In October of 1910, Teddy Roosevelt Came to Peoria and Left a Lasting Mark.

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By Ken Zurski

When the Peoria Park District was formed in 1893, the newly commissioned Parks Board set out to buy land and create public spaces that were not only scenic but easily accessible. The high bluff along the river on the north side of town was an ideal setting. But it was brutally steep and quite dangerous to traverse. The trolley car could access it from the top, but from the bottom, along the riverbank, the bluff was nearly impossible to reach. A path was needed so people could enjoy both the vista and the shore.

Plans were made, but it went slowly. By the time it was ready to build, nine years later, there were far more vehicles on the road. The winding path would have to be wide enough for automobiles too. Even its name was based on people using a “motor” rather than “foot” power to transport them up the side of the hill.

It was decided it would be called a “drive,” not a walkway. Even the name, chosen after a community contest was fitting: Grand View Drive.

Nearly a decade after opening, in October of 1910, Grand View Drive was about to be christened forever by a popular former president.

Theodore Roosevelt loved everything about the outdoors, so it was no surprise that he was quite pleased when, during a visit to Peoria, he was offered a chance to see the city in an open car. Roosevelt had just returned from a nearly yearlong trip to Europe and Africa where, in between big game hunts, he stewed over reports that his handpicked successor for president, William Howard Taft, was wrecking reform policies Roosevelt had fought so dearly to initiate and protect.

While still deep in the African jungle, Roosevelt received a letter that his friend, Gifford Pinchot, the longtime Secretary of Forestry had been fired by Taft for speaking out against a corporate land grab in Alaska orchestrated by the Taft Administration. That was enough for Roosevelt. He returned home and set out to embarrass Taft, fight for progressive ideals, support reform candidates in the midterm elections, and, unbeknownst to him at the time, spearhead a movement supporting another run for the presidency.

In the fall of 1910, he began a speaking tour in the Midwest which included rallies in bigger cities like St Louis and Indianapolis. In between stops, Roosevelt was asked by his friend Bishop John Spalding to come to Peoria. Fortunately for Peorians, politics wasn’t the only thing on the former president’s agenda that day.

Upon arriving in Peoria by train on October 12, a Wednesday, Roosevelt was given a hero’s parade down Adams Street. School children lined the streets waving American flags. Teddy regaled them with a wave and smile from his perch on a Peoria made Glide automobile.

Roosevelt and Bishop Spalding in the back seat of a Glide on Adams Street in Peoria

After leaving the crowds behind, the procession turned onto Grand View Drive for the trip up the hill where a luncheon was planned at the Peoria Country Club. According to the Peoria Journal-Transcript, at some point, Roosevelt told the driver to stop. Roosevelt stood up and said: “Great, that’s fine.” He then turned to his car mates and told them that the view reminded him of his home along the banks of Oyster Bay (on the north shore of New York’s Long Island). According to the Journal-Transcript, that is all he said before taking his seat again and motioning the driver to continue.

The rest of Roosevelt’s visit to Peoria was typical over the top political fare. “Take down the jackpotters,” Roosevelt shouted to a packed hall during a talk that evening. “Jackpotters,” in his words, referred to those who dishonorably profited off their political position and power. “Take down the jackpotters,” he kept repeating to wild applause. The crowd was clearly on his side.

Later, after Roosevelt was gone, a quote emerged attributed to the ex-president that seemed to validate the city’s desirability.  “I have traveled all over the world,” he reportedly said, “and this is the world’s most beautiful drive.”

He was referring to Grand View Drive.

Whether he said those exact words is not entirely known, but he certainly enjoyed the view.  Plus, he was riding in a vehicle and on a paved and wide road that went up the side of a hill. All of this impressed him. “Great. That’s fine” he said.

In addition, it was October, a peak month for fall colors.  So if he did at some point add “this is the world’s most beautiful drive,” who could argue?

