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Chloe Effron

25 Above-Average Facts About Illinois

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Chloe Effron

Illinois is known for a few things: prairies, corn (it’s the country’s second-largest producer), and the Chicago Cubs (one of the nation’s longest-running professional sports clubs). But the country’s fifth most populous state is much more than just Chicago and farmland. Here are 25 colorful facts about the midwestern state.

1. Several analyses of U.S. Census data have found that Illinois is the most average state in the nation. That means its population demographics, average incomes, and urban-to-rural proportions look more like the nation as a whole than any other state’s. 

2. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport sees more flights than any other airport in the U.S. In 2015, almost 882,000 flights went through the airport. 

3. It has the tallest building in North America—by some standards. The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago stands 1451 feet tall. New York City’s One World Trade Center tops out at 1776 feet tall, making it officially taller than Chicago’s 1970s skyscraper. But the roof on One World Trade is actually only 1335 feet tall, with the rest of the height coming from a spire. The Willis Tower has six more floors than One World Trade Center, and its roof stands 100 feet taller. 

4. It was home to the world’s first skyscraper. The Home Insurance Building, built in 1885 in Chicago, is generally considered the first skyscraper, since it was the first tall building to have a structural steel frame. It was 10 stories tall, and the tallest building in the world at the time. It was demolished in 1931 

Image Credit: Chicago Architectural Photographing Company via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

5. John Hughes’ most famous movies were set in the northern part of the state. Hughes went to high school on Chicago’s North Shore, a setting that became integral to his films—most are set in the fictional suburb of Shermer. Many were filmed on the North Shore, too. The Home Alone house is actually a mansion in Winnetka; The Breakfast Club was shot in suburbs like Des Plaines and Northbrook, Illinois. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is all about a day trip to downtown Chicago, complete with a Cubs game and a trip to the Art Institute. 

6. Popcorn is the official state snackfood. The state is one of the nation’s leading producers of popcorn, and in 2003 it was voted the official state snackfood, thanks to lobbying by a group of second and third graders

7. Some parts of the state are very Normal—the main campus of Illinois State University, for example, is located in Normal, Illinois, in the center of the state. 

8. It has its own Grand Canyon. The Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois boasts the Little Grand Canyon, a deep canyon formed by the Big Muddy River. Shawnee is the state’s only national forest. 

9. Chicago has more lines of railroad track radiating out from the city in different directions than any other city. From the late 1850s through the early 20th century, almost all freight and people traveling by train across the country had to pass through Chicago.  

Chicago railroads in 1911. Image Credit: The Chicago Association of Commerce Committee of Investigation on Smoke Abatement and Electrification of Railway Terminals via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

10. Before it became a state, it demanded a lakefront. Originally, the northern border of the state would have cut off Illinois from any access to Lake Michigan. Later, a congressional committee discussing Illinois’ 1818 promotion from territory to state suggested that the northern boundary of the state extend straight west from the Indiana state line. However, the Illinois Territory’s congressional delegate successfully lobbied to push the border some 50 miles further north to give the state more shoreline and a port at Chicago—and profitable valuable access to the Erie Canal, which had just begun construction the year before. 

11. It hosted a Mormon utopia for a few years in the 1800s. In 1838, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints were driven out of Missouri, resettling in Illinois. Church founder Joseph Smith founded a new town called Nauvoo, a Mormon community that quickly became one of the state’s largest cities. After Smith’s assassination in 1844, his followers set out to find refuge farther west, eventually landing in Salt Lake City. 

12. The origins of its name are debated. French explorers and settlers called the Native American tribes who lived in the central Mississippi Valley the Illinois Indians. According to several sources, including the website of the state attorney general, the name “comes from a Native American word meaning ‘tribe of superior men.’” However, according to scholars of indigenous American languages [PDF], it actually traces back to the Illinois word "irenweewa," meaning “he speaks in the ordinary way." Eventually, this merged into another indigenous language as “ilinwe,” which French travelers made “Illinois.” 

13. It has deep roots in jazz history. The Great Migration brought thousands of Black southerners north to Chicago, where they settled on the South Side. These southern transplants—including Louis Armstrong—brought jazz talent from New Orleans. Chicago became the go-to destination for the best musicians to perform and record.  

Jazz legend Louis Armstrong, who moved to Chicago from New Orleans in 1922. He lived in the city off and on for much of his career. World-Telegram staff photographer, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

14. It’s the start of Route 66. The historic highway begins in downtown Chicago before continuing across Illinois and down to Missouri on its way to California. 

15. It’s incredibly flat. A 2014 study found that the prairies and farmlands of Illinois are flatter than every other state except Florida, thanks to ancient glaciers. The highest natural point in the state, a hill called the Charles Mound, is 1,235 feet above sea level—slightly lower than the Willis Tower. 

