Illinois Statehood Day 2022 FBLet’s blow out the candles and wish a happy birthday to Illinois! Illinois turns 204 on Dec. 3, after becoming the 21st official state of America in 1818. Illinois is a unique state with a robust history. Containing both farmlands and major cities, Illinois is a staple of the Midwest where one can find breathtaking hiking trails or go to the top of a tall skyscraper. Illinois holds many wonders and those who live in the state or those who visit can find something amazing anywhere they go, from Lake Shore Drive in Chicago to Route 66 in Springfield.

Before Illinois became a state it was inhabited for generations by the Illinois nation, a confederation of Algonquian-speaking Native American tribes. The first Europeans to visit Illinois were French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette in 1673. Illinois became a part of Britain after the French and Indian War. However, after the American Revolution, Illinois became a territory of the United States and achieved statehood in 1818.

At first, settlers were unsure what to make of the flat, treeless prairie lands. Settlers initially believed the lack of trees meant the land would be difficult for farming. This lack of enthusiasm led the state to have a small population when it first came into statehood, only having a population of about 35,000. Soon enough, however, farmers took their plows to the soil and found it to be far richer than expected. Sturdier plows were developed for Illinois soil, and soon the population boomed. Chicago rapidly became a bustling city and Illinois became increasingly recognized as one of the nation’s most fertile agricultural areas. The combination of agriculture and city life sets Illinois apart from other states and today we celebrate the state’s birthday for becoming a part of America’s great union! 

spider danChicago has had its very own Spiderman! While he did not swing from web to web like the comic book crusader, Spider Dan still did whatever a spider can during his two big climbs in the windy city. On Memorial Day of 1981, Dan Goodwin, also known as Spider Dan, climbed all 110 stories of the Sears Tower. The daredevil completed the death defying stunt not only in opposition to great winds, but also against firefighter interference.

Spider Dan did not complete the climb for his own personal glory and recognition. Rather, the rock climber completed the stunt to showcase the difficulty to escape a skyscraper from the highest floors in case of emergencies. He was inspired after witnessing a fire in the MGM Grand Hotel where 85 people had been killed by the blaze due to smoke inhalation on the highest floors where guests could not escape. Dan wanted to prove that despite the efforts firefighters put forward, the tallest levels of some buildings could not be reached by design in case of emergencies. Spider Dan’s point came across as, while firefighters tried to stop his ascent to the top, he still completed the 110 story climb on his own. The climb also proved the difficulty of escaping high floors as he completed it with a lot of effort and risk, even using climbing equipment.     

Spider Dan was not done there, however. In the same year he also scaled the 100 stories of the John Hancock Building. Again the fire department desperately tried to stop his ascent. Spider Dan, similar to Spiderman in the comic books, faced backlash from the city’s officials. Finally, impressed by his prowess and in a moment of grace, Mayor Byrne of Chicago at the time called off the fire department. Spider Dan completed two harrowing climbs on Chicago skyscrapers in the same year, showing city dwellers anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

letterDid you know? Legend has it that on Nov. 21, 1864 President Abraham Lincoln wrote a condolence letter to a mother who had lost five sons in the Civil War. The depicted image is nothing but a copy rendered of Lincoln’s infamous letter to widow and mother of five men, Lydia Bixby, whose sons allegedly died while fighting for the Union in the Civil War. This letter holds an air of mystery around it as the original letter signed by Lincoln has never been found, and some historians debate Lincoln even wrote the letter himself. The letter grew in fame and notoriety when a copy of it was published just four days after it was supposedly transcribed by the president. On Nov. 25, 1864 a copy of the letter was published in the Boston Evening Transcript.

At that time, it was common for copies of presidential messages to be published and sold as souvenirs, so it would make sense Lincoln’s letter was in the Boston Evening Transcript. However, some historians seem to think the letter was actually written by Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay. The mystery of the legitimacy of the letter grew when scholars discovered Mrs. Bixby actually only seemed to lose three sons during the Civil War, the other one was honorably discharged and the second was dishonorably thrown out of the Army. While the loss of three sons is still unimaginable, the letter claiming the loss of all five has thrown it into the unknown facts of history. Perhaps a report came in wrong and Lincoln truly believed she had lost five of her children or maybe during the grief surrounding the country at the time Lincoln wanted to offer up condolences to the nation and thought Mrs. Bixby’s story was the best to address, having his secretary help.   