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Today, the saying is a part of the city’s lore. In fact, the four words “World’s Most Beautiful Drive” are often capitalized thanks to Peoria’s oldest radio station. As the legend goes, the station managers picked their call letters WMBD as an acronym of Roosevelt’s words. It’s a great story, but disputed. Most likely, the letters were just a random pick and the acronym connection came later. Regardless, many people still ask:  Do you know what WMBD stands for?

“Sure, perhaps some of that hyperbole was intended to curry favor with the local population,” reporter Nick Vlahos wrote in 2018 in the Peoria Journal Star. “But then as now, apparently, Peorians certainly weren’t immune to flattery when it comes to the virtues of their hometown.”

“If one of the men on Mount Rushmore thought Grandview Drive was above average,” Vlahos adds, “that’s worth noting every day.”

It’s especially noted in Peoria every October when cars line up along Grand View Drive to experience the “World’s Most Beautiful Drive.”

(Some of the text was reprinted from Peoria Stories: Tales from the Illinois Heartland “A Motor Bug’s Delight” by Ken Zurski https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1937484238/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1 )

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(Sources: Nick Vlahos Peoria Journal Star October 12, 2018 https://www.pjstar.com/news/20181012/nick-in-am-tr-christens-worlds-most-beautiful-drive-108-years-ago-today).

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Joliet’s Lois Delander: The First ‘Miss America’ Winner from Illinois

By Ken Zurski

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In 1927, the sixth year of the Miss America pageant, a beauty contest for teenage girls held each year from the glamorous Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic city, New Jersey, the winner was an unsuspecting charmer from Illinois.

Lois Eleanor Delander of Joliet, the 17-year-old daughter of a city clerk, had her high school ballet teacher to thank for encouraging her to compete in a local contest. The Illinois judges were easily impressed. Lois had intellect and beauty.  She was an honor student who studied Latin and was said to be a whiz at music memory games.

She was also straight as a ruler. “My lips have never touched coffee or tea,” she told them.

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Five feet four-and-a-half inches tall and slender for the time, she had sparkling blue eyes and blond “un-bobbed” hair.

“She never smoked,” the papers read.

Delander was soft spoken and quietly motivated, unlike past winners like the first Miss America Margaret Gorman (Miss Washington D.C.), who was just a week over 15-years-old and still today is the shortest Miss America winner at 5 foot 1 inch. Gorman apparently dominated the others with her delightful personality.

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Margaret Gorman

Gorman’s victory set the standard for the next several pageants to come. Young girls, exuding charm, cutesy smiles, and solid moral upbringings passed the judges litmus test and scored big. It was the early 1920’s after all. Women’s liberation and feminism was beginning to beckon, but still not widely accepted. Innocence, not independence, won beauty pageants.

In 1927, Delander had a more modest approach. “It’s all like a wonderful dream,” she politely told reporters shortly after arriving. “This is the first time I have seen an honest-to-goodness ocean.”

Unlike other contestants, expectations in  Delander’s own mind were low. She didn’t think she had a chance to win and vowed to make it a learning experience instead. But the excitement didn’t last. She sorely missed home. She missed her family, her school and her classmates. Refusing to quit, however, Delander endured the week with grace, but never considered herself a front runner.  On the night of the big announcement she packed her suitcase early and prepared to leave soon after another girl was crowned.

This is not to say that Delander had a bad week. She was a delight to the judges and as one onlooker described, quite amorously, “looked great in a red and blue swimsuit.”  During the question and answer session Delander was asked what she wants to do with her life. “I wish to be an artist,” she proclaimed.  The humble response came after nearly half of the other girls said they wanted to be an aviator and “hero,” like Charles Lindbergh, who had just made an unprecedented solo jaunt over the Atlantic in May of that same year. (Apparently Amelia Earhart – who would be lost forever in a solo flight ten years later – wasn’t the only woman who had such lofty aspirations).

