WCRW Presentations

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In-person presentation at the Harold Washington Library, Chicago Illinois

If you are looking for interesting presentations for your museum, library, social group, or any other type of organization, please consider tapping into the informational and visual resources available from Windy City Road Warrior! Programs are available for live in-person presentations, live online via Zoom or YouTube, and recorded video.

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Route 66 Programs


Chicago History & Architecture


Illinois History


Various Subjects


Route 66: A Journey Through History

At various times in its history, Route 66 was paved in brick, asphalt, or Portland Cement concrete.

The Historic Route 66 presentation explores why Route 66 “winds from Chicago to L.A.,” and we look at the historic biography of the thoroughfares that carried the highway’s traffic. Next, a video slide show of images depicts the damage done to Route 66 cities and towns by the passing of time and the migration of through traffic onto the Interstates. The final section of the presentation is a “virtual tour” of Route 66 today. Amidst the decay caused by the interstates, thrifty and industrious business owners and highway enthusiasts continue to breath life and longevity into America’s Main Street, the Mother Road, Route 66.

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Route 66 on a Tank of Gas: The Mother Road in Illinois

Among the iconic sites along Illinois US 66 is Tall Paul Bunyon in Atlanta, Illinois.

Many travelers believe that Route 66 in Illinois has more attractions per mile than any other state. Route 66 on a Tank of Gas shows the many attractions in the Land of Lincoln, within 300 miles of Chicago.

Roads in Illinois evolved from prairie footpaths to state highways, and finally to US highways–the most famous being US 66. After discussing the history, we take a virtual tour of the Mother Road in Illinois from the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago to the banks of the Mississippi River near St. Louis. Along the way, we stop at such iconic Route 66 treasures as the Del Rhea Chicken Basket, Funk’s Grove Maple Sirup, and the Cozy Dog Drive-In, and many other historic sites that give Illinois Route 66 its special personality and character.

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Route 66 in Chicago: Where the Road Begins

The former SW Straus Building (left) and the Railway Exchange (right) frame the original beginning of Route 66 in Chicago

On November 11, 1926, the U.S. Highway system was created. Among the 96,628 miles of roads selected to carry the iconic highway shields, one of the most prominent routes ran 2,448 miles to connect Chicago with Los Angeles

One of the first questions travelers ask is: why did Route 66 begin in Chicago? As well, why were the particular streets chosen to carry the highway through the city? In 2000, when I first became interested in Route 66 history, I discovered that there were no definitive answers to these questions. It took years of research to uncover the true reasons for a beginning in Chicago, on Jackson Boulevard, for Route 66.

This program will detail the sometimes surprising story of the Chicago connections to Route 66. It is a story that includes hotel magnates, railroads, corrupt city officials, and robber baron/streetcar mogul Charles Yerkes. Then we will take a virtual tour of Route 66 in Chicago, uncovering some of the hidden history awaiting us on every city block.

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Hard Road–Hard Work: The Laborers of Route 66

Abe Lincoln said “Labor is prior to—and independent of—capital.” So laborers toiled to create Route 66 before anyone could capitalize on it. Across eight states from the shores of Lake Michigan to the beaches of the Pacific southwest, dirt roads were turned into hard roads, mud covered over with concrete. Laboring armies turned kicks on 66 from a dream to a reality. In many localities the workers competed for jobs and wages with convict labor.

Adjacent to the highway, stories abound of workers uniting for better wages and working conditions. It was a fight engaged in Illinois with the help of Mother Jones–memorialized in Mt. Olive. And in Collinsville, coal miners established a union, and from the dues collected, the Miner’s Theater was built in 1918–a union hall, but also a theater bringing live performers and traveling troupes.

The Labor of the road builders paved the way for the sweat equity of entrepreneurs, creating the motels, shops, and attractions along the highway.
In Hard Road – Hard Work: The Laborers of Route 66 hear these stories, and more.

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The Crossroads of Cause and Coincidence: Illinois STATE 66 & the Mother Road

The signs for Illinois 66, US 66, and Illinois 126

Only in Illinois does IL66 + US66 = 126. In this program we discover the origins of this interesting math, where for a few short years there was a coincidental intersection of two different highways with the same number. We will take a look at how people traveling from Chicago to St. Louis might have mistakenly ended up in Yorkville, wondering “Where the heck are we?” and “Can we get there from here?”

We will see how solving this confusing state caused state officials to re-use another route number from a different part of Illinois. The story of how this happened shows how corrupt elected politicians can insert themselves into basic public programs with frustrating results. All of these changes blurred the line between the concepts of causation and coincidence, as travelers found their way along the confusing crossroads of the Mother Road.

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Before the Mother Road: Route 66, Illinois 4, and the Pontiac Trail

Signs for US 66, Illinois Route 4, and the Pontiac Trail

Route 66 in Illinois follows a diagonal path from Chicago on the northeast to East St. Louis on the southwest. It turns out that this was one of the oldest travel corridors in the state. Before recorded history, Native Americans followed herds of bison along this path, Early settlers used it to make their way from the great rivers along the Illinois borders to and through the vast tall-grass prairie. Then came the railroads and farm-to-market paths along section lines. Before the state government got involved in road building, good road enthusiasts marked out the Pontiac Trail using the existing dirt paths. Finally came the state highway system to finally pull Illinois out of the mud. This program covers this early history and the changes of the 20th century that tamed the path for motor vehicles and led the way to the Mother Road, the Main Street of America, in the state where the ROAD BEGINS!

