Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves
Odds & ends
Illinois past and present, as seen by James Krohe Jr.
The Corn Latitudes
About The Corn Latitudes
Note to first-time visitors: Because of the limitations of the website software I chose to build it with, The Corn Latitudes can be seen properly only on maximized screens of PCs browsed with Chrome, Edge, Brave, Opera, or Firefox and on Macs with Safari. Tablets and iPads must be viewed using Chrome or Safari. For the moment, the archives is not readable on smartphones, but then what is?
What is here
The Corn Latitudes is devoted to my Illinois work only, that is, work that I judge worth reading again about Illinois places, people, and issues published in newspapers, magazines, and books from the early 1970s until the 2020s.
Specifically, the archive contains columns, reviews, and feature articles that appeared from 1975 until the present in Illinois Times, the Springfield weekly; the many pieces that appeared from 1978 to 2010 in Illinois Issues magazine (where I was a contributing editor), including important series on water resource issues (1982), soil and farmland conservation (1982), and toxics pollution (1986); features, criticism, and commentary from Chicago's Reader from 1978 to 1998; work about the big city in the 1990s from Chicago Enterprise, Inland Architect, and Chicago Times magazines, reporting about nature and the environment from assorted reports, features, and the newsletter/magazine Nature of Illinois; excerpts and complete texts from a variety of government reports, mainly on energy and environmental topics, and assorted book excerpts, book chapters, and unpublished work that has no other home.
Much here is straight magazine journalism. Most readers will find it appealing not because I wrote it but because the subject matter appeals to them. (As was said about the Reader, if the cover story was about something you found interesting, it was the best paper in the country—that week.) Readers looking for pieces in a more personal style should look for titles published in Illinois Times (especially in the "Prejudices" and "Dyspepsiana" series), the post-1994 Illinois Issues, Chicago Times, and the Reader.
Click The author for my professional
Click Publications for my recollections about the magazines and papers I wrote for; anyone considering writing an informal history of magazine and newspaper publishing in Illinois from 1972 until 2019 is welcome to make use of them.
“The Corn Latitudes” was one of the titles I proposed for my history of mid-Illinois. In the end, that work was published as Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves, but I decided the phrase suits this website better. In case it comes up, I am aware that the corn latitudes extend well to the east and west of Illinois, but we're talking Illinois longitude here.
What isn't here
The archive is not comprehensive. I will not reproduce here the complete run of my one thousand Illinois Times columns, for example. Not all of them were worth rereading, so only selected columns from the Prejudices series (1978 until 1994) and the Dyspepsiana series (2009–2018) are included. Certain government reports and studies are numbingly technical, most are outdated, and only the good bits of a few of them appear here.
I reluctantly omitted all but a few examples of ephemera and whimsy and other attempts at humor. You’re welcome.
About these versions
There are things in these pieces I wish I hadn’t said, and hundreds of things I’d wish I’d said better but I've largely resisted the temptation to make myself wiser in retrospect. I like to think that the pieces were accurate at the time of writing, but life in short and I did not attempt to update the facts. Likewise, I have made little attempt to bring my oldest pieces up to present-day standards of political correctness because that would be dishonest. I never wrote a perfect piece and never expect to, but gradually I am fixing the many the small errors that go uncorrected in the rush to get things into print. Apart from my Illinois Times columns in the "Dyspepsiana" series, links to which I provide on this site and which remain on IT's website as published, these emended versions should be considered definitive.
While I wish it could be otherwise, none of my magazine pieces and government reports include the many excellent photographs, maps, charts, and other graphics that enhanced them in print form. My apologies to their creators, and to my readers.
Original subtitles have been omitted from the article links. In their place I have added new descriptive notes to each title to facilitate browsing by readers and other search engines.
How to find stuff
To browse, simply click on any of the topics that appear on the right side of every page. A topic contents page will then magically appear that lists links to individual works on that topic in all genres and from all sources.
