A day in the life of Lincoln

February 12, 2013
Lincoln re-enactor Randy Duncan entertaining the crowds at Springfield's Old State Capitol

Lincoln re-enactor Randy Duncan entertaining the crowds at Springfield’s Old State Capitol

Meet Randy Duncan, the man with quite possibly the coolest job around. Duncan is a professional re-enactor, portraying one of America’s most famous and important Presidents, Abraham Lincoln. Aside from the famous hat and distinguishable beard, the biggest perks of portraying Lincoln aren’t always seen, but rather, are felt. Having the honor to live certain days as the 16th President of the United States for 16 years, Duncan shares the inside scoop on a day in the life of Honest Abe.

“The best part of portraying Lincoln is interacting with children or anyone is who is hungry to learn some history,” Duncan tells us. “A large and enjoyable part of this work is being a good listener,” he added, explaining how most folks would be surprised by how much time he spends listening to people share their heartfelt connections with Lincoln. From book reports to school plays or family members who fought in the Civil War, almost everyone he meets has a connection to Lincoln. Duncan also emphasizes how he wished “everyone could have the chance to experience” what he does because of the benefits:  the fun and responsibility of helping others learn more about the great President Lincoln.

Want to connect with Lincoln’s Illinois roots? Then walk in the sixteenth President’s shoes, just as Duncan does, on the Lincoln Campaign Trail.

First, start in the Windy City of Chicago and find yourself at the Tremont Hotel, modeled after the Tremont House, the headquarters of the Illinois Republican Party during the 1800’s. President Lincoln was not only a regular, but he also launched his first senatorial campaign from the hotel’s balcony.

Next, head to Charleston, where you can find the site of the historic Lincoln Log Cabin. Here, you’ll experience what it was like to work and live in the 1840’s home and farm of Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, father and stepmother of Abe.

The amazing and historic Lincoln Log Cabin and Farm

The amazing and historic Lincoln Log Cabin and Farm

Of course, no Lincoln experience is complete without visiting the one and only Springfield, Illinois! Make sure you stop by the world-famous Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This award winning library and museum features hi-tech and interactive exhibits, multimedia programs and a reproduction of the White House as it looked in 1861. You don’t want to miss the holographic characters and special effects, or live actors as they portray the 1860 Presidential Election as though it were happening today.

The gorgeous architecture of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Round out your Lincoln experience in the city of Alton where you can visit Lincoln-Douglas Square. Here, you can see statues of Lincoln and Stephan Douglas during their final Presidential debate, while experiencing the charm of this historic river town.

–The Illinois Office of Tourism


February 11, 2013

There is something to be said for the power of connection we find in food.  It sustains us, brings us together, and teaches us of other cultures and traditions. Food allows us to slow us down, teaches us to unwind, and at times, pushes us outside our comfort zone. Here is a snapshot of our culinary adventure in Alton.

Our first meal was dinner at Gentelin’s on Broadway, located downtown.  The dining room is modern, yet comfortable.  Appetizers are our favorite part of the menu so were excited to try the Santa Fe Wraps.  They did not disappoint.  The lightly fried, crispy wontons were packed full of flavor with spinach, corn, roasted red peppers, and southwestern cheese.  The mild heat was perfectly cooled by a red pepper mayo for dipping. So satisfying!

Gentelins' Peppercorn Seared Ahi Tuna and  Aunt Jayne’s Chicken

Gentelins’ Peppercorn Seared Ahi Tuna and Aunt Jayne’s Chicken.

Fast Eddie’s Bon Air is arguably the most legendary stop when it comes to local cuisine.  Built In 1921 by Anheuser Busch as a drinking establishment,  this  yellow brick building known as Bon-Air, was constructed right on the corner of three streets: 4th, Pearl and Broadway. Approximately ten years later, A-B had to sell the tavern due to a change in the law, which prohibited breweries from owning drinking establishments. Read the rest of the legend here.

I’ll skip to the best part… low-priced-satisfy-every-craving-served-in-paper-baskets chow! Fast Eddie’s serves grilled burgers, meat-on-a-stick, bratwurst, French fries and boiled shrimp.  All items are sold at the same prices as when they were added nineteen years ago.  We’re talking $0.99 cheeseburgers, people!  It was char-grilled to juicy perfection! I could actually go for one right now…

*#ILMileMarker Tip* You must be 21 to enjoy this legend…no kiddies allowed.