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The Mother Road to Hollywood: Route 66 on TV and the Silver Screen

Among the many Hollywood productions covered are the Route 66 TV Show and the Disney-Pixar movie Cars.

As the song “Get Your Kicks On Route 66” says, the highway winds from Chicago to L.A. It is thus no wonder that the world’s most famous road has wound its way into many Hollywood productions.

In the 1934 film The St. Louis Kid, James Cagney plays a truck driver on a regular run to Chicago. Years later, films that would use a journey along the highway’s path as part of the story include National Lampoon’s Vacation and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Featuring clips from films and television shows, we look at many more portrayals of Route 66 from the 1930s through the present. We will see shows that use the road theme in locations along the highway, projects that feature location shoots along the road, and movies that use Route 66 in their narrative. Movies and shows that will be featured include Cars, The Grapes of Wrath, and the Route 66 TV series. In the end, the viewer may well realize that life is a journey, and Route 66 is the road to Tinsel Town!

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Al Capone & The Route 66 Connection

Al Capone in a cutout shape of a US highway shield

Al Capone came to Chicago in 1921 at age 22, summoned to be Johnny Torrio’s chief lieutenant. Together they reaped millions from prostitution, gambling, and bootlegging. Capone would take over in 1924, overseeing a bloody era of wars with rival gangs.

Many businesses on or near Route 66 had ties to Capone, including breweries, race tracks, roadhouses, brothels, and speakeasies. It was on US 66 where Capone bought his Cadillacs and had them armor-plated. And when Eliott Ness drove the convicted Capone from Cook County Jail to the train bound for the Federal prison, they used 66 for that final journey. These and many more stories are covered in Al Capone and the Route 66 Connection.

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Motoring West the Wright Way: Frank Lloyd Wright & Route 66

Frank and Olgivanna Wright in one of his many cars, riding around Taliesin West in Arizona.

Starting in 1934, Frank Lloyd Wright and an entourage of architecture students headed south from Wisconsin through Illinois, then west using portions of Route 66, on a journey that would become an annual event. The destination was Taliesen West, Wright’s home and architectural school in Scottsdale, AZ. These trips were led by Wright driving one of his various automobiles, most of which were painted Cherokee Red.

Wright’s active professional career would span 71 years, and his journeys on the highways of the country including Route 66 would become a metaphor for the growth of a nation and the growth of an architectural legend. This program looks at Wright’s annual pilgrimage, his prized automobiles with which he led each journey, and the Wright structures along the route that travelers can visit today as they “travel west on the highway that’s the best!”

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Diners, Snake Pits, and Long-Haul Truckers: The Commerce of Route 66

Campbell's Express was "humpin' to please" with their long-haul trucking, one of the many forms of commerce that exists because of highways like Route 66.

For the modern-day Route 66 enthusiast, the commerce most associated with the highway is tourism. However, when the US Highway system debuted in 1926, the planners had more in mind than encouraging pleasure travel. Route 66 followed a path blazed by railroads on its run from Chicago to LA. As muddy trails gave way to the numbered hard roads, commerce along the route flourished in a uniquely democratic way. What followed were unique ma-and-pa attractions, the emergence of long-distance trucking, and new populations spreading to suburbs and rural towns. This program looks at how Route 66 transformed the spread of wealth and opportunity from the big cities to the countryside in ways that the railroads could not.

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The Ghosts of Route 66

Supernatural happenings at the Spook Light in Kansas and the Ghost Town of Glenrio TX are two of the stories in Ghosts of Route 66

This program explores the Ghost Stories and the Ghost Towns found along Route 66. We cover ghostly legends and supernatural phenomena in each of the eight Route 66 states. Included are the ghost of Joliet’s Rialto Square Theater, the mysterious Spook Light of Kansas, and the spirit of the former owner that haunts the Museum Club in Flagstaff, AZ.

Where 66 once brought countless travelers right down the main street of towns such as Funks Grove, Amboy, and Glenrio, the building of the Interstates left these places to decay as Ghost Towns. Through Ghost Stories and Ghost Towns, the Ghosts of Route 66 live on.

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Great Chicago Fire: Rising From the Ashes

22 years after the Great Chicago Fire, this Birds-eye View from Rand McNally shows the rebuilt Chicago of 1893 at Wolf Point.

The Great Chicago Fire burned through the city October 8-10, 1871, killing 300 people and leaving more than 100,000 residents homeless. As raindrops finally doused the flames and city leaders assessed the damage, the shock of tragedy was replaced by the resolve to rebuild. The Chicago Tribune echoed the sentiment of most when it proclaimed in its first post-fire issue: “CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN.”

In this program we will look at the causes of the fire and how Chicago re-invented itself in the aftermath. We will see that in the period from 1872 through the Plan of Chicago in 1909, the city would rebuild, only to do it all again in the early 20th Century. After the Great Fire, a rebuilt city would rise from the ashes, only to fall and be replaced again in the progress of time.

