These days, Illinois gets a bad rap. Of course, depending on who’s doing the bad-rapping, that could be ascribed as a honor. (Lookin’ at you, current occupant of the White House.) You name it, we are insulted for it. Underfunded pension funds. High tax rates. Crooked politicians. (Okay, maybe we deserve that—given the historical rate at which our governors wind up as convicted felons.) But I figure if you don’t live in Illinois, you really don’t have the right to cast aspersions. (Glass houses and all that). The fact of the matter is that Illinois is one of the states that is least dependent on the federal government—#46—and a state that sends a ton of money to D.C.—money which then gets sent along to other states who are far more dependent on the federal teat. States like—oh, let me not get started dissing other states. I love ‘em all. As I should. We are the United States of America, after all. Anyway, why should you believe me? I’m not an economist. You can check it out here. And this isn’t meant to be Boosterism Central. I just want to celebrate Illinois, my home sweet home, in a literary fashion.
And what better way to start but with the weird stuff… as lovingly compiled by Troy Taylor in a fabulous tome entitled—what else?—Weird Illinois. Every state has its oddities, oddballs, and outlandish occurrences (the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas comes to mind), but Illinois can definitely claim some bragging rights in all three categories and Taylor puts them on display. For example, whereas Kansas may have its twine, Illinois has the world’s largest catsup bottle (or do you spell it ketchup?) Whatever—there it is on page 42 in all its 170-foot-tall glory. In real life, you can find it just outside of Collinsville, along Route 159. And while we generally don’t put catsup on our Chicago-style hotdogs, you can find a couple of weenies on the next page of the book, in a splendid photo of the two giant weiners perched atop the Superdawg Drive-in.
From roadside attractions to haunted houses to a cemetery “safari,” from strange beasts (Olney’s albino squirrels) to local heroes and villains to legends, lore and “unexplained phenomena,” Weird Illinois will definitely keep you infotained. Whereas will you learn about the Demon Butcher of Palos Park and the Murphysboro Mud Monster? But there’s also a fair bit of history here as well—admittedly tending toward the unsavory kind, mass murderers, serial killers and the like—and a charming chapter on some exceedingly unique dwellings, including a house with no square corners located in Bull Valley, and Villa Kathrine, a small Moorish castle overlooking the Mississippi in Quincy.
Spritely writing, clever illustrations, and colorful photos enhance this chronicle of weird AND wonderful Illinois!
Weird Illinois by Troy Taylor, Sterling Publishing, 2005.
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