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Remembering The Interstate 39 Pileup Near El Paso, Illinois

It’s difficult to forget the chaos caused by the 100-plus car pileup from Normal to Mononk early this year, after which 30 miles of highway nearby were completely shut down. The catastrophic accident occurred during periods of heavy snow and reduced visibility in February earlier this year. It was a full day before emergency vehicles could clear the debris and the highway was reopened.

Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt in the massive accident — and only around two dozen vehicles sustained damage. 

That’s no reason to write off the car accident, though. It pays to notice signals and prepare for the worst in the future. While emergency vehicles were quick to arrive on scene, what might have happened had the accident occurred farther south on a backcountry road — where no cell signal could be found? 

The biggest concerns for the people caught in the accident were the plummeting temperature, and lack of food and water, authorities explained. Many victims of the crash escaped their vehicles quickly to avoid oncoming traffic, but then had to worry about how quickly they would be rescued — and whether they would freeze to death in the interim.

It’s important for Southern Illinois residents to recognize that accidents like these are quite common in frigid regions of the country, and it pays to prepare. Almost important is the fact that power lines are sometimes downed by downed icy tree branches, leaving many residents without power. Regardless of whether you’re making a disaster kit for home or your automobile, some of the necessities are the same.

For example, always keep a few days worth of extra non-perishable food in your home and vehicle. Store plenty of fresh water. Your kit should also include batteries, flashlights, firemaking tools, and heavy blankets and/or sleeping bags. Other helpful items recommended by the United States government include: first aid supplies, battery-powered or hand crank radios, a whistle, plastic sheeting, duct tape, dust masks, moist towelettes, garbage bags, plastic ties, wrench and pliers, can opener, local maps, and a backup battery for cell phones. Plastic utensils can also come in handy. Do you own a fire extinguisher? You should.

Purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone and know how to use it — because it won’t necessarily be possible to keep your usual smartphone operational (because those batteries are a pain to switch out!). Consider purchasing an external power pack instead.

Many individuals will require personalized kits as well. Those who require prescription medications will want them on hand in an emergency. Always keep extra infant formula, diapers, wipes, rash cream, and bottles in the closet. If you own a pet, your emergency kit should also hold pet food. 

Other necessities you might need but never think of include extra paper towels and toilet paper (remember what happened during the first weeks of COVID). Less necessary items include books and games. Puzzles can keep children occupied while adults deal with emergencies.

Last but not least, always keep a few hundred dollars in your kit.

Visit 88 National Historic Landmarks In Illinois

Illinois visitors are most likely to visit Chicago, Route 66, and Shawnee National Forest. Why? Because these landmarks are the worst-kept secrets our state offers tourists. They’re brilliant, big, and fun. But what about the best-kept secrets inside Illinois? Believe it or not, our sizable state has hundreds — thousands — of great locations for the adventurous explorer to discover. These include gorgeous state parks, historical sites, and national landmarks most people will never hear about. Here are a few of our favorites. 

The most popular places (aside from the aforementioned) are Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Pullman National Monument, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Lincoln and Pullman will cater to history buffs, while the latter three national historic trails will allow drivers to spend as much or little time as they like at certain locations while finding hole-in-the-wall stops along the way.

We recommend the Trail of Tears State Forest in Union County, near Jonesboro and Murphysboro. The forest encompasses 5,000 acres of conserved land used for timber production, outdoor recreation, and ecosystem preservation. 

The forest is a great place for those who would like to spend money on lodging by camping and enjoying the great outdoors. There are numerous wildlife viewing opportunities available throughout the park year-round, but the best times are dawn and dusk during any season. Keep in mind that some areas are open for hunting during the relevant seasons, so wear orange when hiking or camping. Watch for deer, raccoons, and turkeys.

Fancy horseback riding? Several out-of-the-way equestrian trails are available. Other park activities include fishing, picnicking, and metal detecting. Shelters are available for rent. Campsites are first come, first serve. Backpackers might find log shelters and privies to use during overnight stays. Most campsites cost $8 for an overnight stay, but check with park officials prior to arrival or when making a reservation to make sure.