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Games Not Played: Chicago’s Failed Olympics 1904 and 2016

The Olympic Rings on the municipal flag of Chicago.

If former Mayor Richard M. Daley had his way, Chicago would have hosted to the XXXI Olympiad in 2016, rather than Rio de Janeiro. Yet despite the backing of most civic leaders in the city and state and the blessing of the USOC (United States Olympic Committee), Chicago’s hopes were abruptly dashed when the city was eliminated in the first round of voting in Copenhagen.

Chicago was actually chosen as the host city for the 1904 games, but politics and circumstances conspired to snatch the prize away to St. Louis. This program looks into what might have been and what went wrong. We also look at why many believe that Chicago’s 2016 failure was a blessing in disguise. We also look at the legacy of the Olympics in recent host cities to see what has been done with their Olympic infrastructure.

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Chicago Crossroads: Where the Circus Came to Rest

Showmen's Rest, Woodlawn Cemetery, where many victims of the 1918 circus train wreck rest in peace.

Many business came through Chicago to take advantage of well-traveled transportation corridors created by the railroads. Among those that would use Chicago’s rail corridors to great advantage were the traveling circuses of the 19th and 20th centuries. Buffalo Bill Cody brought his Wild West Show to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Cody would serve as the first President of the Showmen’s League in Chicago in 1913.

The League established a cemetery for circus performers west of the city in 1917, Showmen’s Rest. It would soon become the final resting place for the victims of a tragic 1918 circus train wreck in nearby Gary, Indiana. Chicago Crossroads: Where the Circus Came to Rest will take a virtual tour through Chicago to its intersections with these performers and the shows that they put on..

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Digging Deeper: The Foundations of Chicago Architecture

Digging Deeper explores the literal foundations under Chicago's buildings, but also the foundational principles of the Chicago School Architects.

When constructing a tall Chicago building, before you build up, you have to dig down. Some of the first problems pioneering Chicago architects had to deal with were the conditions uncovered when they dug into the city’s swampy, muddy soil. Before technology was perfected for anchoring buildings in bedrock, many early skyscrapers were built on shallow spread foundations. Much like a raft, spread foundations would allow a building to settle a few inches into the soft soil and then float on the somewhat firmer clay below. With buildings such as the iconic Monadnock the method worked well, as it settled over 20 inches but still stands straight in the skyline nearly 130 years after its construction.

In addition to the physical foundations, this program discusses the many ways young builders of the early “Chicago School” had to innovate to create and invent the tall commercial building. We uncover the amazing stories of buildings old and new and the giants of design and engineering who built them.

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One Place, Many Times: A Blimp, the Railroads, and the “Insanity” of Mary Lincoln

So many fascinating occurrences in one place, over different times: the Grand Pacific Hotel, the trial of Mary Lincoln, Standard Time, and a blimp's demise.

One of the great joys of historical research is when unexpected stories are uncovered. Then, as you dig deeper into those stories, connections to other people and places are unearthed into an amazing tableau. This program is all about a particular place and all of the incredible events that occurred there in different times.

The place is Chicago, at the northeast corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard. Many structures have been built on this site, all designed by Chicago’s pre-eminent architects, including Boyington, Burnham, and Jenney. The events that occurred here involved politicians, railroad moguls, Mary Lincoln, robber baron Charles Yerkes, and a hotelier named Drake. Two terrible disasters would wreak havoc on this place, and a meeting would take place here that determined how we would forever after set our clocks. All this and more will be discussed as we dig deep into One Place, Many Times: A Blimp, the Railroads, and the “Insanity” of Mary Lincoln.

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From Chaplin to the Dark Knight: The Movie Industry in Chicago

The long history of movie-making in Chicago includes stars like Charlie Chaplin, movie palaces designed by Chicago architects, and one of the world's largest film studios today.

Early in the history of motion picture production, Chicagoans George Spoor and Gilbert Bronco Billy Anderson founded the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company on the city’s North Side. They released hit movies starring Ben Turpin and Gloria Swanson, and produced Charlie Chaplin’s iconic film, The Tramp.

As motion pictures developed as an art form, storefront nickelodeons gave way to opulent movie palaces. The Chicago-based Rapp & Rapp architectural firm, headed by brothers Cornelius and George, designed over 400 of the nation’s most elegant showplaces, including the Chicago Theater and the Rialto Square in Joliet.

For several decades, Chicago was sporadically a featured location in popular movies, but with the success of The Blues Brothers, the number of film shot on location here increased significantly. Today, Cinespace Studios on the city’s west side is the largest film studio outside of Hollywood. In this program, we will look at the whole history of the film industry in Chicago, from the days of Charlie Chaplin through such modern classics as The Dark Knight.

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Chicago Turns 180: From Frontier Outpost to World-Class City

Chicago has done a 180 over and over again in its 180+ years of existence. Let's take a bumpy ride through the eras!

