Which just happens to be timely, because our fellow 66 blogger, Ron Warnick of Route 66 News, just passed along a Hertz NeverLost Tweet about Texas Monthly’s recent article on Amarillo’s famous Cadillac Ranch. If you’ve never seen it, the Cadillac Ranch is a kind of linear vehicular Stonehenge and celebration of automobilia, smack in the middle of a field just off Route 66, that is both a pop-art installation by the 1970s artists’ collective known as Ant Farm and a form of performance art, in that it invites participatory graffiti from its visitors. The 10 Cadillacs are all of tail-fin vintage, had to be relocated once due to the city’s expansion, and the whole thing is 40 years old now. Whoa.
A new historical mural for Flagg Creek Heritage Society is being painted on the sides of the society’s home and museum, which ought to improve the cinder-block building’s appearance no end. Chicago artist John Howard is hard at work on the mural even as you read this, executing the work on three sides of the building (for now, the back end and part of the north side will simply remain blank, painted with a pale yellow base coat). Howard began the work on July 1 and says he expects the work to be done by Labor Day, if not the end of August. FCHS has tentatively scheduled a dedication ceremony for Sunday afternoon, October 5th between 2 pm and 4 pm. More details on that later as they become available.
The historical society’s home is in Walker Park at 7425 S. Wolf Road, part of the Pleasant Dale Park District in Burr Ridge, just south of Joliet Road/Historic Route 66. Actually, the museum building is tucked in between the basketball courts and a children’s playground at the northern end of the field house’s north parking lot. Previously, if you didn’t know exactly where to find the museum – which, to be fair, looked like a storage hut or a cement garage – you might have easily missed it, given that the field house (better known as the rec center) has two parking lots, one on either side, and Walker Park is huge for a suburban park (check out the area on Google Maps satellite view here).
Just a couple of regular guys: muralist John Howard (L), at work on the wall, and our own Joe Kubal pose before the untitled mural. (Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)
Hello again, fellow roadies! Welcome back for part 2 of last weekend’s road trip to the greater Bloomington-Normal area in Central Illinois that brought me, Joe and Keith in search of a picnic and maple sirup, among other things. The great irony of that statement is that we didn’t go into either BloomingtonorNormal last weekend: instead, we focused on Funks Grove to the south of B-N and then hit Towanda and Lexington on the way back. And as you may have noticed in our last post, yours truly took plenty of pretty pictures.
Let’s take a look at a local map first, so that you can get your bearings. Going from northeast to southwest (westbound), Lexington and Towanda come first on Route 66, then Normal, then Bloomington, and then Shirley and Funks Grove. The next town over is Atlanta, where there has been significant preservation and renovation, but we’ll save that for another trip (ditto Bloomington-Normal and Shirley). If you look at the map below, Lexington is the first crescent-shaped bend on I-55 in the top right of the map, and Towanda is next flattened-crescent bend before you hit Normal. Funks Grove is toward the lower left, just above U.S. Route 136, at the oval light green patch that represents the Thaddeus Stubblefield Grove Nature Preserve and the other preserves of the ancient trees that make up the entire grove. Atlanta is the last shallow crescent on I-55 near the bottom of the map.
You never know when a relevant surprise is going to sneak up on you and bite you on the gluteus maximus (no, that’s not the name of a fictional gladiator; guess again). While working on tonight’s blog post, I have local public television on and as I’m trying to ignore the boring pledge week promos during the breaks, when I get a big surprise. No, it’s not the news that Pledge Week is over (please God; public television and public radio are well worthwhile investments and important to the community; but the very necessary pitches do tend to go on and on). And what’s the surprise? A WTTW special program about Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at Adams Street and Desplaines Street in the West Loop area, right on Route 66. It’s the oldest public building in Chicago, having survived the Great Chicago Fire That’s all they were showing tonight on channel 11 in the Chicago area from 7pm onward, two showings back to back. I just caught it by accident while channel surfing!
Having missed most of the first showing tonight (this is a brand-new program, and of course the station management saved it for the pledge drive, as they often do), I’ve scheduled it to tape to my DVR at 9pm. But what’s really cute is that Father Jack Wall, the former pastor who is mostly responsible for the church’s ongoing renovation that began back during the 1980s, is answering the phones and talking to people who pledge money to the station, as is the current pastor, the much younger Father Tom Hurley. Niiiiiice. Tonight’s volunteers manning the pledge phones are also folks from Old St. Pat’s. Way to go. Meanwhile, the breaks still last too long while the station people make their pitch again and again and again. Yada, yada, yada. Which is why I’ll be skipping all that when I play it back on my DVR. If you wish to donate to Chicago public TV, however, please do call WTTW at 773-588-1111.