Yes, in fact, Lois Delander, Miss Illinois, had a very good week indeed. And although she may not have known it, or cared, she was very much in the running to be the next Miss America.  Despite this fact, she packed her bags for an early exit.

As dozens of hopefuls stood on stage, two cards were drawn out of the “Golden Apple” shaped container. Five finalists had already been chosen and Delander was one. The five girls stood shoulder-to-shoulder in anticipation as the top two names were read aloud. The first name called was Miss Dallas, she was the runner up. The next name was the winner: Lois Delander.

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Surprised, Delander smiled and accepted the award.  She clearly didn’t mind the accolades, despite the reservations. “I am so excited that I cannot say much,” she told the press. “I want to thank the pageant committee for the kindness they have shown me. I shall try all through the year to do honor to the title which I bear.”  She meant it. That was expected of her. But her next comments came straight from the heart. “Now I must rush home and take up my studies,” she said. “You see I’m a junior in high school and certainly want to finish my course.”

And she wasn’t kidding.

The next day, possibly that very evening, Delander and her chaperone mother were steaming by rail back to Joliet.

Goodbye Atlantic City.

And, at least initially, goodbye to the Miss America pageant.

After Delander’s victory, the Atlantic city hotel owners who sponsored the event decided by an overwhelming majority to shut the beauty contest down.  While their initial reasons for starting such an event was to encourage more traffic through their doors, the clientele was not to their liking. They preferred patrons that spent more money. But that was just their pocketbooks talking.

The most glaring concern was in the pageant itself, specifically the girls and their attitudes. Delander, of course, was the exception, but many of the participating “beauties” were stretching their womanly limits, or at least what was expected of them, by pushing away proprietary attitudes and liberating themselves from male seniority. Basically, they were demanding more rights and engaging in mostly male activities – like smoking.

As one historian put it, the 1920’s woman was “frank, socially liberated, hedonistic, and reckless.” The friendlier side of Atlantic City, with the beaches, amusements and carnival atmosphere, looked bad because of it, the hotel owners surmised. They started this madness, they clamored, so they could stop it.

So they did.

But America didn’t want it to go away. Delander was a popular winner and beauty pageants across the country were gaining notoriety and more interest. The one in Atlantic City was easily the most recognizable.

In 1933, the five year hiatus ended.  The Miss America pageant was revived by the mayor and City Council of Atlantic City. The hotel owners still refused to support it and watched in delight as a hastily planned and shoddy production almost brought the whole enterprise down for good.  The pageant went on hiatus again in 1935.  It was obvious something needed to change. Two years later, in 1937, after a complete revision, the pageant gained its footing and never looked back.

Lois Delander of Joliet never looked back either. She lived a rather normal life after her 1927 victory, although she was treated like a movie star in her hometown.  Naturally,  she did her diligent best to live up to the crown’s duties although back then the Miss America title didn’t come with the same prestige and year-round personal obligations as it does today. Later, Delander married a stockbroker, had three children, and never left Illinois.

She died in Chicago in 1985 at the age of 73.

Still, thanks to the pageant shutdown, Delander holds the dubious distinction of having the longest reign as Miss America, five years.

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The ‘Disney Rash.’ Is it really a thing? I asked.

By Ken Zurski

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The “Disney Rash,” as it is called, is a real honest to goodness thing.

Never heard of it? Neither had I.

But for the thousands who flock to the Disney theme parks every year, it’s a reality – or memory – they would like to forget.

Let’s clarify:  Just going to a Disney theme park does not necessarily procure health problems (although some kids – or adults  – who are excited with anticipation to get there may say otherwise. A “Disney Fever,” perhaps?).  No, the “Disney Rash” has some science behind.

First, the”Disney Rash” is not it’s official name.  However, the disorder has become so commonly associated with the Disney theme parks that it has taken on the brand. As for the “rash” part? It has nothing to do with the attitudes of those waiting in long lines. It’s truly a skin rash, plain and simple.