Back in 2017, Chicago celebrated its 180th birthday as a city. Notable in all those years is how many times Chicago has had to literally take 180-degree turns and change its direction. In 1837, the city of 4000 people was created to be the transfer point for water transport between the Great Lakes and the new Illinois & Michigan Canal then under construction. By 1850, Chicago was emerging as the railroad hub of the North American Continent. The city burned down in 1871 and rose from its ashes to become the greatest city of the 19th Century. It then polished its image in the eyes of the world with the wonders of two world’s fairs. It was both the center of industry and of the rise of labor unions, the headquarters for the Temperance Movement and the battleground of Prohibition. This program looks at all of the changes the city has gone through, and the challenges that it faces now and in the future

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The Prohibition Era in Chicago

A protest against Prohibition with marchers carrying signs: "We Want Beer!"

It is well known that the Prohibition Era in Chicago saw the rise and fall of Al Capone. At the same time, the city was home to progressives Clarence Darrow and Jane Addams; crooked politicians “Big Bill” Thompson and “Hinky-Dink” Kenna; and reform Mayor William Dever and the muckraking Chicago Crime Commission.

Chicago has always been the nation’s hub for transportation, and the railroads brought African Americans to the city during the prohibition era in the great migration. Among them were “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong. Amid flappers and temperance leaders, tea rooms and speakeasies, life in Chicago was a microcosm of the United States, a crossroads where everything new came to terms with deep-rooted traditions. We take a look at all this and more in The Prohibition Era in Chicago.

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Terminal City: Chicago’s Passenger Stations in the Golden Era of Rail

The former Union Station is one of the many passenger depots from the Golden Era of Rail.

From after the Civil War until the rise of commercial jet travel in the early 1960s, anyone wishing to travel long distances across the North American continent likely did so via passenger rail. It is also likely that these folks passed through Chicago’s passenger rail stations on their journeys.

Chicago was the gateway between east and west and home to six large stations serving the needs of a majority of the long-haul rail companies. This program will give us a glimpse of the experiences of the passengers who passed through those terminals, each of which had its own unique look and “personality.” We will see that Chicago was indeed the Gateway City for anyone traveling across the country in the era of travel by rail.

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Traveling to the Chicago Fairs: 1893 & 1933

People came from around the world and across the US to Chicago's World's Fairs. Many passed through the old Illinois Central Station.

The Chicago World’s Fairs of 1893 and 1933-34 attracted an astounding number of visitors to the city. In each case the attendance numbers were equal to over 40% of the country’s population. This program answers two questions: what did they come to see, and how did they get here?

If the fairs were held today, most visitors would arrive by air. In both 1893 and 1933, the journey to Chicago was far more problematic. Most arrived by train, some came by lake steamers, and international visitors took Ocean Liners to the US. In 1933, adventurous motorists could travel on the still-primitive US Highways. The reward for a difficult journey were expositions that showed the promise of a better future.

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Chicago by Design: Architectural Vistas for a Visitor’s Eyes

The vista of the Michigan Avenue "cliff" of buildings on the west side of Grant Park in Chicago.

This program highlights the builders who created the architectural vistas seen by millions of visitors to Chicago throughout the city’s history. We concentrate on the structures seen along Jackson Boulevard from its time as a central thoroughfare for railroad era travelers through its designation as Route 66.

Chicago by Design: Architectural Vistas for a Visitor’s Eyes explores the architecture of this important travel corridor. Included are views and discussions of W. W. Boyington’s Grand Pacific and Stratford Hotels, William Le Baron Jenney’s Fair Store, the Rookery and Monadnock buildings of Burnham and Root, and the Marquette Building of Holabird and Roche. The information and images in this program are based upon an award-winning series of articles that has appeared in the quarterly publication of the National Historic Route 66 Federation since 2007.

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No Little Plans: The Roads of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago

The 1909 Plan of Chicago includes a detailed plan for a system of radial and encircling highways for the entire region.

The 1909 Plan of Chicago influenced the development of Chicagoland as we know it today: the lakefront parks, double-decked Wacker Drive, and the Michigan Avenue Bridge were among the features of the Plan.

In our presentation No Little Plans, we look at the Plan’s concepts for road building that included a system of highways throughout the region. They wrote, “While good highways are of great value to the terminal cities, they are of even greater value to the outlying towns, and of greatest value to the farming communities…”

The presentation looks at the highways proposed by the Plan, and how they differed from our current expressways. The Plan proposed a system that would add to the surface transportation already in place. We see how different Chicagoland might be if we had not dismantled our streetcar and rail system in favor of near-complete dependence on cars and trucks.

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Christmas in Chicago

Christmas in Chicago festivities always includes placing wreaths around the necks of the Art Institute Lions.

In Christmas in Chicago we re-live the traditions of the holiday and how they have evolved over the years to our current experience. In the early 20th century the annual Chicago Christmas parade held on Thanksgiving began. The many department stores on State Street competed to outdo each other with their elaborate displays in their windows. There would be caroling under the Marshall Field clock and the enjoyment of a special Christmas meal under the Walnut Room Christmas tree.

Competing with Field’s were Sears, Wards, Wieboldt, Rothschild, and the Fair–among the many huge department stores along the Street. We also learn the story of how Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer started as a promotional coloring book given away to get people to visit the State Street Ward’s store. These days we have Christkindlmarket and ice skating at Millennium Park–and Caroling to the Animals at Lincoln Park Zoo. This and more will be included in the program Christmas in Chicago.

