Did You Know? MLB star Curtis Granderson of the New York Mets was born and raised here in IllinoisBorn in Blue Island, IL and raised in Lynwood, IL, the major league power slugger is a three-time MLB All-Star and even won the Silver Slugger Award, which goes to the best offensive player at each position, in 2011.

Granderson got his start playing baseball and basketball for Thornton Fractional High School, where he posted stellar numbers, leading to a scholarship to play baseball for the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames. After his junior season, he was named Second-Team All-American after recording a standout .483 batting average, but not all of Granderson’s achievements came on the field. He graduated the next year with a double major in business administration and business marketing.

He made his major league debut for the Detroit Tigers in 2004, helping lead his team to the 2006 World Series, and in 2007, became only the second player in franchise history to have at least 30 doubles, 15 triples, 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases in a single season.

After being traded to the New York Yankees in 2009, he was voted an All-Star for the first time. During his tenure with the Yankees, he would become the first player to record 40 home runs, 10 triples and 25 stolen bases in a single season! He finished fourth in MVP voting that year.

As of December of last year, he agreed to a four-year contract with the Yankees’ cross-town rival, the New York Mets. Off the field, Granderson founded the Grand Kids Foundation, benefiting education in inner cities, and even authored a children’s book. His total commitment to the next generation has garnished the praise of figures such as Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Learn more:
Look up a complete archive of Curtis Granderson’s career stats.
Visit his official ESPN page for everything from news articles, TV and radio interviews, infographics, to even projected stats for next season.

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)