The “Disney Rash” is caused by the sun mostly and heat and sweat and exposure to skin specifically on the legs, most commonly on the ankles. It’s official medical term is Vasculitis, which covers a wide variety of inflammation issues.  The kind that Disney tourists experience is specific.  It’s exacerbated by exercise.  For example, walking or hiking for an extended period of time would do the trick.  In fact, before Disney took the name it was also known as golfer’s or hikers rash.

Here’s the symptoms. After prolonged exercise in heat, blood vessels of the lower legs are exposed and become inflamed causing tiny itchy red dots to develop. Many people do a lot of walking in the Disney theme parks (many do more walking there than they would anywhere else) so the connection makes sense. The rash lasts for about a week and the best way to get rid of it is to avoid exercise and stay out of the heat.

Humidity appears to be a factor too, since more cases are reported in Disney World in Orlando, Florida than Disney Land in Anaheim, California. Some have been even more specific and call it the “Epcot Rash” just to differentiate between the two. (Epcot Center is exclusive to Disney World).

Disney can rest assured knowing that large crowds and germs – which is another matter entirely – are not the cause of the “Disney Rash.”  Even in the park, at the medical tents, diagnosing the problem is pretty quick and treated with anti-itch lotion for temporary relief.

According to a story on a travel “planning tips” blog site, when a concerned Disney park patron went to a first aid center to show them the tiny red dots that unexpectedly popped up on their legs, they were told matter of factually: “You have the Disney Rash.” So even Disney park employees acknowledge the condition by it’s adopted name.

So besides not going to the actual park and walking in the heat, how do you avoid the “Disney Rash?” According to experts, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids (that’s standard). Also wear long pants or knee high socks with shorts.

As for the long pants part, you might want to ask one of Disney’s most famous employees about that…

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Two Legendary ‘Double’ LP’s Ushered in the 80’s

By Ken Zurski

The end of the 1970’s, specifically the end of 1979, was a very good time for music lovers.

Two albums – both double disc packages – were released only weeks apart from each other that even today, 39 years past, are still considered two of the most influential albums of all time.

Both albums were released in the U.S. in the final months of 1979, and due to their late arrival that year are widely considered to be successes in the 1980’s instead. Regardless of which decade they belong, both have a place in rock n roll history and both deserve recognition for being musically experimental and risky too –  after all they were double albums, meaning you got double the music, but paid nearly double the price.

On December 14, 1979, the British group The Clash released their third album titled “London Calling.” Right off the shelves, the album cover itself was striking. It featured an action shot of Joe Strummer in a leaning stance, holding a guitar by the neck and ready to smash it to pieces. It captured a moment of pure rock n roll explosiveness.  It also conveyed the group’s reputation as rebellious and unflinching.

The music inside was just as good.

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The album sold as expected, reaching #27 on the US Billboard charts, and doing even better overseas. Critics adored it calling it a “masterpiece” and placing it on Top Ten lists of the year for both 1979 and 1980.

As albums go, before the digital age, it is considered a work of genius, conceptually too. Most double albums seemed overextended and unnecessary. “London Calling” was different. It was a complete work of art, from the music to the package. And that cover? Iconic. And although music itself is always subjective, most rock historians agree, “London Calling’ is a classic in the true sense of the word.  Today, it is the 6th most ranked record on critics’ lists of the all-time greatest albums according to Acclaimed Music. The Clash would go on to have bigger selling albums and singles, but for both musicianship and inventiveness, “London Calling’s” legacy is solid.

Several weeks before “London Calling” dropped, on November 30, another double album was released.  Unlike the Clash’s dramatic action shot on the cover, the front of this album was simple in design: a drawing of a white brick wall. But that was it. There was no writing on the wall, so to speak. If not for a transparent naming sticker attached to the cover, there was no other way of knowing who was responsible until you turned the album around.