It’s been a relatively cool, somewhat rainy summer this year in northern Illinois, but the payoff is in days that are more confortable for day-long road trips and in photos wherein the cloudy haze makes the images dreamier, with deeper colors than a normal summer. That was the case this weekend when your three scribes here cruised down to the Sugar Grove Nature Center in Thaddeus Stubblefield Grove Nature Preserve in Funks Grove, IL, a tiny unincorporated community that is barely a shout south of the Bloomington-Normal metro area. It’s so small that most of its postal addresses are listed in either nearby Shirley or McLean. Funks Grove is perhaps best known as the midpoint of Historic U.S. Route 66 in Illinois, which in these parts is also known as the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway – but it’s also home to a large, historic grove of sugar maples and white and bur oaks that is in itself a National Natural Landmark (yes, Virginia, there really is such a thing, as designated by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, and Funks Grove is one of 18 such sites in Illinois).
We’ll get to our purpose for being there – last Sunday’s annual picnic of the Route 66 Association of Illinois – later on. For now, let’s just say that even though the day was overcast and the threat of rain was ever present, the day trip turned out to be surprisingly satisfying as a photo shoot in addition to a good opportunity to renew some personal ties, make new friends, and eat like the happy carnivores that we are. We made stops not only in Funks Grove but also in Towanda (just northeast of Normal on Route 66) and Lexington (northeast of Normal, about as far from central Bloomington-Normal as is Funks Grove, but in the opposite direction).
Our news is not the only news when it comes to people taking the history of Route 66 seriously. We’ve just learned that the Illinois State Museum recently became the Illinois representative on the National Park Service’s Route 66 Archives and Research Collaboration (ARC), taking over from the Illinois State Library. ARC was founded by 10 institutions from the eight relevant states and the park service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program; one of those 10 founding organizations is the Illinois State Library, which, oddly enough, is part of the Illinois Secretary of State’s office (they do driver’s licenses and vehicle registration, among other things, so in a strange and indirect way, it still all comes back to road trips. If you want to see what resources the state library has about Route 66, look here).
According to the point man at the state museum – Dr. Robert E. Warren, who is curator of anthropology there – one of ARC’s main goals is to collect and preserve historical records about Route 66 and make them accessible to the public. ARC’s most recent annual meeting was held in June at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, which gave the attendees a chance to see the Autry’s new exhibit titled “Route 66: The Road and the Romance.” (For a look at what that exhibit is about, have a look at a video by Voice of America about the show on Ron Warnick’s excellent blog, Route 66 News, here.)
The Illinois State Museum in Springfield (Photo courtesy of the Illinois State Museum website)
One of the keys to preserving the route for future travelers is preserving its history. To a great extent, Route 66 – both the myth and the reality – is its history. History is part of the reason people travel this iconic road trip, as are the natural wonders of the landscapes, the unique attractions, the wide-open vistas and freedom of the open road, and the people on the route. To participate in Route 66 ARC is not only a great responsibility, then, but also an honor. Our hearty congratulations to Dr. Warren and the state museum!
Whoa. This year’s Illinois History Conference will have a panel on Route 66 – sounds like your scriveners here are going legit! Yes, fellow roadies, friends and neighbors, Joe, Keith and I had our proposal for a panel on Route 66 in Illinois accepted earlier this spring, and now we’re busy oranizing that for the history conference that will be held on Thursday and Friday, September 25-26 in Springfield, IL. Wheee!!! We’re so excited that the route is getting scholarly Respect in this manner (not to mention that we get to put in a modest plug for our in-progress Route 66 book). More important, it’s happening right before the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival car show in Springfield (it’s that very weekend), and anyone who’s coming to that and wants to attend our session at the conference can still register for it (see p. 2 of the downloadable PDF conference flyer).
Our panel session on Route 66 is scheduled on Friday, September 26 from 1:45 pm to 3:15 pm at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in downtown Springfield, just west of Historic U.S. Route 66/Business Interstate 55. That puts us just down the street from the Adams Street headquarters of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway. One-day registration for Friday’s sessions, which begin at 8:30 am, is $50 in advance, $55 on site. If you wish to attend the luncheon that day, that’s another $25; see the conference flyer for further details. But look at it this way: if you’re already going to be in Springfield for the Mother Road Festival, why not take in a session about Route 66, too? After all, how often do you get to do that?