The entire day was overcast and Kyle and I were in one of our hurries—a hurry to the west so we could feel some accomplishment. But in our haste we missed a lot on the Mother Road, forsaking the parts of the original byway and the access roads for the highway. Also, we woke up so early to make our getaway from The Redwood Motel, by the time we got to Litchfield, Missouri, nothing was open. We were then molested by a pair if Illinois finest. Kyle and I continued on to cross the state border into St. Louis, where we visited the Gateway Arch together, and then separated to take in the city. I was feeling so beat—rain had let loose, the area around the Arch was all commercial and boring, and the Mississippi River smelled like a jock’s sweaty, dirty feel being set on fire. Kyle and I met back up around lunch and took in O.T. Hodge Chile Parlour. It was O.K., if you like Hormel chili. I was done—I had to leave.
Upon waking in Chicago to head west on Route 66, the weather was perfect. Not one cloud in the sky and a cool breeze broke through the 78 degree temperatures. It didn’t take long to hit our first Rt. 66 landmark—one that has since been moved. Bunyon’s Hotdogs in Cicero had a fiberglass roadside giant standing on the side of its joint. The square-jawed Paul was cradling a giant hotdog, paint faded and peeling in the heat. Bunyon’s closed down and the giant moved to Atlanta, Illinois, greeting Route 66ers in the quiet downtown where not much happens anymore. However, it’s a better home for him because he is well taken care of.
Chicago, Illinois, is one of those places you can never get enough of. In 2001, though, it was not the Chicago of today. Marshall Field’s was still its own breed of department stores, maintaining the senior Field’s vision of having a mini bazaar in the middle of Chicago. Lace from Ireland, Silver from France, and clothing tailored in London, Paris, and New York City was displayed for sale on the many floors of Marshall Field’s, which took up and entire city block and went eleven floors above State Street. Home furnishings, lavish walnut paneled restaurants, fountains, and decadent candy stores made shopping here an all day event. Grant Park was still working on its final Frank Gehry redesign. Trader Vic’s was serving south Pacific dishes in the basement of the Palmer House Hilton. For Kyle and I, this was a day of exploration, which involved the two of us getting lost. This was the only time we explored a city without a map.
No matter how early I woke up, Kyle was always awake and ready to go before me. He scooted out of the hotel around 8 a.m. to explore Chicago on his own. I was going to spend some of the day with my friend Chris, who would take me all over the city on a photograph safari, but before I could leave, I had to get my clothes out of the dryer, which meant I didn’t get out of the hotel until 10:30 a.m.
Leaving Clyde, Ohio, was a bittersweet. Although the town was clearly on the decline, there was something very likable, very American about it. The sky was overcast until 9 a.m. when the clouds dissipated, freeing the sun from any obstruction for the rest of the day.
The Cozy Dog is one of the many constants on Route 66. Located on your way out of Springfield, Illinois, The Cozy Dog has been serving their signature “corn dog” (but don’t call it that! It’s a Cozy Dog!) on The Mother Road since 1949. The originator, Ed Waldmire Jr., invented his Cozy Dog in 1946 while still in the Air Force, stationed in Amarillo, Texas. The original building was rebuilt years ago, but The Cozy Dog has never left its home as one of the founding businesses of Route 66.
Interior of The Cozy Dog
I’m a big fan of their chili dogs, and the french fries are some of the best you’ll ever have. The interior is unique—spiced up with icons and images from Rt. 66 and from the history of the Cozy Dog restaurant. It’s the kind of place where the pieces of art and objects on the walls were not placed there by some interior designers who decide that bling on the walls are good conversation starters for people sitting waiting for pre-packaged food. No, The Cozy Dog is where the chain places like T.G.I. Friday’s and Ruby Tuesday’s took that idea from. Continue reading →
Deep inside Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, stands a granite tomb built for President Abraham Lincoln. Between 1868 and 1931 the insides and contents of the tomb had constantly changed, but since 1931, when Herbert Hoover rededicated the tomb to the State of Illinois as a historic landmark, the interior of the tomb has stayed the same. By 1966 Lincoln’s Tomb was placed on the historic register of the nation, but none of these prestigious titles is what brings people to the burial site of Abraham Lincoln. No, it’s the myth more than the man that calls people to visit the tomb of the “Great Emancipator.”
Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.
In the last couple years, Lincoln’s myth has gained, well, even more myth, with the help of movies like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, and one can assure a resurgence in interest in the martyred President with the release of Steven Spielberg’s new film, Lincoln, but Lincoln’s accurate biography and his myth both be damned. When you visit Lincoln’s Tomb, like all sites of reverence and/or history, there’s something in between the myth and the facts of a person that can be filled by each individual. For me, walking the hexagon shape of the halls within the tomb are a reminder that every museum, monument and town that bears the name of Lincoln, or celebrates the life of the slain President, elevates the actions of the man and obscures the fact that he was indeed a human being—a man with needs, wants. Continue reading →
The building has been abandoned for over seven years. The Tropics used to be the area’s hottest tiki bar, built by a post-WWII vet who served double-pattied burgers, but the fad of the Atomic Era-inspired South Pacific craze quickly came and went and The Tropics went from a simple coffee shop/diner to a diner to closed.
Atlanta, Illinois, was born of the railroad—like many towns/cities in the United States—and when the railroads went, so did Atlanta. With a population hovering around 1,600 for the past few decades, Atlanta is not a withering city, but a small town welcoming visitors with a yellow smiley face painted on their water tower. Back in 2001, I remember driving through the town and seeing nothing but empty, rotting buildings, with the exception of the grocery store on Vine Street that had no signage indicating what it was. Today that market is still there with its front glass window subtly painted with the words “Country Market,” and it’s been joined by a few businesses that have not only been revived, but have a steady (though small) flow of customers daily.
Tall Paul stands in the center of Atlanta, Illinois, across the street from The Palms Grill Cafe.
A few years ago, Atlanta started reshaping its downtown to entice Route 66ers, and when Tall Paul was planted in the middle of Main Street it provided the first of many photo-ops as well as landed Atlanta on the very small map of towns/cities home to a fiberglass Muffler Man, here known as Tall Paul.
When I stopped at the Dixie’s Trucker’s Home in 2011, I wrote the following:
Dixie Truckers Home, a gas station and diner where drivers of all sorts found a cup of coffee strong enough to punch you in the face and food like momma made, was started in 1928 by J.P. Walters and his son-in-law John Geske. In 1967, John’s daughter C.J. and her husband Chuck Beeler took over the place. As C.J. recalled in the Illinois Times, “Dixie was not really much when it started. My dad and grandfather bought this old mechanic’s garage right on 66. Only used about a quarter of the space, and there wasn’t really a restaurant then–just six counter stools for people to sit while they got something to eat…. The very early years were the Depression years, from ’29 to ’33. I don’t really remember much about those times, except I know beggars would come to the back door of the kitchen to get something to eat. Hobos got off the train that went close by, and they knew they could always get something. My mother would never turn them away.”