Famous Southern Illinois University Alumni You Never Knew Matriculated There

Southern Illinois University (SIU) is best known for its strong research partnerships, national recognition for service to underserved students, climate change research, scholarship programs, volunteer organizations, vigorous higher education programs — and a few famous alumni here and there. SIU is proud of its great work, and southernmost Illinois residents are equally proud of having this great institution for learning a part of their local communities.

Highest on the list (at least right now and for blatantly obvious reasons) is Better Call Saul’s famous lead actor, Bob Odenkirk. He plays dirty lawyer Saul Goodman on the Breaking Bad prequel show, which many people believe is even more brilliant than the original source material. His performance has netted him multiple Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Odenkirk has also worked as a comedian and even wrote for Saturday Night Live in the 80’s and 90’s.

Other entertainers include James Belushi, Hannibal Buress, Bil Dwyer, Dennis Franz, Steve James, Melissa McCarthy, Gary Miller, Tom Minton, Tim O’Malley, Rick Rizzs, Richard Roundtree, Robert K. Weiss, and Walt Willey.

Did you know that Los Angeles Lakers Dick Garrett and Nate Hawthorne both went to school and graduated from SIU? Garrett played during the ‘69 season before he eventually became a member for the Buffalo Braves. Hawthorne played for the Lakers during the ‘73 season before claiming a spot on the roster of the Phoenix Suns. His career ended in injury.

One of the lesser known — but still very important — SIU alumni was none other than Louise Huffman, a US Antarctic program educator who currently serves as Director of Education and Outreach for the IDPO (Ice Drilling Program Office). She has claimed several awards during a distinguished career, including the Golden Apple Award in 2003 and the Illinois Science Teachers Association Award in both 1992 and 1996.

Famed musician and bassist for The Rolling Stones, Darryl Jones, also graduated from Southern Illinois. The band still records new music and tours after decades of good work. He previously worked as a member of Sting, and helped record Bring on the Night. A documentary about his life is currently in the works.

Other musicians who attended SIU include Open Mike Eagle, Lee England Jr., Shawn Colvin, Hamiet Bluiett, David Lee Murphy, Jason Ringenberg, and Mathien.

And lowest on the list (for equally obvious reasons) is notorious serial killer Timothy Wayne Krajcir, who was convicted for his crimes and confessed to killing at least nine women (although none of them resided in Illinois). He served in the U.S. Navy for only 14 months before he was dishonorably discharged for sexual assault. He was only connected to the aforementioned murders in 2007 after DNA evidence pointed his way. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for SIU student Deborah Sheppard and others. He is currently 77 and was spared the death penalty.

Want to know more about the SIU mascot? Check out this fun biographical video to learn why SIU is so proud!

What Is Southwest Illinois Best Known For?

When most people think of Illinois, they imagine a sprawling city: Chicago. Although this city captures the vast majority of the nation’s attention, there will always be those who realize you can only understand a state’s people and its culture after visiting the more rural areas. Southwest Illinois is home to nearly 160,000 people. They live in cities like Carbondale, Marion, Herrin, Murphysboro, Anna, Carterville, and Cairo.

Noteworthy landmarks include the scenic Cache River, the prestigious Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, the fast-growing city of Marion, Alto Pass, Bald Knob Pass, Crab Orchard Lake, and the historic city of Cairo from which Illinois receives its nickname “Little Egypt.” There you’ll find the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Outdoor enthusiasts — especially fishers — love this area for its many nature-related exploration opportunities.

One of the most glorious stops is none other than Giant City State Park, a massive 4000-acre natural area. In this park you can stick to the well-worn paths or make your way into the forests or limestone crags to find your own space. An old 1930s lodge is one of the most visited parts of the park, where visitors can stay the night or enjoy home-cooked meals. 