The band, of course, was Pink Floyd and the work was appropriately titled, “The Wall.”

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Pink Floyd was an established band, known for its conceptual albums, and “The Wall,” their 11th release, was no exception. It was however, their first double LP and the reaction to its apparent expansiveness was mixed. “I’m not sure whether it’s brilliant or terrible, but I find it utterly compelling,” was the response from Melody Maker.

Despite the tepid response from critics, the album was a instant best seller, topping the charts in multiple countries, including the US.

Today, it is considered a classic that has stood the test of time. The album, along with several songs like “Another Brick in The Wall Part II” and “Comfortably Numb,” are rock radio staples and a movie of the album’s concept about a drugged out rock n roller who figuratively builds a wall around his troubled life, was released in 1982. Recent tours of “The Wall,” with varying members of the band participating, are huge successes  It still has legs, they say in the business.

The album’s initial release in late November, however was marred by tragedy when on December 3, 1979, eleven people were killed, crushed to death in a stampede, before a Who concert in Cincinnati.  Just days before, in reviews, the comparisons of the dark and satirical “The Wall” to the Who’s classic double album rock opera “Tommy” was justified, but purely coincidental, considering the circumstances.

The Who were not held directly responsible for the deaths of the concertgoers, but it didn’t matter. The industry as a whole took a hit. After the tragedy, the rock world paused to mourn, reflect, regroup, and eventually move on.

Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was a part of that.

A week later, on December 14, The Clash’s “London Calling” was released.

Bring on the 80’s.

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The Hits and Misses of Updating the Holy Bible

By Ken Zurski

In 1929, a showcase 18-hole golf course opened in an unincorporated grassy area southwest of Chicago, Illinois known as Navajo Fields, named,  of course, for its earliest residents.

The Navajo Fields Golf Course proved to be a player’s delight, including its most  challenging hole number four.  Although the reason why the fourth hole’s play  was such a challenge is not exactly known, it certainly earned a dubious reputation at the time. Despite  the toughness of the course, however, the clubhouse was decorative and cozy with several steeple ceilings and large bay windows. It served many banquets for groups who traveled out of Chicago’s fancy hotels and convention halls for a gathering in a more secluded setting.

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Navajo Fields Golf Course and clubhouse

By the early 1950’s, Navajo Fields was one of the premium golf courses in the Chicago area and each spring  excited players lined up to tee off. “The prolonged coating of snow during the winter has had the effect of preserving the turf, “ course officials bragged to the Blue Island Sun Standard in 1953. “The course is in beautiful shape this year.”

Even hole number four, which “plagued many golfers,” was changed. “It has been rebuilt and enlarged and the hole will have an alternate tee.”

Several years later, in 1959, the area surrounding the golf course was incorporated and renamed Palos Heights, a small suburb of Chicago with only four square miles of land and water (Lake Katherine), but today boasts nearly 5,000 mostly upscale homes in neatly designed subdivisions.

Also that year, the privately funded Trinity Christian College bought the Navajo Fields grounds, including the two buildings. The golf course was subsequently closed.  The old clubhouse was remodeled and became the school’s administration building, while the pro shop became the music building. The unaccredited college opened that fall with 37 students and 5 full time faculty members.

Then in 1965, the college hosted a special meeting of religious leaders to discuss a proposal to change the Old English wording of Bible. Specifically, to make the King James Version easier to read, more understandable and sustainable to long-term teaching. They gathered in the old clubhouse building and came up with a plan.

1B1Here’s why:  In 1952, a Revised Standard Version of the Bible was released by the National Council of Churches, the ecumenical body of mainline Protestant denominations in the United States. Opponents of the new version, mostly hardliner Protestant conservatives, more commonly known as Evangelicals, refused to adopt it, sticking with the original King James version for scripture readings instead. But change was needed. So the Evangelical council along with the Christian Reformed Church, a group founded by Dutch immigrants, who were also looking for a more streamlined and Americanized version of the Bible, came to Palos Heights.