16. It has a (now inactive) giant underground particle accelerator. Before the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory shut down its particle accelerator, the Tevatron, in 2011, it was the country’s largest particle accelerator, and the world’s second-most-powerful behind the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. 

17. Chicago has one of the oldest NFL teams in the nation. The Bears were once the Decatur Staleys, a founding team of the NFL hailing from Decatur, Illinois. Only one other team has been around since the league’s founding: the Arizona Cardinals, who originally played in Chicago. 

18. It has its own indie folk album. In 2005, Sufjan Stevens released Illinois, an entire album devoted to places, people, and history of the state. He had previously released an album about his home state of Michigan. 

19. It’s one of the only states that celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day. The day, honoring Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski, who was a Polish immigrant, is a state holiday in Illinois, which has an particularly large Polish population. The state holds its memorial on the first Monday in March, in honor of the general’s birthday. Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Indiana also observe it. The federal government observes General Pulaski Memorial Day in October, in honor of the general’s death day. 

Casimir Pulaski. Image Credit: Marcin K. via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

20. Young culinary students can drink there. Per the state’s liquor code, amended in 2012, someone under the age of 21 (but over the age of 18) can taste but “not imbibe” as long as they’re doing it as part of a culinary course. 

21. It’s the Land of Lincoln, but two other presidents have launched their political careers there: Ulysses S. Grant and Barack Obama. And though Ronald Reagan is known as a California politician, he was born and raised in northwest Illinois. 

22. It birthed the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s. Jimmy John Liautaud founded the first restaurant in 1983 in Charleston, Illinois, near the campus of Eastern Illinois University. 

23. One of its nicknames is the Sucker State. There are several theories as to how this sobriquet came about. The name might also refer to the migration patterns of 1820s lead miners, who would come north in the warmer months to work in the mines of Galena, Illinois, then return south for the winter, like sucker fish in the Mississippi River. Or, it might be a reference to the sprouts of tobacco plants, called suckers, referencing the southern migrants who came to Illinois to get away from the plantation system. Regardless, it appeared on this 1884 map made by an Illinois-based pork company, with a crassly named pig for every state. 

Image Credit: Library of Congress

24. It once hosted the windmill capital of the world. Batavia, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, was the home of several major windmill producers at the turn of the century. The U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company factory there was once the largest manufacturer of windmills in the world

25. It was home to America’s largest prehistoric city. In 1250 CE, Cahokia—just a few miles over the Illinois border from what is now St. Louis—was larger than London. It was inhabited as early as 700 CE and abandoned around 1300 CE. 

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.


"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."


"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."


"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."


"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."


"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."


"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."


"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."


"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."


"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."


"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."


"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."


"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."


"True friends stab you in the front."


"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."


"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."


"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."


"Genius is born—not paid."


"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."


"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"


"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."


"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."


"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."


"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."


"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock
5 Cemetery Road Trips for the Ultimate Taphophile
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Autumn is the best time of year for a road trip. The weather is cooling down, the leaves are turning, and fewer people are on the roads. With Halloween on the horizon, cemeteries are natural destinations. These five journeys are a great way to explore America’s rich and varied history as recorded on its tombstones—and truly dedicated taphophiles (from the Greek for tomb) can combine them into one itinerary covering 22 states and more than 10,000 miles. Tombstone tourists, rejoice.


A stylized map of the United States showing a route map for a Northeast cemetery road trip
Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

A. Hope Cemetery
201 Maple Avenue, Barre, Vermont
44.2107° N, 72.4994° W

Barre’s Hope Cemetery is a jaw-dropping open-air sculpture garden, featuring locally quarried granite carved into everything from angels to sports cars to life-sized portraits. The cemetery is especially gorgeous when the leaves turn in autumn.

B. Mount Auburn Cemetery
580 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts
42.3752° N, 71.1450° W

Designed by Dr. Jacob Bigelow, the foremost botanist of his day, this breathtaking place may be the most important cemetery in America. Its opening in 1831 signaled a shift from austere churchyards to park-like cemeteries full of trees and flowers. One of the most striking grave monuments remembers Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science.

C. Touro Jewish Cemetery
Touro Street, Newport, Rhode Island
41.48793° N, 71.30936° W

Open only one day a year, the Touro Cemetery is the second-oldest Jewish cemetery in the U.S. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a beautiful poem about the place. Nearby Touro Synagogue offers a brochure to explain the significance of the cemetery to visitors who come to gaze through its gates.

D. Green-Wood Cemetery
500 25th Street, Brooklyn, New York
40.6590° N, 73.9956° W

Lovely Green-Wood Cemetery is the forefather of city parks in America. Full of famous names and one-of-a-kind monuments, the cemetery rewards repeat visits. Among those buried here are Jean-Michel Basquiat, FAO Schwarz, and conductor Leonard Bernstein.

