Illinois Remembers: Observations Against The End of History
A recent jog through the middle of Illinois showed us one thing. This area remembers. Memorials are everywhere, and what is unique by our way of thinking is that many are new, not just unkempt pigeon-desecrated relics from a bygone gilded age.
We started in Plainfield. We had heard about plans for a monument saluting military servicemen and women who died during peacetime. We couldn't find it, though many directed us to an older monument for wartime fighting men and women.
They also directed us to the Tornado Memorial, dedicated to 29 people who lost their lives in August 1990, when a twister swept through the area. The monument is a black granite triangle, near the high school and obscured by trees. On the back, a detailed map laser-etched into the stone shows "The tornado's path of destruction."
Not much further south, on our way to photograph a historical marker detailing The Chatsworth Wreck of 1887, in which 85 people perished when a passenger train struck a burning culvert, we drove through the village of Bourbonnais. Which has its own train wreck memorial on South Main Street. On March 15, 1999, an Amtrak crash here killed 11 and injured more than 100. It is called "Children's Memorial," dedicated in March, 2000, and also honors "residents who died as children." Bricks in the walkway show the names of the beloved.
But the most striking local monument was on Chestnut Street. This was dedicated just last year, on Memorial Day, 2002, and is mainly fashioned of black granite. Two small benches form part of the work. One is inscribed "Always Remember Dec 7, 1941," and the other "Always Remember Sept 11, 2001."
Speeding west to see the grave of circus elephant Kay erected in Taylorville in 1994, we stopped numerous times to check out testaments large and small. Burma-Shave like signs advertise the website, "GunsSaveLives.com" and a field of small crosses represents "4500 Babies Aborted in the USA Each Day." Rocks with plaques show where Lincoln debated -- not just Douglas, but a host of patsies. On the radio, John Deere ads tell us "You put the zing in fertilizing," and both billboards and the radio warn us against overusing antibiotics. Everywhere, yellow ribbons are tied around trees and lampposts.
In Shelbyville, it all comes together. A classic courthouse square monument, dedicated in 1907 to the local Soldiers and Sailors of the Spanish-American, Civil, Mexican, 1812 and Revolutionary Wars, has been updated to include conflicts up through "Desert Storm." Beneath it, a new black marble pedestal hosts an eternal flame in "Freedom Square," and photo etchings of US Marines raising the flag at Mt. Suribachi and Gen. MacArthur walking ashore. Around the perimeter are dozens of flags, yellow ribbons tied around each pole.
The next day, we paid our respects at a second elephant grave, Norma Jean's in Oquawka, and tallied up shrines to Presidents Reagan and Lincoln, and Lorado Taft's statues of The Pioneers ("Subduers of the soil") and Chief Blackhawk.
By the time we got to Chicago, the Michigan Avenue statue of Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse, all by itself on the sidewalk -- a big blocky announcers desk, showing Brickhouse from the waist up -- doesn't seem that odd to us.
Dedicated in 2000, the statue has on the bottom, in brass, Brickhouse's catch phrase. This phrase is how future generations of Chicagoans will know him, and perhaps all you need from any memorial: "Hey-Hey"