“Route 66 in Illinois”

Illinois Route 66 presentation

The “Route 66 in Illinois” presentation by Joe Sonderman and Cheryl Eichar Jett — who co-wrote a book by the same name — during the Miles of Possibility conference in Edwardsville, Illinois, contained a few tidbits of information even veteran roadies might not have known, such as:

  • An explosion in 1942 at the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant near Elwood killed 48 people. The site now is the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
  • People often confuse the old state prison, aka Joliet Correctional Center, in Joliet with the Stateville prison in the same city. The former is on an old alignment on Route 66. Ironically, visitors occasionally try to break into the facility because it’s been used in so many movies and television shows.
  • Sonderman said in his research for the book, he was “astonished by how much there is in Illinois. I thought it would be boring. I was absolutely wrong.” I cited the towns of Springfield, Atlanta, Joliet, Carlinville and Pontiac for having many attractions.
  • At the Palms Grill Cafe in Atlanta, Sonderman recommended the Spam sandwich there. “And I’m not kidding.”
  • The Mill restaurant building in Lincoln contains one of the signs from the now-gone Pig Hip Restaurant in Broadwell.
  • The Mill likely will open to the public in May 2016 after years of renovations.
  • The Williamsville Historical Boxcar Museum may be moving into an actual building.
  • An early version of the Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield was a Dairy Queen franchise as well.

Geoff Ladd of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, sitting in the audience during Sonderman and Jett’s presentation, elaborated a bit on the problems that beset the The Tropics neon sign in Lincoln after the city took it down in April 2014 when the land changed owners. The plan was to keep the sign in storage until it could be restored.

Ladd said the sign initially was kept in the city garage until city officials determined pigeon debris was inside the long-neglected sign. The mayor ordered the debris out, and workers in the process ripped out one side of the sign into “50 to 60 pieces,” Ladd said.

The city then moved the sign outdoors to near the local landfill, where it sits exposed to weather. Local media outlets found out about the city moving the sign to the landfill, and furor ensued.

Ladd said the city of Lincoln now is considering setting up a crowdfunding site to restore the sign. “They want the public to crowdfund to fix their mistake,” he said.

On a different note, Ladd elaborated on the relationship between longtime Pig Hip owner Ernie Edwards and Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire. “Ernie and Bob were best friends,” Ladd said, “and Ernied loved to catch Bob smoking pot.”

(More stories from the Miles of Possibility Conference will be posted in the coming days)

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