E. Soldiers’ National Cemetery
Gettysburg National Military Park
1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
39.82177° N, 77.23256° W

A Gettysburg postcard from pre-1930
Author's collection

President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address announced the system of national cemeteries for casualties of federal battles. In Soldiers’ National Cemetery, granite stones marked with the tally of unknown soldiers provide a sobering reminder of the costs of war.

F. Congressional Cemetery
1801 E. Street SE, Washington, D.C.
38.8811° N, 76.9780° W

Originally designed as a graveyard for congressmen who died in office, the Congressional Cemetery became the final resting place for a wide assortment of public servants. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, and march king John Philip Sousa—as well as pioneers in the fights for Native American rights, women’s rights, and gay rights—are all buried here.


A stylized map of the United States showing a route map for a Southern cemetery road trip
Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

A. The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
449 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta, Georgia
33.7563° N, 84.3734° W

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rests on the grounds of the Center for Nonviolent Social Change, founded in his name by his widow Coretta Scott King in 1968. After her death in 2006, Mrs. King joined him in a matching sarcophagus. The King Center is undergoing renovation in advance of the 50th anniversary of his assassination, so call before you visit.

B. Bonaventure Cemetery
330 Bonaventure Road, Savannah, Georgia
32.0444° N, 81.0467° W

Oaks draped with Spanish moss surround museum-worthy statuary in Bonaventure Cemetery. When John Muir camped there in September 1867, he wrote that the cemetery was "so beautiful that almost any sensible person would choose to dwell here with the dead” [PDF]. More than a century later, the cemetery still makes all the lists of most beautiful graveyards.

C. Tolomato Cemetery
14 Cordova Street, Saint Augustine, Florida
29.8970° N, 81.3151° W

American citizens of Saint Augustine started using this acre of land as a cemetery in 1777, although the Spanish used it as a graveyard even earlier. As such, it may be the oldest European-founded cemetery in the U.S. Although Hurricane Irma did significant damage in September, Tolomato Cemetery remains open to visitors one day a month as its Preservation Society repairs it.

D. St. Louis Cemetery #1
425 Basin Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
29.9608° N, 90.0754° W

A vintage postcard of St. Louis No. 1
Author's collection

New Orleans’s tropical heat and humidity gave rise to the so-called oven tomb, which can reduce a corpse to bones in less than a year. In the back of each of these tombs stands a receptacle called a caveau, which contains the bones of all its occupants mixed together through the generations.

The most famous tomb in the oldest surviving cemetery in New Orleans may belong to Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen. The death date on the tomb is closer to her daughter Marie’s, but since the bones of all the tomb’s occupants lie jumbled together in its central caveau, it’s believed the original Marie rests there as well. After vandalism of the tomb spiraled out of control, the cemetery now opens only to tour groups. Luckily, there are many tours from which to choose.


A stylized map of the United States showing a route map for a Western cemetery road trip
Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

A. Texas State Cemetery
909 Navasota Street, Austin, Texas
30.15994° N, 97.43553° W

Conceived as a pantheon to the famous sons of Texas, the Texas State Cemetery is the final home of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, as well as Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who helped impeach Richard Nixon. Also buried here are Governor Ann Richards, Chris Kyle (author of American Sniper), and Stephen Austin himself, all of whom lie beneath remarkable statuary.

B. Apache Prisoners-of-War Cemetery
The East Ridge at Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma
34.6960° N, 98.3710° W

After his capture by the U.S. Cavalry, Apache chief Geronimo remained a prisoner of war at Fort Sill until his death in 1909. His grave remained unmarked for many years, but early in World War II, the 501st Airborne took his name as their motto. With the permission of Geronimo’s descendants, paratroopers built the pyramid of stones that now marks Geronimo’s grave. Around him lie men proud to be remembered as his warriors.

C. Riverside Cemetery
5201 Brighton Boulevard, Denver, Colorado
39.4739° N, 104.5733° W

Dating to 1876, the year Colorado attained statehood, Riverside Cemetery embraced African-American pioneers, the first native New Mexican elected to Congress, and the first doctor to theorize that cholera was contagious. The cemetery has struggled since it was closed to new burials, but the Friends of Historic Riverside Cemetery are working to rescue it.

D. Fort Yellowstone Army Cemetery
Grand Loop Road, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
44.9646° N, 110.7002° W

Before the formation of the National Park Service, the U.S. Army guarded Yellowstone from poachers and souvenir hunters. Their sober little cemetery underlines the dangers lurking in one of the most stunning places in America. As reported in Lee H. Whittlesey’s Death in Yellowstone, causes of death in this cemetery included drowning, avalanche, being struck by lightning, runaway horses, and grizzly bear attack.