Whatever the truth behind the letter is, it has only grown in infamy in the modern day as it was quoted in the famous movie Saving Private Ryan by the character Gen. George C. Marshall who was played by Harve Presnell. The movie tells the story of Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, and his men as the go behind enemy lines to find Private Ryan. Ryan’s three brothers have been killed in combat. The soldiers set out hoping to save Ryan’s mother from the same fate as Mrs. Bixby. While the Lincoln letter’s origins are unclear, the words contained within it still inspire compassion for U.S. soldiers and their families to this day.

barbed wireThe year was 1872, and Lucinda Glidden was perplexed. Her large wire hairpins were missing, and her daughter denied taking them for her own hair. She was contemplating the missing items as her whole family sat down for supper. Suddenly, she noticed her husband, Joseph F. Glidden, take two of the missing hairpins out of his pocket. Confused she asked, “Joseph, what are you doing with my hairpins?” He replied he was working on making a new fence to help keep their livestock in their yard. Lucinda was left with more questions than she had started with.

Joseph F. Glidden, from DeKalb, invented the most widely used barbed wire in the nation and patented his idea in 1874. What started out as an idea with his wife’s hairpins, turned into a popular and easy to produce barbed wire design that included two strands of wire twisted together to hold the barbs firmly in place. Previous versions of barbed wire had already existed, but it was Glidden’s design that made barbed wire a commonly used item on farmlands all around the country.

His design helped to forever change the outlook of the American Midwest. The barbed wire was well suited to mass production. Farmers quickly realized Glidden’s wires were the cheapest, strongest and most durable way to fence their property. Wood fencing was very expensive at the time, so Glidden’s wire gave even poorer farmers the capability to protect their farms and grazing herds of sheep and cattle. The large amounts of barbed wire fencing all over the Great Plains virtually brought the open range cattle industry to an end. Gone was the need to drive cattle over miles of unfenced land. Joseph Glidden’s barbed wire changed the farming and herding industries, allowing more people to protect their farms and animals. This was all thanks to the idea of one man and his wife’s hairpins.

Long Count Fight ImageWhen thinking of boxing, nothing comes to mind more than the classic Rocky Balboa training scene. Everyone feels a sense of victory when Rocky reaches the top of the stairs. But did you know Illinois is home to another classic boxing moment?  On September 23, 1927, world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey faced off in a 10-round rematch. Their first match was exactly 364 days prior, where Gene Tunney took the win with a ten round unanimous decision. In 1926 Dempsey had been the popular champion, almost more celebrity than fighter. While Tunney was the underdog, obsessed with beating the champion. Dempsey’s 1926 defeat by Tunney was viewed as a shocking upset.

The year 1927 was no different. While Tunney had won the year prior, Jack Dempsey was the favorite to win again, with the public heavily betting on him. 104,000 people flooded Soldier Field to witness the historic rematch. The match would be another 10 rounds between the two heavyweight champions.  The first 6 rounds passed by as any normal boxing match. In the 7th round, things took a turn. Dempsey hit Tunney with a left hook and clean up combination that sent him down. In boxing, a knockout occurs when the referee reaches a count of ten seconds. For a fleeting moment, the former champion tasted victory again. But then, Tunney got up at the 9 count.

However, it was not a clear come back for Tunney. Fans on either side went wild, as 5 seconds were lost when Dempsey failed to retreat to the “neutral corner” immediately after his hit. The rules stated the referee could not begin his count until Dempsey arrived in this corner. What should have been 14 seconds down, and a knock out, was only 9 official seconds. After he got up, Tunney went on to win the entire match and beat Dempsey for a second time.

What should have been a victory for a formerly defeated champion, turned into a two-year running heavyweight championship for the underdog. The 5 precious seconds lost forever made this fight known in boxing history as the Long Count Fight.