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The Not-so-Free State: Slavery and Servitude in Illinois

Far from being a completely "free state," slavery was practiced in the southern part of the state in the early years of Illinois' existence.

Soon after the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance that set policy for the territory west of the thirteen established states and north of the Ohio River. Article 6 of the ordinance stipulated: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude,” anywhere in the territory.

It is commonly thought that when Illinois was admitted as a state in 1818, the prohibition on slavery was continued. In fact, slavery was practiced in many of the southern counties. Loopholes in the law were used to legalize slavery for the saline industry and to coerce many slaves brought into the state to sign themselves into “voluntary” servitude. In 1822, a referendum was held to determine if the state constitution should be changed to make slavery completely legal.

In this program, we look at the history of slavery in Illinois, including the “Reverse Underground Railroad” that kidnapped free blacks and sold them back into the south, and we see that our state was once not so free after all.

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The Black Hawk War and Indian Removal in Illinois

Statue of Black Hawk at the Black Hawk State Historic Site at Rock Island, Illinois.

In April 1832, Black Hawk led a group of 1,000 indigenous people across the Mississippi into Illinois. Known as the “British Band,” the group was comprised of men, women, and children of the Sauk, Meskwaki, and Kickapoo. Black Hawk claimed his people had not been properly represented at treaty negotiations with the U.S. Government, and thus they retained rights to their ancestral lands.

The Governor of Illinois reacted to Black Hawk’s return as if it was an act of war. The battles over the next three months would become the last in the state, a climactic time in the story of Indian removal in Illinois. Within seven years a few final treaties would result in the elimination of all indigenous tribes to lands west of the MIssissippi.

In this program we will take an overview of the “Indian problem,” from first interaction with the French voyageurs, attempts at assimilation and coexistence, and finally treaties and government promises broken. We look at the Trail of Tears, the final war dance in 1835 Chicago, and the emergence of Native American casinos in the epic clash of cultures. It all happened in a land named for an indigenous nation of people, the Illinois.

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State of Change: Mapping Illinois and The Old Northwest Territory

Maps from different eras of the Northwest Terriory area includes this 1818 map of Illinois drawn at time of statehood.

Today we call this area the Upper Midwest–the land west of Pennsylvania stretching to the Mississippi, bordered north and south by the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. However, for the young new nation known as the United States of America, it was the Northwest Territory.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 established a standardized system for surveying the Territory into sellable lots; but over the previous two centuries the land had been explored by various European-origin people, and maps were created to assist these pioneers in their travels. Some of these maps were crudely drawn from dead-reckoning, while others were the work of skilled cartographers. As the new civilizations became familiar with the land, battles ensued with the native peoples over their conflicting needs. Political boundaries were drawn and amended; treaties settled disputes over sovereignty and dominion, then often treaties were superseded or broken.

This program will trace the history of how Illinois emerged from the Old Northwest Territory. Using maps, drawings, and photos, we explore the story of the reshaping of the central continent via lines on a map, and the establishment of the Prairie State, before it could be called the “Land of Lincoln.”

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200 Years of Illinois Roads: From Prairie Footpaths to the Country’s Crossroads

Map of the State Highways in Illinois, circa 1928.

As European-origin people began exploring Illinois territory, they found their way across the tall-grass prairie by using trails blazed by indigenous tribes. These trails were named for their destinations (Ottawa Trail, Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Joliet Roads) or prominent early residents (Hubbard’s and Edwards’ Trace, Ogden and Archer Avenues) These important roads remained only footpaths through the prairie.

In 1820, construction began on the National Road, a thoroughfare of stone surfaces and bridges that would run from Cumberland, Maryland to the Mississippi River. By the time road crews began working in Illinois, funding was so scarce that it was considered sufficient to simply cut trees down to 15-inch stumps, thus creating a path that Conestoga Wagons and their 18-inch clearance could use.

In the early 1920s, a 2-mile stretch near Bates, Illinois served as an experimental road, where 63 different materials and thicknesses were tested as pavement types. Heavy trucks drove repeatedly over the sections to see how the different types held up to abuse in all types of weather. This set standards for the state’s early highways and made Illinois a leader in highway design. In 200 Years of Illinois Roads we revisit the National Road, the Bates Test Road, and more as we see how Illinois pulled itself out of the mud.

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Abe, Mary & Robert Todd: The Lincoln Family Legacy in Illinois

Life size and Life-like statues of the Lincoln Family, in the rotunda of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Springfield IL

While much is written about the enormous impact of Abraham Lincoln on the history of Illinois, the contributions of his wife and oldest son are sometimes overlooked. In this program, we explore the Lincoln Family Legacy in the state, from Abe’s arrival as a young man in 1830 to Robert Todd’s departure for Vermont and Washington DC in 1911.

Abraham Lincoln came to Illinois at 21 to assist his father and step-mother in their relocation to Coles County near Decatur. He then set about becoming the prototype of the “self-made man,” learning the skills of oratory and debate, teaching himself the craft of surveying, and studying law books to pursue a legal career. During 30 years in politics he lost in a popular vote only once and was instrumental in forming the Republican Party in Illinois.

