Parade Unrest

State fair week reminds me why I hate a parade

Illinois Times

August 20, 1987

My contribution to the hey-kids-get-off-of-my-lawn genre. It offered me a chance to use all of the parade anecdotes that were piling up in my files, though. Can’t be bad. For more about the fair (there is always something more to say about the fair) see here and here

 

"I gotta tell the guys in New York about this," I said to myself. New Yorkers are pretty vain about the zaniness of their street life. But when, I planned to ask them, was the last time they had seen grown men and women wearing brown trash bags marching behind a portable outhouse bearing the legend, "U-Dump-It" smack in front of their house?

 

I admit that this is livelier stuff than I usually see on my block, which on most Wednesday evenings is filled with raspy-throated Baptists heading home from choir practice, the kind of upright people who, if they wear trash bags, do it at home. On this night, however, my block, like a dozen or more like it on Springfield's downtown east side, had been commandeered for use as the staging area for the preview night parade which kicks off the Illinois State Fair. The staging has become an annual inconvenience. Kids pester you to use your toilets, and the stink of horse manure is never quite removed from your curbside by the street sweepers; two years ago I came home from work testy and tired, looking forward to dinner and quiet conversation, to find a drum and bugle corps blaring away within fifteen feet of my living room window.

 

To many of my neighbors, the use of our residential streets to stage the parade is another instance of being (literally) shit upon by city hall. I lived for twelve years practically next door to Governor Thompson; had he asked to borrow an egg, I would have been happy to oblige him. But when the governor asks Mayor Houston—the governor's neighbor, governmentally speaking—if he can borrow a neighborhood, he counts too much on our good nature. Even my Republican neighbors get testy when they find a baton troupe among the marigolds.

 

Usually I have a high tolerance for organized childishness. I still occasionally vote, for instance, and eat in restaurants. As a boy I watched uncounted parades, my father then being in the marching band business. I thrilled to the sounds of a brass band for years, until the public schools began cutting back on music instruction. But I am a grown man now, wise enough about the world to have drafted Krohe's Rules of Promotion, one of which is that any event which needs a parade to drum up interest probably shouldn't be held in the first place. This rule applies universally to wars and circuses, and to state fairs when they are held in the Midwest.

 

I did not in truth have much time to study this year's marchers comprehensively. I was too busy dodging sheriffs deputies in golf carts, and preparing my evening's escape to a ball game. I had noticed in the paper that the parade theme this year was "A Trip Through Candy Land." Considering the parade route—up Ninth Street, through two dozen blocks of cityscape so drab, so ugly that a tornado might sweep through it and qualify for a beautification award—the choice of theme went beyond irony into the surreal.

 

The parade's route, however, had nothing on the entrants themselves. One category was won by a White Hen Pantry, another by an upstate Chamber of Commerce which chose to represent hometown pride with a riverboat called the Pride of Ottawa—a craft which no longer exists on the Illinois, practically speaking. David Byrne would have loved this parade, I thought; the next day I was convinced that he had judged it. The Lincoln Award was presented to a walking Crimestoppers demonstration for what the papers called "the best characterization of the romance of Illinois."

 

Being the state capital, Springfield has endured more of this kind of thing than any Illinois city save Chicago. (I was having lunch this spring at a sidewalk cafe on Michigan Avenue when the Greek Independence Day parade passed by, in costumes which were as resplendent as the political slogans were bloodthirsty. In Chicago, you don't go to parades, they come to you.) As long ago as the 1850s, torch-light processions complete with German bands led people to political rallies. In 1907 we saw a parade of a more sinister sort, when white trash marched through the old black belt and used those torches to burn down homes and businesses.

 

Passion for processions of all sorts seems to have spent itself, however. The typical parade these days consists of a handful of shuffling old men barely able to hoist the flag they once were willing to die for in wars which baffled passersby don't remember.

 

Parades will be a little passé, of course in an era when pre-teens while away the hours between visits to the orthodontist watching cable movies like Bachelor Party, whose party scene featured a sprightly bit of pervertus interruptus when the donkey with whom the hooker was intended to have sex died of a cocaine overdose. This would explain why the only people who seem to actually enjoy parades are either very young or old.

 

Parades have, however, recently acquired a certain camp appeal among us jaded thousands in between. In what we might call the New Wave parade, self-parody is conscious and deliberate. I have not researched the point, but I suspect the style began in the 1970s among Ivy League marching bands. Yale, for example, would typically visit Harvard and announce a musical salute to the Crimson homecoming queen—then spell out the name, "Sue Pine." According to one report, the Yale "band" which once visited West Point included percussionists beating on teddy bears with sticks; a quick-witted cadet was overheard to ask, "These guys don't look like music majors."

 

Whatever its genesis, that spirit is alive in central Illinois. The state fair parade included a lawn mower drill team, and Citizens United for the right to Bare Arms, who carried the limbs of mannequins. (I was not there to see it, but I would have cried tears of delight had those marchers lifted their arms in salute—"Arms, left!"—as they passed the prosthetic clinic located a bit west of Ninth at Carpenter.

 

I saw the best of that bunch warming up a half-block from my front door. They were the Earle Clements Jobs Corps drill team. Dressed in spiffy military garb down to their combat boots, the unit performed a deft and witty parody of military drill exercises incorporating moves borrowed everywhere from hip-hop to slap dancing. In the process they did what any good parody is capable of: Immensely pleasurable for its own sake, the dancing made it impossible to watch another military drill, with its sodden cadences and robot-like routines, without being reminded that war is all about organized mindlessness.

 

As I drove slowly past police barricades trying to leave my own block for the ball game, dodging militant Christians and midget horses and cops on horseback, I wondered again why next year's parade couldn't be staged on, say, Glenwood Avenue, where the mayor lives. And I recalled—again—that Glenwood is much too far from the fairgrounds, and besides that, the west side has rather more dedicated vandals than does my neighborhood, and some bored freshman-to-be would probably BB the drum majorettes or something.

 

I decided further that this year I would not give way to irritation, but would contrive a constructive suggestion to my and my neighbors' problem. There are whole blocks in the downtown business district where one could park tuba players by the bunch and not disturb a living soul. This probably would be resisted by city fathers. (It is one thing to have a loved one die after an expensive illness, quite another to use the bier for a ping pong party while the body is still warm.) However, there are enough acres of parking lot along Ninth and Eleventh streets downtown to stage another Battle of Bull Run, much less a parade. Each of these lots is as empty as a commissioner's book bag by four minutes after five every day.

 

Until I hear news of such a relocation, I intend to console myself with the thought that hosting this year's preview of the preview parade could have been worse. Ernie Banks was the parade grand marshal. In his enthusiasm he might have said, "Let's have two!"  ●

SITES

OF

INTEREST

John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

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 Encyclopedia of Chicago

 

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.

Illinois Great Places

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.

McLean County Museum

of History

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."

Illinois Digital Archives

 

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 Illinois State Museum

 

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

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Chicagology

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. 

History on the Fox

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

2,000 words.)

BOOKS

 OF INTEREST

Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

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.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

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.

University of

Illinois Press

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.

University of

Chicago Press

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

Vivian Maier.

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. 

Illinois Center for the Book

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.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CornLatitudes@outlook.com

All material copyright © by James Krohe Jr. unless otherwise indicated