Animal-WelfareDYKIllinois has some of the toughest laws protecting animals in the United States.  In 2013 and 2012, The Animal Legal Defense Fund listed Illinois as the top state for animal protection laws.

Illinois has felony penalties for cruelty, neglect, fighting, abandonment and sexual assault, as well as increased penalties for repeat animal abusers and animal hoarders.

Learn more:
See where Illinois stacks up against other states.
The Humane Society of the United States has an interactive map comparing Illinois to other states.

BrowniesDYKIllinoisans clearly love dessert. Some of America’s most iconic sweet treats hail from the Land of Lincoln: Ice cream sundaes, Twinkies, Cracker Jacks and more. Right now, let us consider the humble brownie.

Those delicious, chocolate slabs that decorate bakery shelves from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon (and beyond) were created at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Several other sources claim to invent brownies, but they are usually from later dates and/or omit chocolate, which most of us would consider the key ingredient.

The story goes that Bertha Palmer wanted a portable treat for ladies to take to the fair as part of boxed lunches. The kitchen responded with a not-quite cake, not-quite cookie dessert oozing with chocolate and coated with an apricot glaze.

The apricot glaze may no longer be standard, but brownies are certainly here to stay.

Learn more:
The recipe for the original brownie.
Book a room at the historic Palmer House and try the original brownie where it was created.

Sandra CisnerosSandra Cisneros, who is well known for her novels, short stories and poems, was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1954.

Cisneros wrote her first poem at the age of ten and had her publishing debut in 1980 with Bad Boys. But it wasn’t until she wrote The House on Mango Street (1984) that she jumped to fame. So far, The House on Mango Street has sold more than two million copies.

Her academic background includes a B.A. in English from Loyola University in Chicago and a M.F.A. in Creating Writing from the University of Iowa.

Sandra was born in a Mexican-American family and is the only surviving daughter in a family of seven children. The places she has lived are recurrent locations in her writing. They include Chicago, Mexico City and San Antonio.

Sandra’s work is considered among the most prominent in Chicano literature. She established the Macondo and the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundations (the latter named in honor of her father’s memory) to support upcoming talented writers.

To read more about Sandra Cisneros, visit her official website.

Kaskaskia DragonShould you happen to find yourself traveling down I-70 and feel the need for a quick stop, try exit 61.  That’s where you’ll find him, in all his fire-breathing glory.

Built in 1995 by Vandalia business-owner Walt Barenfanger, the forty-foot monster is complete with glowing red eyes and plumes of fire blasting from its nose and mouth.  Originally built as an attraction to draw customers, the dragon has become a fascinating roadside attraction.  All you need to do to witness the flaming beast is purchase a one dollar token at the neighboring True Value hardware store.

The Dragon was constructed by Paul Schaub, a local welder, and includes more than four tons of scrap metal wrapped around a large propane tank.

You can find this incredible bit of roadside art at: 2024 Progress West Dr., Vandalia, IL

Learn More:
A 5 Day Midwest Adventure: Day 5 – Columbia, St. Louis, Ra66it Ranch and a Fire Breathing Dragon
Watch him breathe fire (and find a map)

Did You Know? Betty White was born in IllinoisBetty White was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. She is 92 years old and is the only surviving Golden Girl.

In 2013, the Guinness World Records awarded White with having the longest television career for a female entertainer.

In a television and film career that has spanned over 70 years, White has won seven Emmy Awards, received 21 Emmy nominations and is the only woman to have won an Emmy in all performing comedic categories. However, in her early career she was turned down by studios for being “unphotogenic.”

She also received the honorary title of the Mayor of Hollywood in 1955 and has been formally inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.

A grassroots campaign on Facebook called "Betty White to Host SNL (Please)" began in January 2010. The group was approaching 500,000 members when NBC confirmed that White would in fact host Saturday Night Live on May 8. The appearance made her, at age 88, the oldest person to host the show.

White is also known for her animal rights activism. She has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Los Angeles Zoo and has been a member of the board of directors since 1974.