Fast Eddies

Enjoy a beer and some popcorn, or chow down on something from the grill

After a very busy morning, we broke for lunch at the charming Mississippi Half Step. Located inside a historic home in Grafton, we were seated at a sun-bathed table in the front room of the house.  It was a wonderful spot to recharge with some home-style food.  The stand out here was the Catfish John.  We chose the blackened preparation.  It was flaky with the perfect balance of salt and spice; topped with red onion, house made tartar sauce, and served on a soft hoagie bun.

*#ILMileMarker Tip* Check out the craft beer selection.  We tried the Old Brown Dog Ale; a perfect complement to the Catfish John!

Downtown Alton has a picturesque strip of shops and restaurants located up and down State Street and 3rd.  It was here that we discovered Bossanova Restaurant and Lounge.  Russ welcomed us with charismatic hospitality and we instantly felt like regulars.  From our research of the menu online we were dead set on the Salmon Rangoon as our starter.  While these crunchy pockets of goodness were quickly devoured, the real star of the show was a chef’s special…a stacked tower of spicy ahi tuna layered between crispy wonton triangles, served with a habenero ginger sauce.  The spice level was intense, but not too much so.  Luckily we had cool, fresh martinis to tame the heat.

Bossanova's Stacked Spicy Tuna (left) and Salmon Rangoon (right)

Bossanova’s Stacked Spicy Tuna (left) and Salmon Rangoon (right)

Last, but most certainly not least, was our lunch at My Just Desserts.  As most close to us know, Nick and I are not ones for sweets; we usually choose to indulge in an extra appetizer. However, on this day, in My Just Desserts, for a moment in time, we felt what sweet-lovers everywhere felt; sugar bliss!  The Mystery Pecan Pie was sweet & crunchy with just a touch of salt.  The crust was perfectly flaky.  And don’t get me started on Nick’s choice of Hazelnut Silk. We were fighting over the last bite!

You know the dessert was amazing if I haven’t mentioned the main course, but it shouldn’t go unmentioned.  We’d been looking forward to this chicken salad sandwich all week and let’s just say, we ended our culinary experience on a high note! The mixture of white and dark meat reminded me of something my mom would make… with the ideal amount of mayo (a feat in and of itself) served on good ol’ fashioned sliced bread.

My Just Desserts' Chicken Salad Sandwich (left) and the Hazelnut Silk Pie (right)

My Just Desserts’ Chicken Salad Sandwich and the Hazelnut Silk Pie

There are no shortage of ‘good-eats’ in this Mississippi River community!

– Nick Ulivieri and Amy Larrick, Illinois Mile Markers

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Holiday Inn Alton. Want to follow in our Mile Markers’ footsteps? Travel the below map!

Escape to Galena’s historic DeSoto House Hotel

February 7, 2013

There’s a majestic hotel in the heart of historic downtown Galena that has welcomed distinguished guests for more than 150 years. The DeSoto House Hotel, restored to its former glory, was a favorite Galena destination for Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Stephen A. Douglas and William Jennings Bryan.

The DeSoto House Hotel located in the heart of downtown Galena

The DeSoto House Hotel located in the heart of downtown Galena

Named for Hernando DeSoto, the European discoverer of the Mississippi River, the hotel’s rich history can be seen in the plush Victorian tapestries and dainty sitting parlors with crackling fire places. What’s more, the 55 unique guest rooms are all named for historic persons who have visited the picturesque river town.

If you’re looking for a truly unique getaway with your special someone during the winter months, the DeSoto House Hotel will provide you with that and so much more. Located just steps from Galena’s Main Street, you can browse antique shops, dine at fantastic restaurants and view the work of local artists at renowned galleries. Spend the day strolling around town, or enjoy a historic carriage ride at night.

Bustling Main Street during the winter months

Bustling Main Street during the winter months

Want to experience it for yourself? The DeSoto House Hotel offers romance packages, including a special Valentine’s Day dinner in the hotel’s Generals’ Restaurant, making it easy to escape for a romantic weekend.

