Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves
Odds & ends
Illinois past and present, as seen by James Krohe Jr.
The Corn Latitudes
Is the capitol complex plan good? Who can tell?
August 5, 1977
The State of Illinois has produced dozens of studies, plans, and memos regarding changes to the capitol complex, but this one from 1977 stands above them all. Many a plan was never implemented because of cost or because of political opposition; this might have been the first to fail because no one could understand what was being planned.
On July 21, the state's Capital Development Board released a summary of its master plan for the development of the capitol complex over the next quarter century. The plan calls for a four-phase program which would result in the construction of new state library, museum, courts, and office buildings and related utilities and parking facilities. Total cost is estimated to be close to $250 million, though the bill is certain to run higher.
A detailed critique of the plan must await publication later in August of the four-volume Comprehensive Plan Report. Until then we are left with the summary, which was prepared for the CDB by the consulting architects C. F. Murphy Associates and Ferry & Henderson, Architects, Inc. What it says about the state's plans for the statehouse area is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the way it says it.
Bureaucrats spend words the way politicians spend money. For example, we are told, "As the major owner and office tenant, in the City of Springfield, State government generates activities which influence and impact the Community beyond the immediate environs recognized as the State Capitol Complex." Translation: When the state gets a nose itch, Springfield sneezes.
Bureaucrats put so many words between their subjects and their verbs that they sometimes lose track of both. The summary informs us, rather lamely, that "The enormous costs that are paid annually for many inadequate facilities that are out of necessity being occupied throughout the community can be more appropriately and efficiently gathered within the Capitol District."
Just for fun, I oiled up the pruning shears and tried to trim down that sentence, but when I finished cutting there was nothing left. Its author had managed to write a sentence without a subject. "Enormous costs' cannot be what is being gathered within the capitol district; that would be meaningless. Neither does it make sense to gather "inadequate facilities" there; surely the point of the plan is to do exactly the opposite. What is it, then, that can be "more appropriately and efficiently gathered"? Either the author doesn't know what he's talking about—something we've all suspected for years—or he does know and he has resolved not to let the rest of us know what it is. If the latter is his intention, he has pulled it off perfectly.
Hacking one's way through this thicket of words is tiring work, and the labor is only occasionally rewarded by the thoughts concealed behind the verbal overgrowth. Redundancies lay in a tangle across the reader's path, ready to trip up the careless; “the interrelationship of State Government units among themselves" is only the most obvious such obstacle.
There are other mysteries. Consider this passage: "Relatively little attention have been given to the physical growth of the State Capitol Facilities." In the short distance between opening capital and closing period, the careful reader will encounter one redundancy ("physical growth": what other kinds of growth are facilities likely to undergo?), one error in usage (' 'capitol" for "capital," a common goof in a town that ought to know better by now), one of verb-noun agreement (“attention have been paid”), and one instance of runaway capitalization (“Facilities”).
These are not frivolous issues. We have reached the point at which we can no longer understand what our government is trying to say to us. And, though it is true that bureaucrats speak the same language, I doubt that they understand each other very well either. The planners for the CDB, for instance, propose to spend a quarter of a billion dollars in twenty years to rebuild the Capitol Complex—and they can't construct a simple English sentence.
A concluding example: “The predictable and traditional growth of State Government forecasts that the proposed construction into the Twenty-First Century will certainly assist in meeting the present inadequacies and the future demands, but does not indicate the creation of an unusual burden upon the private sector, which has continued through the years, to build to meet the demand or modify existing buildings when the need could be recognized.”
I read that sentence three times and I still don't know what it means. I would be obliged if some reader were to explain it to me. Send translations to the Illinois Times, P. O. Box 5102, Springfield, IL 62705. Twenty-five words or less, please. And do it in English. □
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.
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