Near the Illinois border with Indiana lies the town of Marshall, the county seat of Clark County, Illinois. Boasting a history much bigger than its size might suggest, the IDHH is pleased to feature the Marshall Public Library Digital Archive as one of our newest additions to the Illinois Digital Heritage Hub. Marshall traces its founding to 1835, when Illinois politician and businessman William B. Archer officially organized what would be the beginnings of the city. Marshall took the surname of a Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall, as its namesake and would be incorporated as a city in 1873. Situated along the National Road, the first major improved highway built by the federal government in the early 1800s, Marshall saw thousands of settlers pass through on their travels to the West.
The city would play host to a variety of notable persons over its nearly 200-hundred-year history, with Abraham Lincoln being a frequent visitor of Marshall during his time as a lawyer. Marshall was also the temporary home of James Jones, best-selling author and winner of the 1952 National Book Award for his novel From Here to Eternity. Jones helped found the Handy Writers’ Colony in 1950 with Lowney Turner Handy and her husband, Harry Handy. A demanding teacher, Lowney Handy would have her students spend many hours copying, by hand or typewriter, materials from authors whose work she admired. The Colony would eventually dissolve after operating for 14 years, but not before seeing several of The Colony writers such as John Bowers and Charles Wright receive publications of their works.
Marshall continues to be a small city with big appeal, whether hosting its annual Fall Festival each autumn or offering a summer of live music by the Marshall City Band, the oldest, continuously operating band in Illinois. Here are a few of our favorite items from the Marshall Public Library Digital Archive:
Cooler weather. Baking spices. Warm cider. These things might conjure up a variety of associations and feelings, but for those of us living in the northern United States, they herald the beginning of the autumn or fall season. With the start of November, the IDHH would like to highlight that time of year when the daylight hours wane and sweater weather is in vogue. In the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is usually recognized as the time between the autumnal equinox toward the end of September and the winter solstice toward the end of December. This time of the year has held various significance across cultures and periods, but early associations in the Northern Hemisphere centered around the passing of the year and the importance of the harvest season in areas across medieval Europe.
While this connection to harvesting continues to be paramount for those working in agriculture, the environmental changes during the fall season have also become a key aspect of tourism for certain areas of the world. In the United States, portions of northern New England, Appalachia, and the upper Midwest offer prime views of leaves changing from their usual green color to vivid hues of orange, red, and yellow in the autumn months. Millions of visitors pour into these areas of the country to witness this stunning natural display – an act referred to as ‘leaf peeping’ in some circles. A phrase used colloquially in the United States since only the 1960s, leaf peeping is an autumn activity enjoyed internationally in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada, as well as in various parts of Japan.
Here are a few of our favorite items featuring vibrant fall foliage:
Through its more than half a million items, the IDHH provides invaluable glimpses into the history of the state of Illinois and the people that have lived here. However, all too often we do not know the viewpoint from behind the camera, the eye behind the lens. To better appreciate those capturing history with the snap of a camera shutter, the IDHH is featuring the Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm Photograph Collection at the Illinois State Archives. Born in Mount Vernon, Illinois in 1911, Eddie Winfred Helm showed an interest in photography while still young, earning the nickname of “Doc” due to an early job delivering prescriptions for a local pharmacy. In 1934, Helm moved to Springfield to begin working with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. One of a few African-Americans working in the Capitol complex at that time, he initially performed a variety of duties for the Office, including that of putting the state flag on top of the Capitol Building each day without a harness or other protective gear.
During his first decade in Springfield, Helm held various positions within the Capitol Building, coming in time to microfilm documents for the Illinois State Library in the early 1940s. The Library contained a photo lab, where Helm began to develop personal film there on his lunch breaks, and Helm’s photographic talents caught the notice of the Head Librarian in 1944. This attention resulted in Helm’s appointment as the Official State Photographer in February 1944. Until his retirement in 1992, Helm photographed all manner of state events featuring dignitaries, celebrities, and everyday citizens alike. In his capacity as Official State Photographer, Helm possessed a proximity to the workings of government that few people of color had in the mid-20th century. As a Black American in a largely white space, Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm captured not only the official history of the state of Illinois but of Springfield as well as he bore witness to the integration of the city and the Civil Rights struggles of the era.