I've divided the article links on some pages into subtopics to make exploring a little less like browsing an ill-managed used book shop. Articles that touch on more than one topic—many do—are listed under every topic that pertains. For instance, a piece about the Lincoln home in Springfield will be listed under “Lincoln,” “Springfield,” “Illinois history,” and “Travel & tourism.”
Most topics headings are self-explanatory save one. "Pet pieces" does not include pieces about adorable household accessories that bark or purr but links to what I think are the best examples of my reporting, commentaries, and occasional pieces on various topics.
I've also grouped main topics by theme—history, issues with a public dimension, places, culture, social problems, and a grab bag of mostly lighter pieces about Illinois life and people, including me.
Speaking of book shops: Some of the books mentioned in these pages can be purchased from the nonprofit Bookshop.org via the links here provided. Part of the profit from each sale goes into a fund to support independent bookstores, and part goes into my empty pocket. You should know that.
Much else about this iteration of the site is not the way I want it. It is not possible for readers to download a printer-friendly version of any article. (You'll have to cut and paste.) I have not found a reliable “back to top button." Readers will have to scroll back toward the top of each page to return to the main topics menu, and because of the length of some of these pieces, that means a bunch of scrolling. I tried breaking up a few of these long pieces into multipage versions, but it is tedious work and most have not been so presented and probably never will be.
Copyright and the rest
All original material is copyrighted by James Krohe Jr., as are excerpts from Corn Kings & One-Horse Thieves.
Virtually all of the older writing gathered here was published under the copyright protection of the newspaper and magazines in which it appeared. (An exception is work prepared under contract with the State of Illinois, which was in the public domain.) Under the rules that pertained when I started, the oldest of these pieces would be today considered in the public domain by now, even were the initial copyright extended as allowed by the law. As for the copyright status of the more recent of them, who knows? Freelance material has always occupied an ambiguous position under the law. The courts repeatedly ruled that a publisher purchased only first serial rights, after which subsequent rights reverted to the author.
I advise any reader that any use of the material from this archives that is consistent with the mission of the original publisher—which is to say, the dissemination of information and opinion—is not problematic. Read? Sure. Share? Absolutely. Reproduce for informational purposes? Depends on the place and purpose, but in any event, always with credit to the publisher and author. Exploit for private commercial gain? Talk to the original publishers (if you can find them) and not me. And consult your conscience.
The pen-and-ink drawing of the scribe—is he alarmed? befuddled? dreamy?—who appears occasionally throughout the site originally graced the Letters to the Editor column in The Phoenix, one of the alternative newspapers with which I was involved as a young man. (See Publications.) I'm happy to see him again after all these years.
The bug-on-a-twig that adorns these pages is a bit of public-domain art used as an end mark in the early Illinois Times. It was chosen by founding publisher William Friedman, who explains, “I felt it said 'we are buzzing around.'”
Finally, I know what you’re thinking by now. To which I say, if other people my age can spend hours mooning over snapshots of their bratty grandkids, I can do this, okay?
The Corn Latitudes also includes much about my book, Corn Kings & One-Horse Thieves: A Plain-Spoken History of mid-Illinois. For reviews, excerpts, and more about the book, click on Corn Kings here or at the top of any page.
Please note that The Corn Latitudes
is a work in progress, so check back often.
If you would like to see a specific piece that is not yet in the archive, let me know at the address below.
Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.
One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.
See Home Page/Learn/
Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.
The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.
The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.
A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.
Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois
Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."
Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards, posters, and videos.
The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.
“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered."
Illinois Labor History Society
The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like.
Illinois Migration History 1850-2017
The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly.
An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than
Southern Illinois University Press 2017
A work of solid history, entertainingly told.
author of Abraham
Lincoln: A Life
One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.
Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018
A lively and engaging study . . . an enthralling narrative.
The Annals of Iowa
A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians
as well as local historians generally.
Journal of Illinois HIstory
A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.
A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.
Journal of the Illinois
State Historical Society
to read about
to buy the book
Southern Illinois University Press
SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.
The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more. Of particular note are its Prairie State Books, quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.
The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to
Northern Illinois University Press
The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.
Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order
by book title.
Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.
Politics & government
Arts & culture