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Pet pieces


Here you will find a collection of my favorite pieces. Some are here because I thought them well-reported, some because they were well-written, some because I thought they were funny. It is not a "best of” list exactly (although quality is a criterion), and a list with so many pieces on it cannot be said to be select. They're just pieces on topics that I found interesting or important and that I thought worked in terms of my ambitions for them.  Just about all of them appear under other topics elsewhere in this archives.

There are more explainers than I expected, and fewer polemics, on all sorts of topics. Not much in common, in short, although I did notice that just about every piece I did that involved actual reporting made the list. I should have gotten out and mingled much more than I did; when I bothered to get up from my desk, the results were usually good. Young reporters might take note.

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The Significance of Wanda 

How one woman’s mistake may have doomed ERA

The Weekly (Champaign-Urbana)  June 19, 1981

Nom de Plume

A digression on Illinois place names

Illinois Issues  July/August 1997

Touring Springfield As It Was 150 Years Ago

The Town Branch of Spring Creek, rediscovered

Illinois Times  December 24, 1976


David Brower at the kitchen table

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 27, 1981

The Man with the Plan

A reconsideration of Burnham and his plan

Reader  June 18, 1993

How I Became an Historian

Unpublished essay  2016

Chicago Resurrection

The city's late 20th century rebirth, explained

Illinois Issues November 1995

In the Place of the Dead

A young author, Dickson Mounds, and the past

Focus  March 11, 1971

The Old State Capitol: Tarnished Jewel

Springfield squabbles over an inheritance

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  January 30, 1981

The Sangamon

The life and times of Lincoln's river

Illinois Times  June 4 and June 11, 1976

Nauvoo, City of Wine and Mormons

Whose town? Whose story?

Illinois Times  May 25, 1979

Vachel’s House

A house, a poet, a parody in 1,000 words

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 22, 1990

Feeling Like a Foreigner

Taking the anthropological view in Chicago

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 3, 1990

College Bound

The risks of asking strangers for directions

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 7, 1989

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

Reader  March 30, 1990

One's Own Sort

Making race the basis of citizenship

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 30, 1987

Family Business

Planting a global seed corn business

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 14, 1990

Charlie Boon, Logger, of Goofy Ridge

A tinkering entrepreneur in the old Illinois style

Illinois Times  November 24, 1978

Bacon Bits

A city boy don't know nothin' 'bout hogs

"Prejudices," Illinois Times  December 10, 1981

The Family Farmer: An Endangered Species?

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

Across the Board  September 1978

Craig Findley of the Gazette-Times

Trying to make a good country weekly very good

Illinois Times  August 12, 1977

A Day in the Life of the Havana River Research Laboratory

Public science on the Illinois River

The Nature of Illinois  Fall 1988

Ground to Gumbo

The devastation of Gulf fisheries by Illinois farm runoff

Illinois Issues  July/August 2006

On the Beach

How to stop Lake Michigan from eating Chicago

Reader May 22, 1987

Romancing the Prairie

Nature and nativism in the prairie restoration movement

Illinois Issues  July/August 2007

Hoxsey's Army

Illinois legislators get their cults confused

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 15, 1979

One's Own Sort

Making race the basis of citizenship

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 30, 1987

Saving History from the Wrecking Ball

Richard Nickel and Louis Sullivan's legacy

Illinois Issues October 1986

The Natural History of an Unnatural Lake

Lake Springfield, this is your life

Illinois Times  May 27, 1977

Slack the Knife

Local arts critics show courage under fire

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 10, 1981

Singing True

Chicago, Mike Royko, and Henry Mencken

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 4, 1982

Valuable Things

I look back at public school and see myself

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 5, 1987

Truer Countryside

Whence Illinois’s wide empty spaces?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 19, 1990

Deer Me

The annual deer kill is underway – hooray!

