Illinois Public Media News
The state of Indiana says the boyhood home of famed World War II journalist Ernie Pyle will no longer be a state historic site, but its supporters say the battle to reopen it hasn't ended.
The home in the Vermilion County town of Dana has been closed to visitors since January. The state Department of Natural Resources has put off a vote to de-access the property - in other words, to sell or reassign the frame house, a Quonset hut and the exhibits on the site. Spokesman Phil Bloom says the museum attracted few visitors and wasn't economically viable.
But Phil Hess, who heads the group Friends of Ernie Pyle, contends that the state didn't give the museum a fair chance when it laid off the site administrator.
"That was the first position lost, and the staff was cut periodically through the whole time to where the Ernie Pyle site was down to only 1/6 the hours of the average of the other sites in the Indiana system," said Hess. "We were kind of predestined to fail."
Now that the DNR has postponed a decision on disposing of the property until November, Hess says his group will ask the governor's office to reverse the closure decision. Hess claims museum donors were led to believe the exhibits would remain in Dana. DNR officials have proposed moving the most important Ernie Pyle memorabilia to the state museum in Indianapolis.
Faced with opposition to its plans to take down the neon marquee at the Virginia Theatre, the Champaign Park Board has decided the issue needs more study.
The V-shaped neon marquee has announced shows at the Virginia for 60 years or more. But Champaign park officials say restoration plans have always called for installing a less flashy marquee resembling what was on the Virginia when it opened in 1921. Susanne Skaggs, speaking during the public comment portion of Wednesday night's Champaign Park Board meeting, says the neon marquee distracts from the Virginia's Italian Renaissance façade.
"The marquee, as far as I'm concerned, is nothing but signage" says Skaggs. "And signage, certainly, can be easily changed."
But eight other people told park commissioners the neon marquee is an important part of the Virginia's history. Adam Smith is vice-chairman of the Champaign Historic Preservation Commission, which has formally requested that the neon marquee be preserved. Smith says the marquee has become a local landmark in itself.
"If the neon is lit, you know something is happening that night", says Smith, "you pull over on Park Street, you park and you find out what it is."
Champaign Park Commissioners voted Wednesday night to delay a decision on the Virginia marquee until they can get more information --- including how much it would cost to restore the current neon marquee, which is badly run down.
But the Park Board did approve nearly $600,000 in restoration work to be done this summer on the Virginia lobby, funded by private donations. Park Commissioners hope to do work on the marquee at the same time.
A Springfield family has donated a rare bronze cast of Abraham Lincoln to the University of Illinois-Springfield.
The family of Rick and Dona McGraw donated one of only 15 bronze casts of an original Abraham Lincoln life mask to the University of Illinois Springfield. The original plaster mold was taken of Lincoln's face by sculptor Clark Mills in 1865... just two months before Lincoln's assassination. The mask shows Lincoln's tired eyes and face full of wrinkles from the toll of the Civil War.
The McGraw family got the mask when they bought the McDonald's restaurant in downtown Springfield. It was the only item the family saved from the restaurant when they remodeled the building.
The university plans to display the mask at Brookens Library.
In March of 1860, the people of a little town called West Urbana voted to incorporate as the city of Champaign. Now, 150 years later, Champaign is preparing to celebrate it sesquicentennial.
Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration will be built on the themes of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yesterday is featured first, with a local history exhibit scheduled for March and April at the Illinois Terminal building. Some of the artifacts to be displayed were brought to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council study session ... old newspapers, theater programs, a 19th century fire helmet decorated with an eagle's head design.
City Planner TJ Blakeman says they're looking for more pieces of city history - and invites the public to call him at 217-403-8800, if they have items they can loan for the exhibit. Items being sought include objects associated with the Illinois Central Railroad, Parkland College, the Champaign Police Department and Burnham City Hospital --- with other items from Champaign's past welcome as well.
The Champaign sesquicentennial will also feature a downtown music festival in July to honor the city's present accomplishments ... and the dedication in March of next year of a fountain to look toward the future. The Legacy Fountain will be erected at One Main Plaza. 150th Anniversary Celebration Coordinator LaEisha Meaderds says the 200-thousand dollar fountain is still in the early design stages.
While the city of Champaign and the Champaign Park District are donating some funds for the Sesquicentennial Celebration, they hope to raise another $250,000 from private organizations. Donations from Individuals will be accepted, but not actively sought.
WILL plans to be part of Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration as well --- with the production of a 13-part television series about the city.
Terre Haute's mayor will travel to Poland next month with a Holocaust survivor to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
Mayor Duke Bennett will join about 50 other people on the trip to the former Nazi death camp where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died during World War II.
Eva Kor, a Terre Haute resident who founded the city's CANDLES Holocaust Museum, will be part of the group.
Kor's family was taken to the death camp near the end of World War II. She and a twin sister, Miriam, survived being subjected to Nazi experiments, but their parents and two older sisters died in the camp's gas chambers.
