Last day; a pasty mixture of sadness and relief. Sadness because our mobile merriment soon ends. Relief because by now we are bleeding from all orifices: too much fast food, too many eye-blistering wonders, too much butt time in bucket seats. Our brains swell near to bursting with important knowledge and insights.
Our Field of Dreams sojourn has positioned us perfectly for an early morning dash from the Mississippi to Max Nordeen's Wheels Museum. Max is one of RA's most colorful characters, still unappreciated after all these years. While we've kept in touch with Max virtually, this will be our first visit to his museum since 1991. He claims, as always, to have a bunch of new stuff to look at that "you won't see anywhere else."
We catch Max a little early, loping out into his front yard, face covered with shaving foam. The visual similarity to a rabid, unpredictable animal does not fail to escape us. Max, as always, is full of stories, which usually take some time to reach their point, and almost always revolve around the appraisal, acquisition, and ingratitude of the general public toward whatever sparkplug or miniature tractor or Zeppelin model he wants us to admire. As a result, we spend more time here than planned -- just like in 1991 -- but are rewarded with a peek into the Secret Life of Max Nordeen.
Otters in a Bank Lobby
They live in a concrete, water-filled pit in the center of the Union Federal Savings and Loan, right in the heart of downtown. Oscar and Andy, two male Nearctic American river otters, have been splashing in this climate-controlled play pool since 1991. They were brought here by the bank president, who thought that live otters -- an endangered species in Illinois -- would soften the button-down image of his bank. They were named by Kewanee school children.
Bank customers can peer into the pit to watch the otters splash and play with toys during normal business hours. For bank workers, there's the added bonus of big windows in the side of the pit, which offer those with desks in the basement a unique, half-submerged view. The otters are most active in the early morning. During our noontime visit, they are curled up and sleepy in a corner.
Live Otters in a Bank - Gone:
Address: 104 N. Tremont St., Kewanee, IL
Directions: Union Federal Savings & Loan. Downtown, at the corner of W. 1st and Tremont Sts.
Hog Capital of the World
For a claim this majestic (Chicago, after all, was the choice of Carl Sandburg), this town should build a better attraction. What they've got now is half of a life-size pig, sticking out of a brick doghouse, next to a sign announcing Kewanee's Hog Capital of the World Festival. They've hosted it, every year since 1953, the week before Labor Day. Its high point is the world's largest pork chop barbeque -- over 30,000 chops. We say, take some of that chop money, Kewanee, and build yourself a worthy pig.
Hog Capital of the World:
Address: 401 E. 3rd St., Kewanee, IL
Directions: Next to the fire dept.
Hours: October 2010 - Statue reported gone.
Lincoln Watermelon Monument
This is the dumbest thing we've seen on the Road Cheese Tour (quite an honor), and a fitting place to begin our audit of odd Abe Lincoln attractions. "The only city ever named for Abraham Lincoln with his personal consent" sports this downtown monument in the shape of a life-size, ear-to-ear watermelon slice, celebrating the day in 1853 when the future 16th President christened his namesake community with melon juice. In agreeing to lend his name to this place, Honest Abe remarked: "Never knew anything named Lincoln that amounted to much." The watermelon slice was erected in 1964 by the combined efforts of Lincoln Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions clubs.
Lincoln Watermelon Monument:
Address: 101 N. Chicago St., Lincoln, IL
Directions: I-55 exit 126 onto Hwy 10, right at 2nd light, left at next light onto 5th St. This bends to the left and changes to Logan - stay on it. Make quick right onto Broadway. Monument is in front of McCarty's at the Depot restaurant at the railroad tracks, corner of Broadway and Chicago Sts.
30-Ft-Tall Skinny Lincoln
This clean-shaven statue of Young Mr. Lincoln stands in front of the Illinois Exhibits building at Gate 1 of the State Fair Grounds. He stands about 30 feet tall and is very thin. He hefts an ax -- the statue is named "The Rail Splitter" -- and dates from 1968, when he was built by Carl W. Rinnus, a Springfield native.
30-Foot-Tall Skinny Abe Lincoln Statue:
Address: E. Sangamon Ave., Springfield, IL
Directions: North side of the city. On E. Sangamon Ave., just inside Gate 1 of the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
The Leech Lady
The Pearson Museum at Southern Illinois University is an academic medical exhibit in the spirit, if not the size, of Philadelphia's Mütter Museum. Curator Barbara Mason ("The Leech Lady" as we call her) makes this place sizzle, with her perky tour and stories on a variety of topics: leeches, of course; and bloodletting, human body parts on display, and how mail used to be disinfected to prevent the spread of disease.
Also in town, our second exciting bank lobby exhibit of the day: The Lincoln Ledger, at Bank One of Springfield. In a town that lives off the legacy of the Great Emancipator, this is the exhibit to see -- a bank ledger with Lincoln's account in it. " Lincoln banked here."
It's a long cross-state drive to Charleston and our last major target. The lack of Roadside sights along the way may be a failing of the region, or our own weariness at effective course-plotting. We're down to one roll of film, 10 seconds of blank videotape ... so it's just as well. But the opportunity to hurtle uninterrupted across the flat farmlands is foiled by attentive local law enforcement. Our first speeding ticket of the hypertour -- and without the influence of a Hawkwind tape.
A worthy attraction we've visited before, Rockome Gardens in Arcola, is closed by the time we blow past it. Check out their Fresca bottle house.
World's Largest and Ugliest Lincoln Statue
This immense statue was built in 1969 and stood in a campground adjacent to the Charleston Speedway until the camp closed in 1996.
Now the area is overgrown and the camp's buildings, roads, and waterways are falling apart. A helpful guy living in a trailer at the Speedway points us to a hole in the fence, so we take this as a kind of permission to explore. The Lincoln is farther away than he at first seems. There's evidence that this place used to be a theme park, with illegibly faded signs and the tumbled skeletons of snack stands.
Abe is skyscraper tall -- 72 feet from boot heel to top of head -- skinny and ugly. And he's getting uglier. His paint is flaking badly, there's a crater in his left heel, and one of his fingers was reportedly blown off by a lightning bolt. What appears at first to be an oversized version of Abe's trademark mole turns out to be a large caliber bullet hole in his right cheek.
[More on Largest Lincoln Statue]
There goes the sun. Another hypertour is history. Heading north to Chicago to complete our loop, a distant Smiley Face Water Tower seems to wink at us in the fading light. It's in Watseka, on US Rt. 24, but we don't stop. Someone else can check that one out.