Why they chose a small christian college in Illinois is curious, but understandable. It was discreet and private, yes, but also represented the type of educational institution a translated bible would benefit the most. Plus, if it didn’t go as planned, no one would know. Not much was publicized while the work commenced. A New York group would fund the project.

This reticent attitude is likely due to the monumental challenge and possible backlash for such an undertaking.  The Revised Standard Version was widely considered to be the first time the King James version had been extensively tinkered with since the early 17th century. But that was not entirely true.

In the early 19th century, Noah Webster, yes, the dictionary guru, also wanted to change the King James Version of the Holy Bible. He had a different agenda, however. He hated what the majesty’s version stood for. Not the religious aspect, that was fine, but it was too British, too overbearing, offensive and insulting.  So Webster set out to make it more American, and the language, more like Americans speak. This is what Americans wanted, he thought.

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Noah Webster

He was wrong.  While his intentions were noble enough, the King James Version even after the end of British rule, continued to be accepted in America. Webster refused to back down. He went to work changing words he didn’t like and fixing grammar problems he called “atrocious.”

Webster’s “Holy Bible … with Amendments of the Language” or “Common Version” appeared in 1833. It was a colossal failure. A big, wordy waste of time, many thought. So dismissed, that a year later in 1834, Webster put out another book, an apology of sorts, but defending the Bible’s message and Christianity as a whole. Even at the age of seventy, he emphasized the importance of its completion. “I consider this emendation of the common version as the most important enterprise of my life,” he said.

Webster was off by nearly a hundred years.

By the mid 20th century, large church denominations were opening privately funded colleges and teaching the word of the Bible to students in hopes of sparking a revolution in religious educators and young pastors. The King James version of the Bible needed a revision. The Revised Standard Edition was a start. But the Evangelicals thought they could do better. So in Palos Heights, they came up with imperatives. For one, they needed more denominations to join in. They also needed a slew of scholars from around the world to participate. This unity -and variety  – would safeguard it from sectarian bias, they thought, something  the Revised Standard Edition did not do.  Soon enough they assembled a team of scholars from a group of churches:  Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Church of Christ, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, among others. The next year, at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, they put their plan to work.

According to the Preface of the New International Version, the detailed process went like this:

The translation of each book was assigned to a group of scholars. Next, one of the Intermediate Editorial Committees revised the initial translation, with constant reference to the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Their work then went to one of the General Editorial Committees, which checked it in detail and made another thorough revision. This revision in turn was carefully reviewed by the Committee on Bible Translation, which made further changes and then released the final version for publication.

Among the many changes, old verbs like “doest,” “wouldest” and “hadst” were tossed out and replaced. Pronouns like “Thou” and “Thine” – referring to the Deity – were also considered too archaic. “If there was uncertainty about such material, it is enclosed in brackets,” explained the Committee on Bible Translation. “Also for the sake of clarity or style, nouns, including some proper nouns, are sometimes substituted for pronouns, and vice-versa.”

Among the more interesting added features were the italicized sectional headings. This is the one part of the new work that was wholly generated by present day writers. They are simple chapter titles designed to give the reader quick reference in themes. For example, in the Book of John some of the headings include, Jesus Walks on Water and The Plot to Kill Jesus.

1B1.jpgIt took nearly 10 years and several revisions before the New International Version was published in 1978 and although slight additions and subtractions would come later,  the original vision remains the same. “The most massive and painstaking literary tour de force in history,” one newspaper writer enthused upon its initial release.

Dr . Burton L Goddard, a theologian who worked on the new Bible was grateful, but relieved. “We all acknowledge this to be the hardest work we have ever known,” he expressed.

Trinity Christian College still sits on the grounds of the old golf course in Palos Heights. In 1966, the board initiated the process for the college to become a four-year, degree-granting institution. The first baccalaureate degrees were awarded in May 1971. More buildings were added but many were built similar in style to original clubhouse. Today it’s still considered a small school by college standards, with just over 1500 in enrollment.

