Pet pieces

Here you will find a collection of my favorite pieces. Not a best of” list exactly (although quality is a criterion) but pieces on topics that I found interesting or important and that turned out well.  

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 most involve actual reporting. 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.

This list is not in any particular order, nor is it complete.

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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Unpublished essay  2016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
"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

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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." 




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 

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.

Click  here 

to buy the book 

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