Below are a few of our favorite Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm photographs taken at Illinois State Fairs over the years:
From grand to upright to electronic, the piano has undergone a number of reinventions over the past three hundred years as musical tastes and needs have changed. With the start of National Piano Month on September 1, the IDHH would like to explore the history and influence of this versatile instrument on the wide world of music. Most sources point to the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco as the inventor of the early piano. While the exact timeline of Cristofori’s work is murky, he undeniably had mastered the elements of modern piano action and created a piano (the fortepiano) by the early 1700s. While older keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord allowed for either dynamic control over individual notes or access to a loud, resonant sound, Cristofori’s fortepiano was revolutionary because it enabled players’ greater command of the instrument’s expressive tone and volume.
Over the next three centuries, variations in piano shape and design would multiply as renowned composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Frédéric Chopin wrote pieces specifically for the instrument, bringing greater attention and demand for the piano. By the 1860s, the upright piano had become a more practical and accessible musical option for use in private homes, as groups could now listen to simplified piano arrangements of popular music and enjoy an evening of tuneful entertainment together. Further innovations to piano design and construction were developed in the 20th century with the advent of electric and digital instruments, applying the technological advances of the era to the art of music making. Illinois has had its own role in the history of the piano, from William Wallace Kimball’s successful Kimball Piano Company in Chicago, to the numerous talented pianists such as Lillian (Lil) Hardin Armstrong who made Illinois their artistic home and contributed to the vibrant musical culture of the state.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring the versatility of the piano:
A staple lunchbox food, picnic addition, or food on the go, the sandwich is so ubiquitous these days that we might eat or make one without ever stopping to wonder about the history of this versatile dish. With August as National Sandwich Month, the IDHH would like to highlight this humble entrée and the many ways it’s permeated our everyday culture. While something resembling the sandwich has most likely existed since the consumption of meat and bread began, legend has it that John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich, once dined on sliced meat and bread while playing at a gaming table so that he could continue to play as he ate. Indeed, the name was adopted in the 18th century for the earl, but probably due to his requests for the dish in London society or perhaps from a penchant of his to eat sandwiches while working at his desk. Regardless, Montagu’s social status lent the food credibility, and the sandwich soon became fashionable fare on the European continent.
The food item’s simplicity and versatility allow it to be a suitable choice in a variety of environments. Just as welcome in the lunchbox of an elementary school student as a busy professional, the sandwich can be arrayed in a myriad of ways, dressed up for foodies or made as plainly as possible. The World War II poster featuring the character “Jenny on the job” illustrates how the sandwich was used as part of an appeal to a sense of manliness and competence for female workers stepping into roles traditionally filled by men, who were overseas fighting in the war. As versatile as the food itself, the word “sandwich” may also refer to non-food items as well, such as the town of Sandwich, Illinois, the Sandwich Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or the sandwich mathematical theorem.
Have are a few of our favorite sandwich-related items from the collection:
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Along the Mississippi River, across from St. Louis, Missouri, lies Madison County, Illinois. Part of the Metro-East region comprising various counties on both sides of the Mississippi River, Madison County is home to a number of cities, villages, and townships that speak to the larger history of the state of Illinois and the land on which it stands. Established on September 14, 1812, the county was named for President James Madison and initially included the modern state of Illinois north of St. Louis as well as all of Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Over time, this enormous jurisdiction would be reduced to its present size of 741 square miles. An industrial region since the late 1800s, the area was first populated by the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Native American Mississippian culture – Cahokia. Containing about 80 humanmade earthen mounds near Collinsville, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is now a National Historic Landmark and one of the 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.