In 1983, during a new printing of the New International Version a line was added to the Preface to reflect a very Christian-like humble attitude: “Like all translations of the Bible, made as they are by imperfect man, this one undoubtedly falls short of its goals.”

Oh, the anxieties of high expectations.

Kind of like playing golf.

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Tragically, Red Bud and Washington Share the Date 11/17

By Ken Zurski

The town of Red Bud, Illinois sits in northwest Randolph County on the far southwestern part of the state along Illinois State Route 3, a scenic byway that’s part of the Great River Road, a long designated drive that follows the banks of the Mississippi River from Minnesota south to the Gulf of Mexico. Due to practicality it would seem, the River Road branches off the Mississippi banks just south of St. Louis.  Then it extends eastward for about a 100 miles before looping back to join the river’s shoreline again in Chester, Illinois.

Red Bud is in the middle of this inland path, about 30 miles east of the river. So comparative to the more picturesque Mississippi shore, the deviated route that passes through Red Bud is pastoral enough, but nothing special.  In fact, on an official site map for the Great River Road and its attractions, among the hundreds of interesting places to visit, Red Bud is not listed as one of them.

Those who live there, however, would say otherwise.

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Red Bud’s history reads like many other cities of its size and location. A rouge pioneer happens upon the land and builds a log cabin. He begins to farm and soon other settlers are coming for similar reasons. A school is built along with several businesses. In 1847, the first public lots are sold and homes are constructed.  On each landowners plot there’s a distinctive feature, a colorful tree, known as a redbud.  The stout tree, with its distinctive pink and red leaves that bloom during the spring before turning green in the summer, is what the town is named after.

In 1867, Red Bud was chartered.

In 1875 it officially became a city.

Less than 20 years later, in 1892, it was nearly wiped off the map.

The date was November 17.

Whoosh!

It was 3:30 in the morning on November 17, 1892 when the distant rumble of thunder awakened the less hardy sleepers. Streaks of lightening were then followed by an awful rush of wind. Suddenly, timbers began cracking in succession and flew like sharpened arrows in all directions. Horses neighed in terror.

Frightened by the sickening sounds of rushing wind and startled animals, townspeople huddled inside their homes and watched in horror as their roofs and walls blew out. They held on for dear life as everything around them was swept up by the mighty wind.

Then in a whoosh it was gone, followed by an eerie silence.

At first light, the devastation was apparent. “Where Wednesday night stood a beautiful city, full of happy homes,” the Rolla New Missouri reported, “there is to-day a scene of wreck and desolation. Houses, barns, fences and orchards are leveled to the earth and spread over the surrounding country. The scene is difficult to describe. The streets when lit up the first streaks of dawn presented a pitiable scene of ruin.”

The search for survivors commenced at dawn. “The streets were blocked with the debris of the storm’s wreck and for some time it was impossible to get an accurate list of the sufferers of the terrible visitation.” the paper read. One thing however was painfully clear. “The number of houses wrecked by the storm is fairly complete.”

What the searchers found, however, was surprising.

While the loss of just one life constitutes a tragedy, the number of dead was far less than expected. A woman referred to in the papers as Mrs. Jacob Koch and her 11-year-old son were so badly injured, went the report, “they will likely die.” Sadly they did. But they were the only two casualties. While many were injured, and some may have later succumbed to their injuries, the mother and child were listed as the only victims of the “terrible twister.”

Most of the other residents, however, while fortunate to survive, were left homeless. Describing one structure as “handsome and solid” before the storm, the paper remarked: “[The residence] was crumbled to a shapeless mass as though it had been a toy house, with scarcely one stone standing above another over the foundation. The destruction was complete.”

Eighty-four buildings in all were destroyed leaving a town not just in utter destruction, but “utter desolation,” the papers reported.