Mary Todd Lincoln was an educated young lady from a well-to-do family, and as the Lincoln family grew she managed their home and engaged in spirited conversations with her husband. Mr. Lincoln relied on her intellect and knowledge as he formed his political policy positions.

Robert Todd Lincoln was the oldest of the Lincoln children, and the only one to live a full, long life. After attending Harvard and joining the Army in the final year of the Civil War, Robert moved to Chicago with his mother and completed his education. He went into law practice in the city, and then went on to be a legal counsel and later President of the Pullman Company. In Abe, Mary, and Robert Todd, we will see that there is more than one important person sharing a famous surname in this Land of Lincoln(s).

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Ghost Roads of Illinois

Haunted Lebanon Road of Collinsville IL and the Bates Experimental Road are two of the Ghost Roads of Illinois.

Throughout Illinois, legends abound of haunted happenings and eerie occurrences along the thoroughfares of the state. In the first part of Ghost Roads of Illinois we discuss some of the stories of unexplained phenomena residents have encountered while traveling along the highways and bi-ways. In Collinsville, locals speak in hushed tones of the seven railroad crossings of Lebanon Road. If a vehicle crosses the railroad tracks on all seven places along Lebanon, and encounters the last at the stroke of midnight, it is said that the gates of Hell open and transport the car and its occupants to the underworld, never to be seen again.

While some may suspend disbelief for these stories and others remain skeptical, there is no doubting the reality of the dead end roads and abandoned alignments we discuss in the second part of the program. Some roads in the state were built for only short-term use, and other remain as testament to places that were left behind as time and people moved on. In Bates, Illinois there is no motel by that name, but there is a section of old Highway 54 that served as an experimental road for the state highway department in the early 1920s. In a 2-mile stretch, 63 different materials and thicknesses were tested as pavement types for automobile highways. This test set standards that were then used for the state’s early highways and served as a scientific model copied throughout the nation. It made Illinois a leader in highway design in the early auto era.

In Ghost Roads of Illinois we revisit the Bates Road, Lebanon Road, and more as we tour through the forgotten and haunted thoroughfares of the state.

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The Illinois Rogue’s Gallery: Our Infamous Politicians

Mug shot of Rod Blagojevich, with the artistic license to show him literally "behind bars."

The stories of now-jailed former Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich are familiar, but public corruption in Illinois is nothing new. Chicago is considered the most corrupt city in the United States and Illinois ranks third among states.

Since 1976, Federal prosecutors secured over 1,800 convictions of public officials statewide. Others evaded punishment through devious means. Four governors have been found guilty of corruption and one other was acquitted under suspicious circumstances.

Chicago Aldermen Hinky-Dink Kenna and Bathouse John Coughlin treated every City Council vote as an opportunity for graft. Alderman Paddy Bauler famously stated “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.” Dixon, Illinois learned corruption was not limited to Chicago as their city comptroller Rita Crundwell pled guilty to embezzling over $30 million. This program looks at these stories and more and explores whether Chicago and Illinois will ever be “ready for reform.”

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The Lincoln Highway across Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa

The type of sign currently posted along the Historic Route of the Lincoln Highway in Illinois.

Automobiles were the playthings of the rich until 1909, when Henry Ford produced the Model T-the first car that the average working family could afford. The number of cars manufactured and owned began to take off, but unfortunately there were few good places to drive them! If the early cars did not break down on their own, it was very likely they would get stuck in mud on the dirt roads outside of cities and towns.

A grass-roots effort began, backed by car companies and related industries, to pull the country out of the mud. The Good Roads Movement championed named auto trails on the best available roads and advocated for government involvement in building hard surfaces on the public highways of the country. The first named auto trail to be marked from coast-to-coast was the Lincoln Highway.

The Lincoln Highway’s story includes such luminaries as Dwight Eisenhower and Emily Post, who wrote a series of articles during her trip across the country. Today, the traveler in the Midwest is taken back in time. In Indiana from Fort Wayne to Dyer by way of Valparaiso and Merrillville; in Illinois from Chicago Heights to Fulton through Dixon and DeKalb; and in Iowa from Clinton to Council Bluffs, we end the program with a virtual tour full of nostalgia and history.

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The Illinois & Michigan Canal–Past and Present

The lock on the I&M Canal at LaSalle, Illinois.

Before highways and railroads turned Chicago into the transportation hub of the U.S., it was the Illinois & Michigan Canal that literally put the city on the map. In 1673, the French-Canadian explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette were the first non-Native Americans to travel from the Illinois River to Lake Michigan via the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers. They noted in their journals that a canal could be built to connect these waterways to allow for a navigable channel of travel stretching from the Great Lakes to the vast Mississippi River system.

The promise of a canals future potential for spreading commerce from the settled east to the western frontier led to the founding of Fort Dearborn to protect the Chicago River harbor. The potential also led to treaties with Native Americans and the creation by the state of Illinois of a canal commission that would build and operate the waterway. Chicago was founded to be the commercial transfer point between Lake Michigan vessels and canal barges. When the canal opened in 1848, the flow of commerce across the continent changed forever.

In this presentation, we will explore the story of the building of the Illinois & Michigan Canal and its eventual replacement by newer canals, railroads, and expressways. We will take a virtual tour of its surviving structures from Bridgeport in Chicago to its terminus in Peru, Illinois 96 miles to the southwest.

