Old Main

Old Main from the south
Celebrating 175 years of Knox College

it comes as something of a surprise to me that I’ve yet to write about Galesburg or Knox (the cow mailbox post notwithstanding since I started this post immediately after finishing that one). the college celebrates it 175th anniversary this year (don’t ask me to type or pronounce the word they came up with to describe the milestone) and Old Main, our oldest building, the building in which I had approximately half my classes, is the last site that remains from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

fun fact that I just learned: during renovations in preparation for the College’s centennial, Janet Post saved the building’s original pine timbers (which were replaced with a steel and concrete skeleton) and reclaimed them to use as the paneling in the Common Room. the bricks in the fireplace were also from the original building material (also — they were handmade! presumably just like those on the brick streets around downtown Galesburg).

Old Main from the north side of the building

everyone who went to Knox has an Old Main story of some kind — working your way along your first  Pumphandle line with brand new friends from your suite; watching assigned films for a memorable class you had; migrating to the Common Room to complete an exam in greater comfort; finally getting around to seeing the Lincoln Chair towards the end of your senior year; running into Roger wandering the halls; discovering that there are, in fact, offices in those nooks off the stairs, offices sometimes occupied by department heads; meeting with Dean Bailey for any number of reasons in his office; staring up at the historic building as your commencement speaker addresses your class…

the Lincoln-Douglas debate platform was set up
along this side of the building

at the very least, you’ve told someone the story of how, upon discovering that the platform set up for the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate butted up against the western doors of Old Main (which, turned out, opened outward, who knew?), Stephen Douglas walked around the building but our 16th President climbed out one of the windows and quipped “At last I’ve gone through college.” the building is fairly drenched in Lincoln history and no matter how much I groaned about trudging up the stairs to class, every time I made the climb I found it supremely cool how the stairs are all grooved from the use of over a century’s worth of students. no two steps are the same and during the winter months you have to watch your step on the smooth, uneven surfaces or you’ll be on your bum at the bottom of the stairs. Old Main engenders still a lot of pride in my alma mater, no matter how many times it tried to toss me down the stairs.

cow mailboxes

have a glass of fresh milk!

today’s post strays from our usual theme of travel and general history in favor of something from my personal history.

it’s a drive that I’ve made many, many times in the last nine years, and one that I mostly hated half the time while I was at school and it stood between me and getting home or me and getting back to Galesburg. I can tell you precisely how long it will take to get from my front door to campus — with variations for a pit stop in either Savanna (where I turn south onto the River Road) or in Freeport (where I often stopped for a snack at Culver’s), how many counties the route goes through (9), not how many times I’ve been stopped at the train tracks that cross the highway in Fulton (because it’s been that many), where houses were foreclosed on long before it was the norm, where buildings have burnt down and been rebuilt … if you’d told me a dozen years ago that I’d make this drive dozens of times, I’d have scoffed. mostly because I’d never heard of any of the towns I drive through south of the border, let alone Knox and Galesburg. now that I only make that drive once a year, at most I’ve come to really enjoy it; it’s novel once again, rather than tedious from making it so frequently, and while I no longer get to watch the changes wrought by the seasons, I do get to watch the changes wrought by the years.

my absolute favorite thing about driving to and from Galesburg is passing the cow mailbox at a farm just south of Freeport, Illinois. over the years, I’ve passed three different versions, the most recent of which went up in the last year. unfortunately, I never got a shot of the first one, but haven’t made that mistake with subsequent ones. I always thought of the first one (above left) as Lucy. this new one seems more like a Buddy. we’ll see if the name still suits him the next time I drive past, or if he’s been replaced by someone new in a few year’s time.

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Capitals of Illinois

let’s continue with a capital theme, shall we? I’ve long had the vague intention of visiting all 50 state capitals during the course of my life, which mostly coalesced into a “goal” once I sat on the mile-high step in Denver. but since we’re on a Midwest thread, let’s stop next in Springfield.

of the three states yet profiled, Illinois has the most protracted and varied history of state capitals. the current building is the sixth since Illinois became a state in 1818 and Springfield is the third town to serve as capital. the town of Kaskaskia, which was a major colonial town established by the French in 1709, served as the territorial capital beginning in 1809 and as state capital until 1819 when it was deemed preferable to have the capital closer to the geographic center of the state. a piece of land about 80 miles northeast along the Kaskaskia River was selected and became the town of Vandalia. (Kaskaskia was destroyed in 1881 when the Mississippi River suddenly changed course and washed away what remained of the town. the town rebuilt but is now located on the western side of the river — the odd little pucker on the map south of St. Louis. the town is still incorporated but is one of the smallest in the state.)

Vandalia was home to two capitol buildings, the first of which burned in the early 1820s. the Second General Assembly, as one of its first acts in Vandalia, passed a motion to remain in Vandalia for at least twenty years. not long after the second capitol was built however (in 1824), calls began to move the capital once again to someplace more geographically favorable. until that point, land along rivers was far more populous, but as railroads expanded and the north of the state opened up to settlement, agitation for relocation grew. in 1833, lawmakers introduced a bill to allow the populace to choose a new capital site from one six locations: Alton, Jacksonville, Peoria, Springfield, Vandalia, and the actual geographic center of the state. after what seems a rather true Illinois fashion, the result of the vote (in which Alton emerged victor) was deemed too close, thereby inconclusive and never announced.