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

ALL AROUND ALTON | Part II: Modern Engineering

February 1, 2013

Alton’s location on the Mississippi River makes for some pretty impressive feats of engineering. Two in particular: the Melvin Price Locks & Dam and the Clark Bridge.

When we pulled up to the locks and dam, we took in the attractive, sweeping landscape. It is an impressive sight to see. Prior to our tour on and inside the Dam, Roxanne showed us around the National Great Rivers Museum. We learned construction began back in 1979. The main lock opened in 1990 and the full structure was completed in 1994. The displays are a fun mix of nature and engineering.  They explain the Mississippi River’s story and how it’s played an important role in Illinois; historically, culturally, and ecologically, both for nature and us humans.

The Clark Bridge from atop the Melvin Price Locks & Dam

Interesting Facts:

  • The system stretches 1,160 feet across the Mississippi River.
  • It consists of two locks and one dam with 9 tainter gates. (View diagram)
  • The U.S. Corps of Engineers monitors the dam 24/7/365 to maintain water levels and maneuver river traffic.
  • There are 27 locks and dams along the Mississippi River; Melvin Price is #26 on the trip south.

The Melvin Price Locks and Dam and Great Rivers Museum

The Clark Bridge is a stunning sight to see.  It’s appears delicate and light-weight from afar and adds dimension and beauty to the river skyline. The features seemed to change depending on the time of day and our proximity to the bridge. It really is like a living part of the landscape.

Impressive Facts:

  • It was completed in 1994 (just one year after the Great Flood of 1993) and connects Missouri with Illinois via Route 67.
  • The total bridge length measures 4,620 feet, while the widest span is 758 feet.Sometimes referred to as the “Super Bridge”, many innovative engineering techniques were needed to build it; such as the use of a steel-framed cable-stayed bridge design.
  • The bridge used 8,100 tons of structural steel; 44,100 cubic yards of concrete; and more than 160 miles of cable.

The Clark Bridge by night and day.

*#ILMileMarkers Tip* Make sure to drive across the bridge and look up! This is one of the most remarkable views.

Stay tuned for more from our adventures in Alton, Illinois.  Up next: zip lining, eagle watching & local cuisine!

— Nick Ulivieri and Amy Larrick, Illinois Mile Markers

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Holiday Inn Alton. Want to follow in our Mile Markers’ footsteps? Travel the below map! 

ALL AROUND ALTON | Part I: Learning from the Past

January 31, 2013

Travel is something Nick and I enjoy very much. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many worldly destinations, so wrapping our head around “vacationing” in Alton, Illinois was a bit of a challenge at first.  But wow! We were SO impressed with how much this Mississippi River town had to offer!  We experienced rich history, architecture (old and new) and delicious cuisine.

Muralist Euripides “Rip” Kastaris created this piece to celebrates Alton’s rich history along the Mississippi River.

Alton, Illinois is a city chock-full of history.  The people we encountered along our journey were full of interesting facts, which added greatly to our overall experience.

Alton is perhaps most famous for being Site #1 on the National Lewis & Clark Trail.  The Lewis & Clark Historic Site is dedicated to telling the Illinois side of the Lewis & Clark exploration. Cindy was a great guide for this hands-on tour! We felt inspired to lift, touch, and explore every detail of this exceptional place. Most impressive was the 55-foot, full-scale “cutaway” keelboat modeled after the original vessel of 1804.  If anything can make you appreciate the modern conveniences of our day, this museum will.

Lewis & Clark’s cutaway Keelboat.

*#ILMileMarkers Tip* Be sure to make time to explore the camp site replica located on the back lawn.  The scene they’ve set gives a true sense of how these men lived.

A short distance from the Historic Site is the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford, IL. Here we climbed (in an elevator, thankfully) 150 feet and stood above the joining of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. This is the exact point where Lewis and Clark began their journey westward so many years ago on May 14, 1804.

We learned a remarkable fact from our tour guide, Amy. The town of Hartford (population 1,429) privately funded the construction of the entire tower. Through grants and donations, the community came together to create their own monument to history; a five million dollar fundraising accomplishment!

The Confluence Tower and surrounding views via a 500mm telephoto lens.

*#ILMileMarkers Tip* Don’t discount the view to the east. You’ll see the Conoco Phillips refinery 2.7 miles away. It’s a unique perspective of an industry which catapulted America to the forefront of progress. Whether or not you think this is a “beautiful” view, the functions performed here are an important part of our society’s day to day life.