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The Roads that Lead to Lincoln: Honest Abe on the Historic Highways of Illinois

Some of the "Roads that Lead to Lincoln" include US 66, the Lincoln Highway, and the Great River Road--as well as the Rock Island and Chicago & Alton RR.

In this presentation, we begin with a whimsical look at the impact that Lincoln has made on our culture, from businesses such as Lincoln Towing and Lincoln Insurance, to cars such as the Lincoln Continental. Next, we trace the major events of Lincoln’s life from his arrival in Illinois in 1830 until he left for Washington as President-elect in 1861.

In the final section of the presentation, we take a virtual tour along Route 66, the 8th Judicial Circuit, the Great River Road, and the Lincoln Highway in search of sites related to the life of Abraham Lincoln. The tour includes images of the places visited by Lincoln, as well as monuments and museums dedicated to remembering and interpreting his legacy. The tour includes the well-known sites, such as New Salem State Park; but also included are unmarked historic locations, such as the places where Mary Todd Lincoln lived in Chicago. The emphasis is on the places that travelers can visit to better understand Lincoln while enjoying the historic highways of Illinois.

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Memorials to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass

100 Years ago, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. was dedicated on May 30, 1922. Then on August 12, just four miles southeast of the Memorial, the home of Frederick Douglas was dedicated as a museum and historic site that same year. In this program, we will look at the sometimes difficult path both of these Memorials to Freedom took from concept to reality. The Lincoln monument’s classical form was controversial at the time, with many prominent critics upset that a more “American” design was not chosen. Restoration of Douglass’s Cedar Hill was stalled for years due to lack of funding.

We will see how the legacies of these men were interpreted at the time of the dedications: Douglass remained a revered warrior in the fight for freedom, while Lincoln’s role in ending slavery was downplayed–the Memorial includes text of the Gettysburg Address but not the Emancipation Proclamation. We will then explore how both men contributed to the advancement of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence that All Men are Created Equal, and how they differed over racial equality. We will see how their legacies have been used and abused, and how they both can best be understood by centering them in the context of their times.

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The Ice Harvest: Industries Left Behind in the March Toward Progress

The Ice Harvest is one of many industries that technology has left behind.

In the present day, diminishing demand has put many coal miners out of work. As well, technological progress has transformed the world of electronic media entertainment to the point where there remains only one Blockbuster Video store in the country.

Over the course of U.S. History, many crafts and industries have disappeared or diminished in importance due to the march of progress. In this program we look at the Ice Trade, an industry that harvested ice each winter from Crystal and Wolf Lakes and then stored it for use year round. If not for the Ice Trade, it would have been impossible for the Chicago Stockyards to ship its products to eastern markets, and brewers would have not been able to make lager beer in the heat of summer. The discussion will look at other trades of the past, from blacksmiths to telephone operators, and once indispensable tools like slide rules and sextants. While we commiserate with the people who lose their livelihoods to the march of progress, we realize that the new innovations generally lead to new opportunities once unimaginable.

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Prohibition in the US: How a Wet Nation Went Dry

Barrels of beer are poured into a sewer under the watchful eye of police and Prohibition Agents.

In colonial times, the average American drank about seven gallons of alcoholic beverages per year, more than three times the current consumption. Beer and hard cider were important components of the daily food diet, and spirits were respected for their medicinal properties.

George Washington’s whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon produced 11,000 gallons of liquor in 1799. John Adams started every day with a draft of hard cider before breakfast, and Thomas Jefferson was considered the epitome of sobriety since he restricted his drinking to only 3 to 4 glasses of wine with dinner.

This program looks at how attitudes about drinking evolved over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries. We see how a confederation of disparate forces, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Methodist Church, and the women’s suffrage movement, took a nation of imbibers dry. We look how the nation’s Noble Experiment in social engineering, by some considered a compassionate attempt at improving the general health and welfare, led to terrible unintended consequences.

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Home for the Holidays: Our Travels and Traditions

Winter Holiday traditions include Christian Christmas, Jewish Hanukah, the Muslim Maulidi, and the Pagan solstice rituals. In the industrial age, we all want to go "Home for the Holidays."

A thousand years ago, when almost all cultures ground to a halt for the winter, nearly everyone stayed home in the months between the fall harvest and the spring planting. Some of our most cherished holiday traditions have their origin in Norse, Roman, and Greek mythology. In this program we explore the beginnings of many cultural traditions, including the Buddhist Bodhi Day, the Islamic Mawlid el-Nabi, and Hanukkah—the Jewish Festival of Lights.

Everything changed with the coming of the industrial age and long-distance transportation. Yet our traditions and the pull of hearth and home remained strong, and so a new practice came into play—the annual dash to go “home for the holidays,” or at least to yearn to do so. Crowded roads, trains stations, and airports ruled the day, and winter weather often ruin plans.

The industrial revolution led to a rise in consumerism and the modern-day emphasis on a more secular and commercial approach to gift-giving, including Cyber Monday and Black Friday. We look at some events that occurred in those years when Mother Nature did its worst to keep people away from their goals. In the end we may once again realize that “for the holidays we can’t beat home sweet home!”