the relocation question was picked up again in the subsequent legislative session by young Abraham Lincoln and supported by several other legislators. in an effort to keep the capital in Vandalia, during the recess residents tore down the existing twelve-year-old capitol and put up a new and extravagant brick building … which failed to prevent legislators from siding with Lincoln and up and moving to Springfield. while the relocation act passed in February of 1837, the previous act of 1820 prevented the complete immediate relocation; the governor issued a proclamation to move all state records to Springfield by mid-1839 but the legislature did not meet at the new site until December of that year.

the delay caused by the 1820 act allowed time to construct a new, grand capitol in Springfield, and the cornerstone was laid on Independence Day in 1837. the building was finally completed sixteen years later (at nearly double the estimated cost) and played host to many significant moments in Lincoln history. here he argued cases before the State Supreme Court, first confronted Stephen Douglas, gave his “House Divided” speech, and finally laid in state in 1865. (can you blame President Obama for selecting the site to announce his candidacy?) the rapid growth and industrialization of the state spurred by the Civil War resulted in overcrowding at the capitol building and in 1867 the legislature again voted to construct a new capitol (the one in use today).

work on the current capitol began in 1868 and finished twenty years later at a cost of $4.5 million. the state recouped some of its expenses by selling the Old State Capitol to Sangamon County for use as a courthouse. the dome is covered in zinc to appear silver while the interior of the dome is plaster painted to look bronze and features events from Illinois history. it is the tallest non-skyscraper capitol in the country, taller than both the one in Washington, D.C., and the one here in Madison.

(more on the Old State Capitol here or here)
(more on the current Capitol here or here)

the Bean

over the weekend, I went to Chicago with my parents to  check out the Green Festival and after checking out the booths and speakers at Navy Pier, we opted to round out the day with a photo op at the “Cloud Gate” in Millennium Park.

the sculpture was inspired by liquid mercury, as it distorts and reflects the city’s skyline as if it were a giant drop of mercury. it’s made up of 168 stainless steel panels welded together. Anish Kapoor’s designed was selected through a competition, though concerns about execution arose almost immediately. in particular, the weight of the sculpture had to be considered in the construction of the Park Grille, atop which the Bean sits. on the underside is an omphalos (indentation), that distorts and multiplies images of the underside of the Bean. the apex of the omphalos is 27 feet off the ground, or 15 feet from the apex of the exterior of the structure. (it’s dimensions are 33 ft x 42 ft x 66 ft.) the incomplete sculpture was unveiled at the opening of Millennium Park in 2004, but it was then re-covered while construction (mostly polishing) was completed. it was formally dedicated two years later, and has since become a major tourist destination and photo op.

we’re the group of three in the middle of the reflection near the back.


92 degrees and 92 percent humidity

a couple of summers a go (the one before I moved to San Diego, in fact), I didn’t have what one could constitute “full-time” employment, or even “consistent” employment. something to do with the fact that in two and a half months time I’d be pulling up roots and heading to the warmer climes of sunny San Diego for grad school. no job = no money = no grand traveling adventures. or does it? perhaps I couldn’t coordinate something on same scale that I normally dream of, but, I concluded, no money certainly mustn’t mean no travel, let alone not trying something new!
to begin, I took the bus from Madison to downtown Chicago, thus beginning my experiment at the whims of public transportation (or a public-private hybrid, if you will). after some sweltering outdoor activities in the morning, I met up with a college friend and, since I’d only ever been up to the observation deck in the Sears Tower before, decided to head farther up Michigan Ave to the Hancock Building (which is also slightly cheaper).
the Hancock Building is the 4th tallest skyscraper in Chicago, a city know by some as the birthplace of skyscrapers. located on the site of Cap Streeter‘s 19th century steamboat shanty (in brief — Cap Streeter lied, cheated, and forged documents to make money off of the expansion of Chicago into Lake Michigan; landfill dumping produced an additional 186 acres of land extending east of where Michigan Ave is today), construction of the building posed some unique challenges. namely, caissons had to be sunk into 10ft holes drilled 190ft into bedrock to ensure stability of the foundation. the design also all but eliminated the need for internal support beams — the famous X-bracing seen above serves as a kind of skin to hold the structure up. it took 5 million man-hours to construct the building, which was completed in 1970 and, at the time, was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City. the building stands 100 storys and, until recently, could claim the highest residence in the world (it’s recently lost out to the Trump Tower in Chicago and the Burj Khalifa). because of the mixed-use plan for the building, with residences on the top levels, the structure is wedge-shaped (which also makes it look taller than it actually is). Chris Farley lived on the 60th floor and was found dead there in 1997 (his one-time neighbor, Jerry Springer, has since relocated to the 91st floor). including the height from antennas, the the Hancock Tower is listed at 1,500 feet tall, making it the 5th tallest building in the world (following the Burj Khalifa, Sears Tower, Shanghai World Financial Tower, and Taipei 101).
the observation deck is on the 94th floor of the building and a restaurant occupies the 95th floor (currently the Signature Room). elevators will take you to the deck at a speed of 20.5 mph. the weather in Chicago on the day that I visited (in late July) was hot and humid. from the top of the Hancock building, you could see loads of people out on the beaches along Lake Shore Drive, and clumping up together in boat parties north of Navy Pier. we also caught a glimpse of people lounging beside a rooftop pool of one of the residential buildings to the southeast of the Hancock Building. wonder if those people think about how many tourists will spot them on their lounge chairs when they head up to the roof for a session in the sun …
more on the John Hancock building from Wikipedia, and from the Observatory’s website.