Auschwitz was in the headlines Friday, when Polish police reported that the camp's infamous iron entrance sign, which declares in German "Work Sets You Free,'' has been stolen.
Officials in Tippecanoe County in western Indiana want to create a computer-assisted map of the historic Tippecanoe Battlefield that could yield clues about archaeological remnants buried there.
The Tippecanoe County Historical Association plans to use a device to measure anomalies in the earth's magnetic field to find underground objects. It also might use ground-penetrating radar to find items if funding can be found.
Archaeologist Colby Bartlett says it would be the first professional investigation of the site.
The Tippecanoe Battleground borders the town of Battle Ground, a few miles north of Lafayette. It was the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. American forces led by General and Indiana territory Governor William Henry Harrison held off an attack by warriors from a confederation of Indian tribes. The battle was part of an ongoing conflict known as Tecumseh's War, named for the Shawnee leader. But the battle is also seen as a precursor to the War of 1812, which pitted the U-S against Great Britain and its Indian allies.
Buried artifacts at the Tippecanoe Battleground could include prehistoric American Indian artifacts and artifacts from the November 7th, 1811 battle.
Executive director Kathy Atwell says the historical association hopes to have the work done before the battle's 200th anniversary in 2011.
Additions to the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana are coming together, from the new clock and bell tower to some educational aspects inside the building.
People called for jury duty usually wait in a large room before they're summoned into the courtroom. While they're there, they can now step inside a small theatre in one side of the room and learn about Abraham Lincoln's fledgling legal career as an attorney who traveled through Champaign and other area counties. Cheryl Kennedy of the Early American Museum says the theatre is the most prominent expel of several current and future Lincoln displays at the courthouse.
"It's a great opportunity to use some of your time," Kennedy said. "And not only that, we envision more things on the walls out in the foyer, maybe some exhibit cases, and an opportunity to extend that experience past the audio visual program."
The Lincoln exhibits are being assembled as part of the 200th anniversary of the 16th President's birth. The theatre will be dedicated the weekend after next as well as the clock and bell tower as a part of the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival.
For a fifth straight year, a history education project headed up by the Urbana school district is getting a million-dollar federal grant.
The American History Teachers Collaborative is aimed at giving teachers the research time and resources they need to paint a more realistic and gripping picture of history in their classrooms.
The group's coordinator, Kathy Barbour, says when teachers conduct their own research, they can teach their students about national history through a local lens.
"For the teachers to be able to bring newspaper articles or photographs or documents or letters from right here in central Illinois and bring those to their classrooms, it's a very powerful thing for the students to be able to see that history happens here and we're tied to the bigger picture," Barbour said.
For instance, Barber says teachers have found articles and other documents about events in Champaign County that illustrate the national civil rights movement. She says the money helps fund workshops for teachers in seven area districts as well as research trips to museums.
The operator of Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign is apparently looking to relocate as the building's owner looks for either a new tenant, or to sell the facility for another use.
Owner David Kraft says the rent of 4 dollars a square foot he's charging isn't near the market rate... and he can't afford to charge that little when factoring in expenses like real estate tax, water, trash, and sewer rates. Kraft says he's made operator Greg Boardman an offer of just under 9-dollars a square foot.
"If he won't pay that and no one will pay that, then I think everybody needs to look and determine if there's demand for this, if there's sufficient interest," Kraft said. "If no one is willing to pay near market rent, then maybe we do have to look at different ideas."
Kraft suggests there may not be room for a movie theater anymore when considering what other downtown businesses are paying for first floor retail space. He's looking to sell the Church Street building for just over $1 million.
Kraft says he's drawn interest for other theater operators, but nothing concrete.
Boardman's lease on the Church Street location expires in December. He couldn't be reached for comment, but the co-owner of a building across the street... Bill Capel... confirms Boardman toured his facility last month. That building houses the old Rialto Theater. Capel says any talk of moving Boardman's there would include extensive talk about renovations.
The co-founder of the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum in Arcola says it was a sad decision but a necessary one - the museum will close this summer and most exhibits moved to a museum in New York.
Joni Gruelle Wannamaker is the granddaughter of Johnny Gruelle, who was raised in Arcola and created the scruffy red-haired dolls in 1915. Wannamaker says she and her husband Tom left their jobs in Atlanta ten years ago to build the museum, but she says advancing age, declining attendance - and a drop in overall tourism in the Douglas County area -- forced the decision to close.
"We have done a lot of advertising over the years, advertising for Arcola and the surrounding area," Wannamaker said. "But perhaps there was a change at the Chamber of Commerce...I just don't know."
Wannamaker says she and Tom were impressed with the museum where the Raggedy Ann and Andy exhibits will be headed, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester New York - the dolls are already in that museum's National Toy Hall of Fame. But Wannamaker says she and her husband are staying in Arcola.
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