Those who continue their search might try Inspiration Point, a beautiful lookout enjoyed after the LaRue Pine Hills climb. From the top, one can enjoy a panoramic view of the Mississippi River or scout for wildlife living in the region. Trail of Tears State Forest is only a short drive after climbing down. Not done? Head toward the Little Grand Canyon on the other side of Big Muddy River. Its name was derived from the red sandstone valley within, which is often not what people imagine when they think of Illinois wilderness.

Most visitors will make their way to Southwest Illinois from Chicago — especially when flying — and will no doubt enjoy the open prairie views during the drive south. There are plenty of opportunities for detours, of course, but most of this wonderful land is unpopulated!

Ghoulish Stories From The Illinois Backcountry

We all enjoy a good unsolved mystery. You know our website for its rich historical information coupled with advice on where to go and what to do — especially if you’re a frequent traveler. But every once in a while we can’t help but contradict ourselves by reliving those unsolved mysteries, and giving people a good reason not to come! Here are the creepiest ghost stories and paranormal legends in our fine state.

Those familiar with the Devil’s Backbone near Grand Tower might know of the ghostly activity. The legends actually arose from Native American storytellings, but they continued even after the indigenous tribes were pushed from their homes — albeit with a somewhat altered narrative. According to the story, a wedding party was drowned in the nearby river. But a woman named Esmerelda lived there when a terrible accident resulted in her lover’s death. She committed suicide. The stories say she now materializes frequently as mist. Keep a watch during thunderstorms and you just might hear her screams.

Dead Man’s Hollow in Pittsburgh doesn’t have anything on Crenshaw House. First named Hickory Hill, but called the Old Slave House, there were rumors that it was a “dark” underground railroad. Students of American history will know the original Underground Railroad was responsible for freeing slaves. But this one was used to capture free Black men and put them up for sale to the highest bidder. How many people were killed during this illegal, immoral trade? We don’t know, but we do know this: visitors to the Crenshaw House routinely hear moaning from the attic.

Ever hear of the Big Muddy Monster? Police investigated the scene of a monster scare near Big Muddy River on June 26, 1973 — only to hear screaming. Two teens reported another sighting one night later in Westwood Hills. A K9 was tasked with finding the source, but refused to enter the barn where the scent trails originated. Sightings frequently occurred until 1988, when they suddenly came to a stop.

The Rose Hotel is the oldest in the state of Illinois, and remains open as a B&B. The ghost of Sarah Rose — the original owner — is said to wander the halls of the hotel at night, whispering. Guests say that items in the hallways have mysteriously moved overnight. Guests have been witnessing Rose for decades.

Ever been to Cave-In-Rock State Park? The cave was originally home to outlaws from the late 1700s to the late 1800s. According to the oral history of the park, those using the river during this time would often be killed by the scum. Legend also suggests that there might be buried treasure somewhere on site — but surely someone would have found it by now, right?

Facts You Didn’t Know About The State Of Illinois

We routinely deliver news, facts, and historical stories about our wonderful Illinois state. We also derive pride from our state’s parks and monuments. We enjoy watching everyone assimilate this information and then put it to good use by going outside to see the sights. Today, we’re going to share some weird or interesting facts you probably didn’t know about Illinois. Here we go!

Illinois might be known for controversial politics, but believe it or not our state was the very first to ratify the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution. That was the one that abolished slavery!

We’re also a huge exporter of energy. We don’t need to rely on coal and oil as much as everyone else to heat our homes or keep businesses running — because we produce more nuclear power than any other state.

Chicago was once home to the tallest skyscraper in the country. The Sears Tower held the title.

Visitors will realize immediately that Illinois is mostly farmland, but we already had that reputation. 80 percent of our land is farmland — and we export innumerable crops to sell around the country, which boosts our state’s economy and sustains our future.

We were the country’s 21st state. December 3, 1818 was the day we marked our calendars — and we believe everyone should remember this occasion. Why not do some research this coming December?

McDonald’s has grown into a multinational franchise, but the very first restaurant was built in Des Plaines, Illinois! Twinkies also got their start here. They originated in River Forest.

Most people probably don’t view Illinois as a “big” state population-wise, but we’re actually the fifth largest in the United States after Florida, New York, California, and Texas. We can thank Chicago for that.

