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'This Day in Illinois History'       Send a link to a friend 

[MARCH 15, 2006]  "This Day in Illinois History." Jeff Ruetsche, Emmis Books, 2005, 399 pages.

Review by
Richard Sumrall

In his entertaining book "This Day in Illinois History," author Jeff Ruetsche writes, "There's much to learn in the wondrous state of Illinois." Here's a sample:

January and February

On Jan. 23, 1818, the Illinois territorial delegate to the United States Congress convinced the legislative body to change the territory's northern border by an additional 40 miles. Although the Illinois border was described as part of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Nathaniel Pope pushed for approval of the border change. The reasoning? To give Illinois a presence on Lake Michigan for trade and commerce.

On Jan. 28, 1922 -- almost 50 years after the fact -- Spring Grove farmer Fred Hatch was credited with inventing and constructing the nation's first vertical silo. Built in 1873, the silo measured 10 feet wide by 24 feet tall and was filled 46 times before its demolition in 1919.

On Feb. 8, 1910, William D. Boyce of Ottawa founded the Boy Scouts of America. Boyce's inspiration came as a result of a London, England, trip during which an anonymous British Boy Scout guided him safely through a bad patch of the city's notorious fog.

March and April

The legendary Wyatt Earp was born in Warren County on March 19, 1848. Earp is best known for his participation in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Less known is the fact that Earp's father was convicted of bootlegging and tax evasion in Monmouth in 1859 and the family was run out of town.

A pivotal moment in the state's Native American history occurred on April 7, 1832, when the Sauk warrior Black Hawk invaded Illinois to reclaim lands he believed to be stolen from his people. The episode became known as the Black Hawk War and was the final conflict of the old Northwest territory.

On April 24, 1886, Pope Leo XIII ordained Augustus Tolton of Alton, making him the first African-American priest in the United States. He later established St. Monica's Church in Chicago, the hub of the city's black Catholic community.

May and June

The rock 'n' roll era began in Chicago on May 21, 1955, when Chuck Berry recorded his classic hit, "Maybelline." The session at the Chess Records studio gave rise to the formula for rock success -- sizzling guitar work, teenybopper lyrics, and a big-beat sound from a great backup band.

On June 12, 1924, one of the biggest train robberies in American history took place at Roundout. The Newton gang was the perpetrator of the $2 million robbery and was captured a few days later. The robbery was later immortalized in the Steve McQueen movie "The Getaway."

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July and August

July 14, 2001, marked the airing of the final episode of "Bozo's Circus." The show featured Bozo the Clown, Cooky the Cook and Ringmaster Ned and was the longest running children's show in American television history. At one point Bozo's Circus had a 10-year waiting list for tickets.

On Aug. 30, 1924, a bitter rivalry in southern Illinois culminated in bloodshed -- the shootout between the Shelton gang and members of the local Ku Klux Klan. Despite the Klan's vow to "clean up the area," the Prohibition-era gang war resulted in five dead Klansman and an escalation of bootlegging-related violence.

September and October

Before there was Beatlemania there was George Harrison's impromptu performance at a birthday party in Franklin County. On Sept. 29, 1963 -- five months before the band's appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" -- Harrison jammed with local rockers The Four Vests while visiting his sister in Benton. While in Illinois Harrison purchased his Rickenbacker guitar in a Mount Vernon music store.

On Oct. 25, 1917, a landmark case of the Supreme Court ended legalized residential segregation in Illinois and the United States. Hansberry v. Lee reversed the practice preventing African-American citizens in Illinois from owning residential property. The case was the inspiration for the play "A Raisin in the Sun" (author Lorraine Hansberry was the defendant's daughter).

November and December

The debut of one of America's most popular newspaper comic strips occurred on Nov. 15, 1907. Mutt and Jeff was the creation of Chicago cartoonist Bud Fisher and was syndicated in William Randolph Hearst's newspaper; the comic duo also inspired more than 300 Hollywood short films.

Scientific history was made on Dec. 2, 1942, when the atomic age was born in a nondescript laboratory below a Chicago football field. Physicist Enrico Fermi and his research team successfully tested the world's first controlled nuclear chain reaction. Their research led to the development of the atomic bombs used to end World War II.

"This Day in Illinois History" is a fascinating book and is recommended to history buffs, students of all ages and anyone wishing to increase their knowledge about the state of Illinois.

[Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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