairo are the only two places of significance across Illinois that I’ve never had an excuse to be in – although I was close to Cairo on occasions when I had to visit the state corrections facility in Tamms (about 12 miles to the north of Illinois’ southern tip).
From the sesquicentennial of '68

I feel like I ought to complete the journey and say I’ve seen all of my home state. Life doesn’t go on forever.

And in a year when we’re supposed to be highlighting our state’s history, I can’t envision a better time to do so.

I KNOW SOME people will joke that Galena (about 3,200 population) is nothing but a batch of antiques shops, although it has a prime location near the Mississippi River (and is the one-time home of a future U.S. president Ulysses Grant, just like the Hyde Park neighborhood is for Barack Obama) and probably is something close to the vision of Illinois that the state’s founders had back on Dec. 3, 1818 – the date upon which Illinois officially became a state in its own right within the United States. Chicago’s post-Fire development is something no one ever would have dreamed of).

While I also know from experience whenever I’ve told Southern Illinois natives I’d like to see Cairo, they look at me like I’m nuts.

Largely because Cairo is the city they have fled out of their own racial hang-ups. Cairo, the city right at the point where the Ohio River converges with the Mississippi River to flow southward to New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico. A point I truly would be curious to see, even though I’m sure it will forevermore make me wonder why Cairo’s prime spot never developed into a major Midwestern city.
Which one should I check out first?

Cairo is a place that at its peak a century ago had a 20,000 population with black people living in segregated communities nearby. But it is now a city of about 2,600 people with an overwhelming majority of them being African-American.

NOT THAT I’M bad-mouthing Southern Illinois – heck, there are Chicago neighborhoods (particularly on the South Side) that used to be lily-white but where “white flight” was so thorough that the locals now have no clue white people ever existed there.

So these are thoughts I’m having as I contemplate Illinois’ intent to lead up to the actual state Bicentennial date next December. Those celebrations are kicking off with ceremonies Monday to be held at McCormick Place and at municipal buildings across the state.
Are these suggested sites?

There will be a noon-hour flag raising ceremony across Illinois where a specially-designed Bicentennial flag will take place. Let’s hope that this ceremony, and the assorted proclamations that municipalities have been approving in acknowledgement, aren’t the extent to which most people pay tribute.

For as one proclamation read, “Illinois Bicentennial is a once-in-a-lifetime invitation to fall in love with Illinois all over again, and together we can inspire pride in Illinois and show the world what makes this state so great.”


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