We’ve also bred presidents, but probably not the one you think. Former President Ronald Reagan was born here. Abraham Lincoln was not — even if we sometimes refer to our homeland as the “Land of Lincoln.”

Number One Reason To Live In Illinois: The Divorce Rate?

Anyone breathing air in the United States of America has probably heard the tidings of the apocalypse by now. Marriages are failing at a rate of about 50 percent. The end times must be coming! But guess what? Whether or not your marriage is likely to fail might be determined by where you live. A new report found Illinois to have one of the lowest divorce rates in the U.S., with only 6.6 percent of couples opting to call it quits. That’s only just over 17 divorced individuals per every 1,000 married.

An anonymous lawyer at the said that “most clients who believe in monogamous relationships aren’t interested in moving from place to place based on marriage rates. But when our clients are making big life changes anyway, we sometimes mention that a new home might be in the cards. Not everyone likes the heat in New Mexico. The grass is always greener on the other side, as it were.”

Founder Joshua Stern of Illinois-based family law firm Stern Perkoski said, “People think a lot about the cash flow and when and where they’re going to see the kids. Inevitably, if you get divorced, you’re not taking two incomes that are supporting one household and asking them to support two households. Usually, people see a drop in their available cash flow.”

Why is the Illinois divorce rate so low?

The pessimistic would likely hypothesize that conservative laws might squeeze divorcing couples for more money than they can afford. Or maybe the financial incentives simply outweigh all other factors combined. Marriage and relationship counselor Victoria Baum said “there’s no simple answer” to the question of why.

There are a few plausible explanations, though. For starters, many Illinois couples tend to cohabitate long before pulling the trigger on marriage — which gives them a pretty good idea what marriage would be like. That might make good couples more likely to stay together and get married. It might also make poor matches more likely to split apart before marriage is even in the cards.

There’s another explanation, too. Most men in Illinois are married around age 30, while women are married at 29. Two or three decades ago, couples were married at a much younger age. Now they wait. Some experts contend that maturity might have something to do with the low divorce rates in Illinois.

Family therapist Farrah Walker said, “Older couples have had time to develop a shared idea of what they want their marriage to look like. Having kids automatically creates strain in relationships; it’s less strenuous when your relationship has had longer to develop. You’re getting married older in a different stage of life. You had time to develop some of those habits in a relationship prior to having kids.”

Could the divorce rates be even lower? Experts say yes, of course they could. The key to making a marriage last is obviously communication. That’s why pulling the trigger on marriage counseling before problems develop could also reduce the rate of decay.

A Brief Snapshot Of Southern Illinois History

Like most of the United States, Illinois was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before European settlers ever arrived. What you might not know is that they were there as far back as 8000 B.C. — and they had a distinct culture and way of life. They included tribes like the Kickapoo, Fox, Sauk, Ottawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Tamaroa and Cahokia. In other words? Many, many people lived and died in this historic region.

The land looked much different as well. Around 22 million acres (or 60 percent of present-day Illinois) of the land was described as prairie. For comparison’s sake, only 2,000 acres of prairie are still around. This has drastically changed how life is lived in the region — especially for wildlife.

Most of what we know about Native American history prior to the arrival of European settlers is fragmented. This is because Native Americans shared stories and oral versions of historical events, which results in changed details. They didn’t write it all down. Still, we have a better understanding of what happened in the centuries immediately before settlement.

For example, the Cahokia tribe of Native Americans was thought to be comprised of tens of thousands of individuals before it mysteriously vanished in the 15th century A.D. 

Theories present a number of possible reasons for this disappearance. There were famines, earthquakes, and the Little Ice Age, all of which may have resulted in external and internal conflicts. For example, belief systems may have been challenged when the environment changed due to natural reasons. 

The area was also home to the Illiniwek Confederation, which was a huge alliance between many tribes. This alliance presented an obstacle to the region’s settlement, especially during the 17th century Beaver Wars. This conflict displaced thousands of Native Americans from Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, which forced Europeans to react. Other tribes were destabilized as a result.