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times Dec. 11, 2014

My Life as a Guide at the Lincoln Law Offices

Part barker, part sheep dog, part player piano
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  November 5, 2009

Certain-kind-of-family Guy

Kirk Dillard mixes his messages about family

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  June 13, 2013

Trial by Jury

Dragooning jurors to serve justice is unjust

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times January 30, 2014

Shaking Up Springfield

If you liked Dan Walker, you’ll love Gov. Bruce Rauner

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times March 13, 2014

Getting There in a Hurry

Why Springfield street improvements seldom were

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 13, 1992

A Pedestrian Argument

Chicagoans should walk. Why don’t they?

Chicago Times  July/August 1989

Combat Pay

Public servants shouldn’t get servants’ wages

"Prejudices" Illinois Times  February 5, 1991

Squaring Accounts

Is killing killers killing?

Illinois Issues  April 1999

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love LaRouche

Lunatics hijack a major party primary. Sound familiar?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 3, 1986

Why Not Rugs?

Finding room for God in the statehouse

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  July 25, 1985

Government For Sale

Corruption as multiculturalism

Illinois Issues  February 1998 

Sandburg and Steichen

The love letters of Lilian Steichen and Carl Sandburg

Reader  June 10, 1988

Down on the Farm

The world through the eyes of Farm Week

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 3, 1983

The Cantaloupe and I

How a skeptic became a melon head

"Dyspepsiana,"  Illinois Times  June 27, 2013

Lincoln School

Lessons unlearned by public educators

"Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 8, 1988

A Place to Stay

The Hickox: City life in a country capital

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 2, 1978

Form Over Function

Springfield’s “new” aldermanic government turns 30

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times January 26, 2017

Fixing the Wrong Problem

Term limits are bad politics and worse government

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  September 26, 2013

In Illinois But Not of It

Chicago, meet Illinois

See Illinois (unpublished)  2006

Going On . . . and On
One writer struggles against prolixity, and loses
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  March 22, 2012

Flood of Memories
Reflections on Chicago’s Great Leak of 1992

Reader  April 9, 1993

Why I Live Downtown

A paean to the crowded life

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 5, 1979

Taking the Christian out of Christianity
The YMCA picks up a new name but sells an old idea

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 12, 2010

On the Essence of Illinois-ness

An introduction to a book

See Illinois (unpublished)  June 2003


East-central Illinois’s Grand Prairie

See Illinois (unpublished)  2005

No Stickers
Seeing the universe in the sand burr
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  May 2, 2011

Report from Illinois's Sand Country

Cactus? In mid-Illinois corn country? You bet.

Illinois Times  November 10, 1978

Quackscam and Cockatiels

Libertarians limber up their guns along the Illinois

“Prejudices” Illinois Times  January 2, 1981

Bat Fan

Why Illinois bats are good bats

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  June 22, 1989

Carp Diem
What are the leaping fish trying to tell us?
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August09, 2012

I Think Icon, I Think Icon, I Think Icon

The iconography of building decoration explained, sort of

Crain's Chicago Business  April 5, 1993 

The Boys in the Pits

Bare-knuckled capitalism on LaSalle Street

Reader  July 5, 1985

Damning the Coal Company

Trading coal today for corn forever

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  January 18, 1980

Animal Rights and Wrongs

Illinoisans debate how to treat animals for food

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  January 28, 1982

Praying for Rain

The “independent” farmer, explained

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 6, 1989

Catering to Pleas for Parking

Would Ruin Chicago Ave. Character

Ruining the "park" in Oak Park

Wednesday Journal  November 27, 1911

George Washington’s Ax

When does restoring become destroying?

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  December 14, 1979

Making Lincoln Come Alive

The seed that grew into a Lincoln Presidential library

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  ca 1990

The World’s Worst Poet

. . . is not an Illinoisan but only just

Illinois Times  May 1, 1981

The Blossomy Haw, Remembered

Natural beauty and politics

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times    June 9, 2016

They’re B-a-a-a-c-k

A cougar is spotted in Morgan County

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times November 8, 2012


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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.

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