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World War I: Homefront and Consequences

Before US entry in World War I, the majority of people in the country wanted neutrality, as reflected in the popularity of the song, "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier."

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson successfully won election to a second term. His campaign slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” was in keeping with the majority sentiment of the country. However, less than a month after his second inauguration Wilson requested a declaration of war on Germany. This program begins with an overview of the reasons for the country’s changing attitudes and the consequences of the decision to join in the conflict.

The entry into war led to many changes on the homefront. The government took over the railroads to mobilize troops and supplies to the east coast. Civilians endured rationing of such products as wheat that were needed to feed the troops. The same rationale led to passage of Wartime Prohibition of the manufacture of intoxicating beverages.

Finally, we look at conditions as the veterans returned. Many soldiers endured the long-term effects of exposure to mustard gas, while the able-bodied were able to enjoy the benefits of an era of economic uplift and positive outlook. The country had been victorious in battle in the “War to end all Wars.”

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Centennial 1921-1930: Past Events that Shaped the Present

The introduction of the Ford Model A, the first "Mo-tel," and LIndbergh's flight all are covered in Centennial 1921-1930

This program looks back 100 years to the decade of 1921-1930. Those years saw the first Ford Model A, the historic flight of Charles Lindbergh, and the first roadside lodging to call itself a “Mo-tel.” Gandhi is imprisoned in India for sedition, and Hitler goes to jail for a failed coup. It is a turbulent time for race relations, with the destruction of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street and the torching of Rosewood, Florida by the Ku Klux Klan. It is the era of National Prohibition, the boom of the Roaring Twenties, and the bust of Black Friday and the start of the Great Depression

We see that times and technology change, but people and their decisions resonate over time. This program brings us back to that time so long ago that sheds light on our current culture, in both our progress and our continued challenges.

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Good Food Fast: The 20th Century Dining Revolution

Steak & Shake was one of the roadside eateries that grew during the 20th Century Dining Revolution.

When traveling across the USA, one of the most memorable discoveries in any locality is the one-of-a-kind diner or drive-in, serving food at once familiar but with a unique flair. Hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue, and country-fried steaks all get a different treatment depending on whether you are in Kansas or Memphis, Santa Fe or Atlanta, New Orleans or Cincinnati.

However, the local specialties are served in eateries welcoming and familiar. Many feature a kitchen visible to the patrons, where the food is prepared in sight, so it must be right! Good Food Fast: The 20th Century Dining Revolution tells the story through words, photos, and music, of how our favorite dining establishments evolved from Fred Harvey railroad dining cars and urban lunch counters. From carhops to cookie-cutter franchises, from familiar foods to unique eats, this program will satisfy a thirst for knowledge although it may leave you hungry for more!

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Bringing Family History to Life: The Stories We Could Tell

Wedding photo of Dorothy and Homer Clark, 1948.

Every family has its stories. Beyond basic genealogical facts, the events in the lives of our ancestors can amuse or entertain, showcase traditions or cultural values, or provide insights into the shared society and culture. Writing the unique stories of a persons family can preserve the facts and provide a record for future generations. This presentation will help people interested in telling their family stories to overcome their fears of writing and commit the oral traditions to the written word.

Through images and music, Bringing Family History to Life: The Stories We Could Tell is designed to help motivate those who have an interest in their genealogy to take the next step and create a written record of their unique family stories. We discuss how a collection of family images, documents, and heirlooms remain incomplete without the contextual information that can only be provided with a written explanation. We see how organizing our historic objects can be accomplished through simple handwritten methods or through the use of computers, scanners, and digital cameras.

To overcome the fears of writing, we show how getting started with brief biographical sketches can be easy. We cover simple methods for organizing short pieces that can stand alone or later be combined into a larger project. Copyrights and fair use of research materials is also discussed. We end with the message that anyone CAN write the stories of their families-and if they do not, who will?

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Standard Presentation Details

In-person presentation at the Park Ridge Public Library, 2016.

These PowerPoint presentations last 45-60 minutes and involve as much audience interaction as practical. We encourage and prefer time to be set aside at the end of the presentation for Q & A and discussion.

For live in-person programs, we provide the PowerPoint files and can use our own laptop computer. We can supply other audio/video equipment (LCD projector, screen audio, microphone) if unavailable at the venue. For live Zoom or YouTube, we can offer the use of our paid Zoom account or co-host from the venue’s Zoom account. Recorded video can be hosted on the venue’s media platform or on our YouTube Channel.

All of our current presentation offerings include archival postcard views and photographs as well as current views. Musical segments are included with video slideshow accompaniment. We strive to entertain as well as enlighten, and to give the patrons an in-depth experience with information they can use for their own explorations.

Presentations Customized for YOU!

Custom programs have included a look at Route 66 history specifically to the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago.

With sufficient lead-time, we can customize our presentations to the specifications of the customer. Our resources include information that can be used to create programs for any specific segment of highway and transportation history relating to Chicago, or to Illinois, or to the corridors of transportation and commerce for which the city and state serve as hubs. We stand ready to meet any challenge within the scope of our archival resources. If there is a topic of historic interest to your audience, let us know and we can do our best to provide a program!

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