When Illinois Residents Moved West During California Gold Rush

Remember that old computer game, the Oregon Trail? This was the game that introduced many of us (if we’re old enough to remember it) to the perils of the wilderness before paved roads. Although the trail itself ran from Missouri to Oregon, not everyone hopped on at exactly the same point. People arrived at the closest possible point from anywhere in the United States, hoping to find better. And life hadn’t changed much when the California Gold Rush occurred. The journey west was always fraught with dangers most people didn’t expect.

Holcomb Valley was home to the largest rush of new settlers during this period — but modern day residents will know it as part of the San Bernardino National Forest. People from all around the country left the life they knew for the unknown in hopes of making it big mining for gold. Exceedingly few were successful. And Illinois residents are as likely as anyone to make the trip.

Why was the trip so dangerous? Maybe it wasn’t as dangerous as you expect: only one in ten died making the trip on the Oregon Trail. The push west to California was similar.

Well, you can start by imagining a time without common preventative measures like vaccines, water filters, or seat belts. These people didn’t have bear spray to ward away dangerous animals. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Those who perished on the journey died mostly of illness: dysentery, smallpox, flu, or cholera. They did their best to prevent others from falling for the same reason. When there was an outbreak among a particular group of travelers, they would leave messages behind for those who arrived later. This was especially important when the danger was external, such as hostile Native Americans. 

One common problem? When a wagon wheel surrendered to the pressures of the trail, the break would be sudden and violent. Usually, drivers and passengers would be ejected from the vehicle and deposited on the ground — sometimes with broken bones. Without a doctor to properly set the bone or a cast to help it heal, even these common injuries could be fatal. Many travelers were crushed by wagons for lack of paying attention or when trying to change one of the aforementioned broken wheels. 

In earlier times, there were no bridges to make river crossings safer. Many travelers were likely to drown (not everyone knew how to swim back in the day). 

There were also very few towns along the way. Mostly, the journey west was open wilderness. This is how the image of the American outlaw and cowboy became fully realized. Looking for the law? You wouldn’t find it out there. You were on your own when the shooting started or the bandits came. Because these dangers were so common and expected, everyone owned a firearm. Another common cause of death? Accidental discharge (of the gun variety). 

As time wore on, the journey became easier. Bridges were built. Towns sprung up over months and years, providing travelers with places to rest and relax or resupply.

The Creepy Side Of Illinois

Illinois has had hundreds of years to build a reputation based on economy, fairness, good people, and great places. But that span of time was also used to wash away a number of creepy tales and spooky folklore you’ve probably never heard about! Here are a few interesting stories we love to tell around the campfire.

Ever heard of Henry H. Holmes? He was a pharmacy owner in Chicago — and a successful early 19th century serial killer! He would rent out rooms to female visitors in town for an expo, and then murder them in the basement (or so the story goes). Police discovered dismembered body parts in jars. They also found a little shop of horrors, complete with acid and quicklime pits. There’s a post office at this location today. Workers say they can still hear the screams of the dearly departed…

Visit Flora Township for a taste of Blood’s Point Road. According to old folklore, a school bus full of children crashed near this location — which is also home to a cemetery and bridge. Storytellers say this bridge was the location of hangings.

In Egypt, Illinois, there was a man who passed away while waiting for a bus. He’s now known as the vanishing man, as legend suggests his spirit is still stuck on that bus — and many people have apparently noted this apparition, especially when it disappears from plain view.

The “Hatchet Lady” protects her son’s grave at Moon Point Cemetery. Wander too close to the grave in question, and she might just scream “get out!” Some have seen other ghosts at the cemetery, too, in addition to strange sounds or lights.

Head to Archer Ave and you might see “Resurrection Mary,” an apparently beautiful hitchhiker clothed in white. According to local legend, she will disappear once she’s in the car — leaving you with nightmares for a good long while. The stories say she ran from her boyfriend after a fight, only to be struck and killed by a passing vehicle near Resurrection Cemetery.