E. Custer National Cemetery
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Crow Agency, Montana
45.5714° N, 107.4332° W

When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the federal government demanded access across land it had set aside for the Lakota Sioux. As many as 10,000 Native Americans refused to renegotiate the treaty. In June 1876, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer led the 7th Cavalry to attack, only to be wiped out by the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. It took more than a century for the Native warriors to be commemorated here.


A stylized map of the United States showing a route map for a West Coast cemetery road trip
Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

A. Lake View Cemetery
1554 15th Avenue E, Seattle, Washington
47.6341° N, 122.3153° W

High on a hill overlooking the city, Lake View's most famous residents are Bruce Lee and his son Brandon. Also buried here are Princess Angeline, daughter of Chief Sealth (who gave his name to Seattle), as well as madams, lumber barons, and politicians—a who’s who of Seattle’s historical figures.

B. Lone Fir Cemetery
SE 26th Avenue, Portland, Oregon
45.5173° N, 122.6446° W

Portland’s pioneer cemetery is glorious in springtime, when its rhododendrons bloom. Full of pioneers, prostitutes, shanghai captains, mayors, and governors, the cemetery also features some unusual modern grave monuments. Vandalism and the weather have been hard on Lone Fir, but its Friends group offers tours to raise money for repair.

C. Fort Ross State Historic Park
19005 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, California
38.5143° N, 123.2485° W

A vintage postcard from Fort Ross cemetery
Author's collection

In 1812, Russia invaded Northern California. Russian pioneers built a fort, married local women, and hunted sea otters along the coast. By 1839, they no longer needed to provision Russian settlements in Alaska, so the fort was abandoned, leaving behind a little graveyard. The California Historical Landmarks Committee took control of it in 1906.

D. Hollywood Forever
6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, California
34.0904° N, 118.3206° W

Once the swankest cemetery in Old Hollywood, Hollywood Forever is now the final resting place of Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Mel Blanc, Darren McGavin, Rozz Williams, John Huston, Cecil B. DeMille, and many more. Judy Garland joined them earlier this year.

E. Manzanar Cemetery
Manzanar National Historic Site, Inyo County, California
36.7255° N, 118.1626° W

The Manzanar War Relocation Center was the first American concentration camp to open during World War II. At its height, Manzanar imprisoned 10,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent, most of whom were American citizens. Although the bulk of the camp was demolished, the cemetery’s Soul Consoling Tower continues to mark the graves of people who died while interned there.

F. Silver Terrace Cemeteries
381 Cemetery Road, Virginia City, Nevada
39.3165° N, 119.6451° W

A vintage postcard from the Silver Terrace cemetery in Virginia City
Author's collection

After the 1859 discovery of one of the richest lodes of gold in history, Virginia City became the largest town between Denver and San Francisco. Of course, this necessitated the largest cemetery district as well. The 22 adjacent graveyards making up Virginia City’s Silver Terrace Cemeteries are now part of one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the country.


A stylized map of the United States showing a route map for a Midwest cemetery road trip
Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

A. Lakewood Cemetery
3600 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota
44.5659° N, 93.1734° W

Modeled on Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, Lakewood’s Mortuary Chapel is a spectacular example of Byzantine Revival architecture. Mosaic tiles, some as small as a fingernail, adorn its interior. At Lakewood, politicians with modernist monuments are buried beside names familiar from the grocery store: Charles Pillsbury and Franklin Mars, who founded the candy company that bears his name.

B. Oakland Cemetery
1000 Brown Street, Iowa City, Iowa
41.6697° N, 91.5222° W

Urban legends surround the Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery: if you kiss the statue, you’ll be struck dead; if a pregnant woman crosses its shadow, she will miscarry; if ever a virgin is kissed in front of the statue, it will resume its normal bronze color and the curse will be broken. Strangely enough, this is not the only black angel in Iowa—and the other has legends swirling around it as well. Daniel Chester French’s monument to spiritualist Ruth Ann Dodge stands in the Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs.

C. Graceland Cemetery
4001 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois
41.9548° N, 87.6619° W

Known as the Cemetery of the Architects, Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery holds the Carrie Eliza Getty mausoleum, considered one of the first examples of modern architecture. Graceland Cemetery also contains a wealth of magnificent statuary, including Lorado Taft’s Eternal Silence and Daniel Chester French’s Memory.

D. Elmwood Cemetery
1200 Elmwood Avenue, Detroit, Michigan
42.3466° N, 83.0179° W

A vintage postcard from Elmwood cemetery
Author's collection

Practically in the shadow of Detroit’s Renaissance Center, this dramatic garden cemetery stands on ground fought over during the French and Indian War. Elmwood Cemetery is the final resting place of Canadian Club whiskey founder Hiram Walker, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5, and Detroit’s legendary mayor Coleman Young, who was a Tuskegee Airman.

Cemeteries are lenses, revealing what their local communities choose to celebrate alongside things that must not be forgotten. This list merely skims the surface—go see what you can discover.


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