Our tour guide at the Alton Museum of History & Art, Norm, was a WWII vet and knew details about the history of Alton that could fill volumes. The details he shared painted a vivid picture of the past.  He taught us about the legend of the Piasa Bird; the tallest man ever known, Robert Wadlow; a bit of history about the Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858; and so much more.

Riverboat models and Amy standing next to Robert Wadlow.

*#ILMileMarkers Tip* Bonus points if you can find the bell and ring it!

Stay tuned for more from our adventures in Alton.  Up next: amazing feats of modern engineering!

— Nick Ulivieri and Amy Larrick, Illinois Mile Markers

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Holiday Inn Alton. Want to follow in our Mile Markers’ footsteps? Travel the below map!

Meet the people behind the bar at Flesor’s Candy Kitchen

January 29, 2013

There’s something about the story of Flesor’s Candy Kitchen, located in the town of Tuscola in Illinois’ Land of Lincoln region, that makes it an instant classic. Forget the fact that the candy is delicious, innovative and all handmade. Forget the quaint wooden booths or old style candy parlor façade. No, what makes Flesor’s so special are the people behind the bar.

Devon and Ann Flesor, Tuscola's sweetest sisters

Devon and Ann Flesor, Tuscola’s sweetest sisters

Granddaughters of a Greek immigrant, reunited after years by a decision to bring their grandfather’s candy store back to its old luster, Devon and Ann Flesor are living a dream of American ingenuity. The sisters joined forces to reopen the confectionary with the same principles that guided their grandfather more than 100 years ago.

Flesor’s Candy Kitchen, after closing in the 1970s, fell into disrepair. The sisters knew the task of reopening would be a gigantic undertaking, but felt up to the challenge. Devon and Ann went to work to restore the Tuscola landmark to its original glory, locating the buyer of all the original machinery and fixtures, even down to the original wood.

After many long days and lots of hard work, Flesor’s re-opened in 2004. Today, Devon and Ann create works of sugary art that tantalize their community, the town of Tuscola, home to “4,500 people, when everyone is home,” as the sisters told the Chicago Tribune. Folks in Tuscola are elated with the transformation and head to the store in search of sweet treats, buzz bark and traditional fountain sodas.

So whether you live near or far, know that a trip to Flesor’s will be a memorable one. Maybe you’ll find yourself reminiscing in century-old seats, or ogling over traditional candy-making methods, or you might just fall in love with the chocolates. Either way, make sure to say hello to Devon and Ann because what do they really love, more than candy or an old family shop?

In the words of the Felsor sisters, “What we love more is meeting people from near and far away and making them happy serving up tasty food and confections and lighthearted conversation.”

(Thanks to Illinois Partners Magazine for the video. Read the magazine’s article about Flesor’s here.)

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

Outdoor adventures at Starved Rock State Park

January 23, 2013

Winter offers a whole new world of opportunities at Starved Rock State Park. For those who love peaceful wintry scenery, venturing to Starved Rock in the winter provides an entirely different experience than other times of the year.

Maybe you’ll spy a view otherwise obstructed by trees full with leaves in the summer, or perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of some wintertime wildlife. No matter the experience, there’s something special about nature in the winter. Crisp cool air beckons hikers to cross through frozen terrain while the crunch of snow underfoot keeps time of a march along the trail.

Winter family fun at St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park (photo credit: heritagecorridorcvb.com)

Winter family fun at St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park
(photo credit: heritagecorridorcvb.com)

Starved Rock State Park, and the area around Utica, offers many winter experiences for you to take part in, such as beautiful hiking trails and outdoor activities. While snow is on the ground, visitors can take advantage of cross-country ski rentals at nearby Matthiessen State Park.

If you’re looking for some last-minute travel inspiration, consider making a trip to Starved Rock this weekend for the Bald Eagle Watch Weekend. Starved Rock State Park will host guided winter hikes, children’s activities, a raptor awareness program with a live bald eagle and so much more.

Winter isn’t going away anytime soon, so take this chance to get rid of the winter blues and enjoy the unique experiences the outdoors in Illinois have to offer this time of year!

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

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