One and Only Hippie Memorial
While he was alive, Bob Moomaw was Arcola's town crank. Not crazy-crank. Not village idiot-crank. A crank like Thomas Paine, Captain Nitwit, or Ski Demski: a patriotic thorn in the side of the powers that be. A guy who would defend with his life your right to flip him off, as well as his own right to paint incendiary slogans on his building located right on Main Street (which is why you flipped him off to begin with). A populist defending a populace that would just as soon he defend them from twenty miles down the road.
Bob Moomaw was also the creator of the world's only Hippie Memorial, an artwork some sixty-two feet long. Moomaw has been dead since 1998, but the Memorial still graces downtown Arcola.
Arcola is a mixing pot of Roadside Quikcrete. A few miles away is Rockome Gardens, the Amish Amusement Park, known for its Haunted Barn and buildings made from empty bottles of caffeine-free 7-Up and Fresca. It was the birthplace of Johnny Gruelle, creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy. A local museum, monument and yearly festival honors them. Arcola is the "Broomcorn Capital of the World." There is a gourmet French restaurant in a bowling alley (June 2005 - Oops, reported moved out of the bowling alley). This, in a town of 2,700 some forty miles from Champaign.
For many decades, Bob Moomaw lived and worked here. He served as a tax assessor and railroad clerk. He didn't like either job. His joy and duty was painting messages of alert on the side of a building that he owned. According to a Chicago Tribune story from 1993, the messages included: "America you're turning into a nation of minimum-wage hamburger flippers. Rebel. Think for yourself. It works!" And "Oh wretched world, more rank each day, and ruled by lunatics, the heroes have all gone away!" The messages changed several times a week, much like those on the outdoor signs of quirky motels, dry cleaners and churches.
He told the Tribune reporter: "My life has been the opposite of an adventure, it's been one long dental appointment broken up by episodes of nothing happening." Moomaw lost a leg to cancer in the late 80s and had bypass surgery just before starting the Hippie Memorial in 1992. In April 1998, Moomaw died of a heart attack, bequeathing the memorial to Gus Kelsey, a former Arcola hippie who had moved out of state. Kelsey refurbished it, and the city allowed it to be placed downtown, near the old railroad depot.
The artwork is 62 feet long, with each foot representing one year of Bob Moomaw's life. The first 26 feet include The Great Depression, World War II and 1950s hypocrisy. "The idea is that as my life passed through time, other people's junk stuck to me and made me what I am - the product of leftovers from a previous existence," Moomaw said.
The middle section is higher and more colorful, representing the Kennedy years and the coming of the hippies. It salutes their influence on freedom of expression and dissent. One of the metal pieces during this period is a personalized license plate reading "WOODSTC." Other scraps are brightly painted with many of the classic peace symbols, including the Vulcan double-fingered greeting from Star Trek. This colorful period runs some twenty feet, from 1960-1980, and presumably also includes Nixon, Viet Nam, Stagflation, the bear market of '74-75, and avocado green station wagons.
Small mindedness returned in 1980 with the election of Illinois native Ronald Reagan, and the last 18 feet are embedded with plain rusted scrap.
The work was dedicated at the first (and apparently only) Hippie Memorial Festival in June 1999. Plans to add a hippie movement flag, Volkswagen Beetle and a "twirling, three-sided neon peace sign" never got together, man.
Sharon Moomaw, Bob's wife, described the work in her dedication speech. It is reprinted on a large sign next to the memorial. This is good, because without it, a new visitor has no idea what is going on. For example, since his life post-hippie was nearly as long as his life pre-hippie, the higher, more colorful center section looks like a simple bow to symmetry -- a concept we would think foreign to Moomaw.
The speech also makes it clear that he was a pot-stirrer, not a pot-smoker. (Well, maybe he was that, too, but you know what we mean) "Was Bob Moomaw a hippie? NO. He did have a beard and a ponytail while attending the university. He was THERE at the same TIME and PLACE as the hippies were, but he was raising his children then…to his shame, he was no hippie."
Since he passed away, Moomaw's America has become a different place, as shown by a new memorial in Arcola. The Hippie Memorial is on Oak Street. Just over the railroad tracks on Chestnut Street is a big marble monument urging remembrance.
Dedicated on Memorial Day, 2002, a black marble globe sits on top. Below it are chiseled quotes from Generals Patton and MacArthur, the Bible, Walt Whitman and George Bush, cheering fighting men and women. On both sides is a photo-etched American flag, with "Arcola, Illinois" and the zip code beneath in big letters. A time capsule is buried, to be opened on Memorial Day, 2052. At the far end of the little park are two small benches. One reads "Always Remember Dec. 7, 1941," and the other reads "Always Remember Sept. 11, 2001."
Bob Moomaw might have hated this park, but he would have defended its creators. They, in turn, have defended his Memorial in his absence. Which makes for a cranks' gnash equilibrium - and another reason to visit Arcola.