Illinois Bicentennial Odds & Ends (Part 1)

Photo from the Illinois Digital Archives -  A Service of the
Illinois State Library and Office of Secretary of State 
Sunday December 3 will mark the State of Illinois’ 199th birthday and the kickoff of the year-long celebration leading up to our bicentennial in 2018. In honor of this momentous occasion, here are a few odds and ends from (nearly) 200 years of Illinois history.
  • Illinois’ original northern border was a line drawn from the southern tip of Lake Michigan west to the Mississippi River. Just before statehood Illinois’ territorial delegate to Washington, Nathaniel Pope, convinced Congress to move the line 40 miles north into what would have become southern Wisconsin. This move gave Illinois a port on the Great Lakes. Two hundred years later, this area of the state includes 14 counties and around 60% of Illinois’ population. 
  • The county seat of Massac County is the only town in the United States to bear the name Metropolis. Accordingly, in 1972, it sought and was granted permission by DC Comics to declare itself the “Home of Superman.” Today a 15-foot tall bronze statue of the Man of Steel stands on the courthouse square. The local newspaper is called the Metropolis Planet and every June the city hosts its annual Superman Celebration.
  • The Boy Scouts of America were founded by an Illinoisan: William D. Boyce of Ottawa. Boyce was on a visit to London in 1909 when he got lost in the fog. A British boy scout guided him to safety and refused to accept any payment from the grateful American, explaining that scouts should not accept compensation for good deeds. When Boyce returned home he was anxious to start a similar civic-minded group for youngsters in America. His idea soon took off and the Boy Scouts of America were incorporated not long afterwards. Today the Boy Scouts have an annual ceremony in June where they place a wreath at Boyce’s grave in Ottawa
  • One of Illinois’ oldest towns was the community of Shawneetown on the Ohio River in Gallatin County. But when a flood destroyed the town in 1937, city leaders decided to pick up and move. The entire town was relocated three miles back from the river. History repeated itself on the opposite side of the state in 1993 when a flood on the Mississippi River caused the town of Valmeyer in Monroe County to be relocated to a less flood-prone location on higher ground a few miles from the river.
  • The tallest man who ever lived, Robert Wadlow, was an Illinoisan. Wadlow, also known as the “Alton Giant” was born in the Madison County town in 1918 and grew to be 8 feet 11 inches tall. Wadlow wore size 37 shoes that were eventually provided to him for free by a shoe company in exchange for the publicity he could provide. More than 40,000 mourners attended his funeral in 1940, and in 1985 the city of Alton placed a life-sized statue in his honor.
  • When Wrigley Field opened in 1914 it was neither the home of the Cubs, nor “Wrigley Field.” The park at Clark and Addison Streets was originally the home of the Chicago Whales, a team in the Federal League, a short-lived league which attempted to compete with the existing professional baseball leagues of the time, and was called Weegham Park, after the Whales’ owner.
    Weegham Park opened in 1914 and was renamed Wrigley Field in the 1920s.
    The Cubs moved in for the 1916 season, after the collapse of the Federal League. The park’s name was changed to “Wrigley Field” in the 1920s when the Wrigley family bought the team. Many of the famous elements of Wrigley that fans have come to know over the last century came years later: the bricks and ivy, the hand-operated scoreboard and the outfield bleachers were added during the mid-20th century. Lights were finally installed in 1988, and the first World Series championship flag to be won by a team which played at Wrigley was unveiled on opening day in 2017.
  • Meanwhile on the south side, the first Major League Baseball All-Star Game was hosted in Comiskey Park in 1933. The game went along with the ongoing Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago that summer. Babe Ruth of the Yankees hit the first All-Star Game home run for the American League, while the Cardinals’ Frankie Frisch hit the first National League homer. Cubs stars Gabby Hartnett, Lon Warneke and Woody English were on the National League roster, while White Sox players Al Simmons and Jimmy Dykes played on the American League team. The AL won 4-2.
    U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes (in top hat) at a 1925 military event at Fort
     Sheridan. Photo from the Fort Sheridan Collection Illinois Digital Archives -
    A Service of the Illinois State Library and Office of the Secretary of State
  • Most people know that Illinois has been the home to four Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. But Illinois has also been the home of two Vice Presidents. Adlai Stevenson served as Vice President with President Grover Cleveland from 1893 to 1897. Charles G. Dawes was Vice President under Calvin Coolidge from 1925 to 1929. Stevenson was the patriarch of a political dynasty that included an Illinois Governor and a U.S. Senator. Dawes would receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at establishing a reparations plan after World War I.
  • The Metamora Courthouse historic site in Woodford County was the site of the last murder trial ever tried by a local attorney named Abraham Lincoln. In 1859 Lincoln defended a woman named Melissa Goings who was accused of killing her husband. She claimed self-defense against a man well-known for his violent temper. When the date of her scheduled court appearance arrived, she was nowhere to be found. Lincoln is said to have advised the court that his client had asked where she could get a good drink of water and he answered, “Tennessee.” Mrs. Goings was never seen in Metamora again. This tale is one of the stories retold by actor Daniel Day Lewis in his Oscar-winning role as the 16th President in the 2012 film Lincoln.
  • In 1944, a U.S. Navy captain from Chicago, Daniel Vincent Gallery of the USS Guadalcanal, led the operation which captured the German submarine U-505 in the Atlantic. It was the only U-boat captured during World War II. Its capture was an intelligence bonanza for the U.S. Navy as it included the seizure of a German code machine which led to the Navy cracking German codes for the remainder of the war. U-505 was moved to Chicago in 1954 where it is displayed in its entirety at the Museum of Science and Industry.
  • Illinois’ state flag was designed by Lucy Derwent of the Rockford chapter of the Daughters of
    Ella Park Lawrence with the Illinois state flag 1915
    the American Revolution, and was formally chosen as the result of a contest in 1915. The state flag came about because Ella Park Lawrence, a DAR regent from Galesburg, noticed that there was no Illinois flag alongside the other state banners at a DAR war memorial in Washington. She inspired the DAR to launch a statewide contest for a flag design. The word “ILLINOIS” was not part of the original design, however. It was added more than 50 years later after Navy Chief Petty Officer Bruce McDaniel of Waverly noticed that the Illinois state flag displayed in his mess hall in Vietnam was not easily identifiable from the other states’ flags. He wrote his state representative and legislation was approved in 1969 adding the state’s name to the flag.
Illinois’ bicentennial celebration will be ongoing throughout 2018 in advance of Statehood Day on December 3. For more information on the festivities, visit