top of page


Here will be found articles about Illinoisans not named Abraham Lincoln—some famous, all interesting in their ways—in the form of reminiscences, book reviews, and feature articles. Please note that I include profiles of the dead as well as the living, revealed mainly in their letters and public utterances as made available by biographers. 


There are quite a few  such people. Consider just those worthies who dwelt in the quiet corner of the state that lies within  half-hour's drive of Springfield. The name of Jacksonville’s Jonathan Baldwin Turner appears among the eighteen Illinois “great men” that were memorialized on the frieze of the Centennial Building (now the Howlett Building) in 1918. Turner is known for having introduced the osage orange hedge to Illinois, and if he did not exactly introduce the idea of the land-grant college to America, as his admirers once insisted, he energetically backed it. “The fact that of what he offered her, his country, and especially his adopted state, cared to take only the Osage orange hedge and the agricultural college, should not blind the student to the fact that Turner’s intellectual interests were far broader than either scientific agriculture or highly technical education,” wrote historian Theodore Pease in 1918. In 1843–1844 for example, Turner edited a newspaper at Jacksonville that scanted news of barn fires and stolen pigs in favor of debates over law and theology and the morality of slavery—a focus that was as unusual in his days as it remains in ours.

Many a sizable town in that part of the state, and not a few small ones, has its Turners. Edward Mills Purcell, the Harvard physicist who shared the 1952 Nobel Prize for work on atomic nuclei and who made important contributions to radio astronomy, was born in Taylorville. Illinois College graduate and Jacksonville teacher Newton Bateman organized the first free public schools in Illinois.

The region also produced arguably the most important American-born Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. Missouri-born Reinhold Niebuhr grew up in Lincoln, where his father was pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ Illinois and was himself confirmed and ordained there. Young Reinhold attended Lincoln’s Central School, then studied in the Chicago suburbs and St. Louis before going on to Yale.


When additions to the old Centennial Building were made, the friezes on the additions were left blank, and they remain blank today. Either the state no longer produced great men and women after 1918 or, as is more likely, the process of deciding which Illinoisans were great has become so fractious that officials now shy from attempting it.


That’s a shame, because deserving people Illinois has, by the bus-load. In "Famous Downstate Illinoisans," listed below, I mention dozens in addition to those citied above; I didn't even try to compile such a list of Chicagoland citizens, so many would there be.  

Certainly Illinois's quasiofficial roster of notable citizens cannot be considered definitive. The Lincoln Academy was established in 1965 to honor Illinois's most distinguished citizens. Most Lincoln Academy awardees tend to be earnest improvers or public servants—Mortimer Adler, John Chancellor, Hyman Rickover, William Westmoreland, Archbishop Fulton Sheen. (The presence of the Vietnam commander and the anti-war bishop on the same dais might have made for interesting dinner chat.)


Typical are the 2002 winners: Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman of Chicago, one of the world's most respected Jewish educators and leaders; Frank Considine, a Chicago business and social service leader; Lou Conte, a Du Quoin native who founded Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago; Jack Greenberg, a lifelong Illinois resident who is chairman and CEO of McDonald's Corp.; and Bernard Shaw, a Chicago native who was an anchor at the cable TV news network CNN for 20 years.


“Distinguished” has come to mean “famous” (not, please, infamous), and honorees have tended to include more and more figures from show biz, media, and sports. (In 2002, alone, for example, the list included Roger Ebert, Walter Payton, Maria Tallchief, Mike Royko, Ann Landers, John Hope Franklin, Marva Collins, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Saul Bellow, Benny Davis, Jack Benny, Ernie Banks, and Jack Brickhouse.)

Alas, to the tons of topsoil washed away down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and the surplus of tax dollars sent to Washington, D.C., we must add the flow of women and men of talent to other places. Alert readers will note that dismayingly few of the Illinois people I describe made their reputations in Illinois, and that many  that did cashed in their reputations to buy their tickets to other places. 

Click on the title for the full article.

To leave an article and return to this page, click on your browser's back button or on "People" in

the topics menu

“Corn-fed Pious Howler”

Springfield's house poet Vachel Lindsay

“Prejudices," Illinois Times  February 13, 1981

Sandburg and Steichen

The love letters of Lilian Steichen and Carl Sandburg

Reader  June 10, 1988

The Writer's Life

On Mark Harris on Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay
Reader  June 25, 1993

The Itch to Leave

Robert Fitzgerald, translator, teacher, Springfieldian

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 23, 1994

Books Matter. People Care. Change Is Possible.
Richard Bray and “Chicago's most committed bookstore”

Reader  April 14, 1989

A Man Worth Knowing

Father John Garvey, late of Springfield, dies at 70

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  February 19, 2015

A Poet of Fact

Illinois loses Lee Sandlin

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  January 8, 2015

The Right Combination of Sensibilities

Rich Shereikis, teacher 

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 11, 2013

Richard Nickel

Louis Sullivan, Chicago, and preservation

Unpublished, 1996

Robber Baron or Robin Hood?

A pizza king gets Wright’s art-furniture to go 

Chicago Times March/April 1990

The Young Man and the Suburb
Oak Park welcomes Hemingway back home, at last

Reader  March 30, 1990

The Family Farmer: An Endangered Species?

A “typical” family farmer of central Illinois in the 1970s

Across the Board  September 1978

Remembering Harold
The life and career of Chicago's first black mayor

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  December 3, 1992

Politics of Necessity
Mayor Richard J. Daley reconsidered

Reader  January 16, 1998

Family Business

Planting a global seed corn business

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 14, 1990

Old Letters
The Dumvilles bring mid-Illinois in the mid-1800s to life
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  November 3, 2016

Woman of the Year

Kay Ortman’s love affair with Nauvoo

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 13, 1978

Fossil Hunter for the State

Vertebrate paleontologist Richard Leary

Illinois Times  February 3, 1978


David Brower at the kitchen table

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 27, 1981

Tell Me, Adrian

A rock star guitarist in Springfield? Really?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  February 25, 2016

Vachel Lindsay and Springfield, Illinois, U.S.A.

A first try at understanding Harris understanding Lindsay

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 5, 1979

Nelson Howarth

A Springfield mayor, upon his death

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  October 24, 1991

Idealistic Thoughts

Remembering Springfield’s “greatest citizen after Lincoln”

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times  December 29, 2016

Passing on Pride of Craft

Chicago’s steel-making Finkls

Family Business Spring 1993

Woodrow J. Shadid, Jr.
A bookseller who outdid expectations
Illinois Times  December 27, 2018

He Dared to Speak Out
Congressman Paul Findley dies
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  December 26, 2019

Radical Fellows

Socialists once had a place in central Illinois

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  September 5, 2013

John L. Lewis—A Most Peculiar Man

The legendary UMW chief explained

Illinois Times  September 23, 1977

Shadow of a Cloud

Chief Black Hawk in life and legend

See Illinois (unpublished) 2004

Hard Times

Big Jim Thompson lives large at our expense

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  November 19, 1981

Famous Downstate Illinoisans

The local boys and girls who made good

See Illinois (unpublished)  2008

Big Guy, Big Personality, Big Flaws

Former governor James Thompson dies

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 27, 2020

“I wish I was that smart”

Bill Cellini, Springfield’s politics pro

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  July 17, 1981

Last Among First Ladies
Reputation, reality, and Mary Todd Lincoln

Reader  January 8, 1988

David Robinson: Born to Run

Smart Jewish kid runs in, not from, corn country

Illinois Times July 17, 1977


Click on the title for the full article.

To leave an article and return to this page, click on your browser's back button or on "People" in

the topics menu




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.


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.)




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.

bottom of page