By virtue of going to school in Illinois, you learn bits and pieces about the school’s history and take a fieldtrip or two to an historic site. But there are are so many things we never really learn about our state in those classes. Here are some facts about Illinois you might not have known.
1. Very sophisticated prehistoric people once lived in Illinois.
If you ever get the chance to visit the Cahokia Mounds--do it! The most sophisticated prehistoric civilization North of Mexico was right here in Illinois. It was one of the greatest cities in the world, believe it or not. To give you some perspective, it was bigger than London was in 1250 AD. Very accomplished builders lived here.
2. The Mormon base might have been in Illinois, not Utah, but for violence.
Joseph Smith led Mormons to Nauvoo, and this town swelled to 12,000 people. At the time (1844), it rivaled the population of Chicago. But Mormons faced tons of violence from non-Mormons, and so Brigham Young moved many of them to the Great Salt Lake Valley.
3. At one point, we actually did NOT vote for Lincoln.
In 1858, Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln engaged in a series of debates for the senate seat in Illinois. We actually did NOT vote for Lincoln. But while Lincoln lost the battle, he won the war (pun intended), gaining national attention that propelled him into the presidency.
4. Springfield was not always the capital of Illinois.
Actually, there were TWO others: Kaskaskia and Vandalia.
5. Aurora: let there be light!
Aurora was the first city in the United States to use electric street lighting throughout the whole city. Civilization!
6. The first woman to graduate law school in America was in Illinois.
Ada H. Kepley graduated from the Union College of Law in Chicago.
7. Illinois was the first state in the union to ratify the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery.
Illinois was a pivotal state, and others followed suit shortly thereafter.
8. The first all-color news station appeared in Chicago.
That was Channel 5.
9. Rock Island used to have a big ol' prison camp.
During the Civil War, there were prison camps on either side. Being on the Union side, we imprisoned Confederate soldiers. The results were not good for the prisoners. An especially brutal weather and no quarantine areas for sick people led to massive deaths. For every thousand Confederate soldiers held there, about 160 died.
10. We have a man's leg in our possession.
We have some interesting museums in Illinois, and one of them is the Illinois Military Museum, which has all sorts of gems. Maybe the most famous thing it has on display is the prosthetic leg of General Santa Anna. Santa Anna trounced the rebels at the Alamo. But he was eventually captured at the Battle of San Jacinto six weeks later...and so was his leg.