The town’s rebirth is also a remarkable story. In the months and years that followed, the people of Red Bud banded together and rebuilt their homes and their lives. Even the beautiful redbud trees, the ones lost in the raging cyclone, were replaced.

Red Bud literally regrew.

Devastating!

More than 120 years later, in 2013, on the same date, November 17, during a seasonally warm Sunday morning, a tornado ripped through the town of Washington, Illinois. While sirens warned those it was coming, where it would end up and how powerful it would be could only be answered after the twister had cut a destructive path through a tightly packed neighborhood. “Utter destruction,” was a term used again to describe the widespread damage. Large lumber piles sat where mid-sized homes once stood.

The story of the Washington tornado, like Red Bud’s, is a tragic one. One man was killed in the storm and several more later died from injuries.

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We know the Washington story well. In the modern day era of social media, instant messaging, and uploaded videos, almost everyone could share in some sense at least, the terror of those few horrifying minutes when the twister barreled through. Now a year later, residents are rebuilding their homes and getting on with their lives. Washington’s spirit lives, like Red Bud’s did over a century ago.

Today, Red Bud does not commemorate the deadly tornado of 1892. It’s just too far removed. But it’s still listed in Illinois history books as one of the most damaging in the state’s history. There are others that have been more deadly, but in comparison to time, and in terms of destruction, it was devastating.

Freakish!

Perhaps what did not change after all these years are the twisters themselves; menacing in size and fury, unsuspecting and weirdly confusing. “Some of the freaks of the storm were marvelous,” the papers described in 1892. “Here a house was literally lifted from the ground and scarce a vestige of it left, while a neighboring residence seemed to have escaped with comparatively little injury.”   That report from Red Bud, could have been also been written about Washington. In both cases, in freakish instances, a home on one side of the street was completely leveled while a structure on the other side was left unscathed.

Red Bud and Washington didn’t pick the date, November 17, but the two are forever linked by that day, over a century apart, when a tornado came to their respective towns and changed lives forever.

(Originally published 11/17/2014)

 

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Why America’s Largest Roadside Cross Isn’t Any Higher

By Ken Zurski

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“Cross at the Crossroads”

Although it already stands an impressive 198 feet tall and 113 feet wide, the largest roadside cross in America located in Effingham, Illinois and called “Cross at the Crossroads,” could have been higher.

In fact, the sky’s the limit for any foundation that would like to build a cross taller than the “Cross at the Crossroads,” but one thing so far has stood in the way: Principle.

Well, that and the FAA.

Not that the FAA is discouraging anyone from building a cross taller than 200 feet, but if you do, by regulation, a rotating aviation beacon light must be on its top. Something at least to this point no one is prepared to do. “There’s no way in heck that we would put a light on the top” a volunteer worker in Effingham explains.  Similar resistance have come from other groups who built large religious symbols like the cross in Groom, Texas which stands 196 feet tall and the “Christ of the Ozarks” statue in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is only 66 feet tall.

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“Christ of the Ozarks”

Even RoadsideAmerica.com recognizes this obvious limitation: “We’ve always thought this regulatory height barrier established an intriguing line of demarcation between worldly safety and spiritual salvation,” they wrote in a review. “The bigger the cross, the more likely it is noticed, and the higher rate of conversion.”

By conversion they mean the percentage of people who might see the cross and become good Christians, a reason why the cross in Effingham was built in the first place.

But its location, in the middle of the heartland, helps the cause:  “Thrusting heavenward out of easy-to-reach flat farmland, the cross seems even bigger than it already is, an effect not enjoyed by some other crosses that were unwisely built on distant hills.” (RoadsideAmerica.com)

Built in 2001 by the Cross Foundation, the “Cross at the Crossroads” depends mostly on donations to help pay for maintenance costs, including a “substantial electric bill for lighting,” which of course illuminates the cross at night.

But only from the bottom up.

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