In the last 250 years, Madison County’s advantageous position next to the Mississippi River has allowed it to bear witness to a variety of notable people and events in United States history. Camp Dubois, the winter camp and launch-point for the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, lies within the county, as did the original City Hall in Alton, which hosted the last of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates on October 15, 1858. The Madison County Historical Society seeks to preserve the wonderful history of the county through their mission of “Opening Doors to Madison County History.” The digital collections shared with the IDHH certainly fulfill this mission, as they provide insight into the lives of 19th-century women through a series of private letters (Private and Real), the experiences of an American nurse serving in France during World War I (In Her Own Words), and the ways in which Madison County has changed over the years (Picturing the History of Madison County).
Join us in offering a warm welcome to the Madison County Historical Society, and enjoy a few of our favorite items from their collections below:
As the weather and humidity in central Illinois make it feel more and more like the temperature is over 100°F outside, the IDHH is highlighting the proverbial “dog days” of summer. While the phrase “dog days” or “dog days of summer” might be somewhat familiar, just what are these days and how did this expression enter our cultural lexicon? From an astronomical point of view, the phrase refers to the annual phenomenon in which the bright star Sirius rises into the sky at the same time as the Sun. This heliacal rising allows viewers to see both the Sun and the Sirius star simultaneously, leading to the belief that Sirius intensified or added to the Sun’s heat. In the Northern Hemisphere, this simultaneous rising may be seen during the hottest months of the year, in July and August.
Hellenistic astrologers in the Mediterranean were aware of the star Sirius, calling it the “Dog Star” due to the way it followed the constellation Orion into the night sky. The sweltering and humid weather in the Mediterranean during these months would often cause people to fall ill, and so the connection was made between Sirius’ heliacal rising and its effect on the populations below. A variety of detrimental effects to human activities were attributed with Sirius’ rising such as lethargy, fever, and bad luck, as well as the belief that this hot period brought out madness in dogs, further reinforcing the notion of the “dog days”. While we may no longer blame a summer fever on the “dog days of summer”, there is no denying the potent influence of a heat wave in July to inspire lazy dreams of a nice afternoon spent on the water. Between numerous lakes and ponds, miles of river, and spots like Navy Pier on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinoisians have plenty of ways to cool down during the hot summer.
Below are a few of our favorite items highlighting ways to enjoy the “dog days of summer” and beat the heat:
As temperatures warm and days get ever longer, the sounds of bees buzzing past and birds chirping in the trees indicate not only the arrival of summer, but also the height of the plant pollination period. June 1st marked the beginning of National Pollinators Month, recognizing these creatures and the crucial role they play in the larger system of plant reproduction and proliferation. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, encompassing such diverse animals as insects, birds, and even some mammals. These animals travel from one flower or plant to another, carrying pollen as they go, and fertilizing flora with each new plant they visit. The symbiotic dynamic between these plants and pollinators is vital to both groups, as pollinators eat the pollen or nectar for its nutritional content, while the plants rely on the pollinators to spread their pollen, aiding in reproduction.
The importance of this intricate process and the players within it has captivated human populations for centuries as butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators have been ascribed cultural significance and symbolism in various communities around the world. Such cultural significance persists today as we create entertainment like The Bee Movie that foregrounds pollinators, hold events such as the Aurora Pollinator Festival that highlight the role of pollinators, and design outdoor environments that offer ideal conditions for these animals. Indeed, as our climate changes there is a greater need than ever to create pollinator-friendly landscapes using pollinator-friendly practices. By providing habitats conducive to pollinator animals, we can simultaneously safeguard this essential process and beautify the natural world around us.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring one of the most popular pollinators – the honey bee:
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With spring coming into full bloom, the IDHH would like to feature one of our earliest contributors, Monmouth College, and their unique collection of Greek life dance cards. Located in Western Illinois in the city of Monmouth, the college was founded in 1853 by Scotch-Irish pioneers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Notably, the College accepted women and students of color from its earliest days, being one of the first U.S. higher education institutions to do so. In fact, the College found itself with a primarily female student body shortly after its establishment, as virtually the entire male student body left for military service in the Civil War. Not to be outdone by the campus societies formed by male veterans returning to the College after the war, Monmouth College is home to Pi Beta Phi, the nation’s first “women’s fraternity” (what we would now call a sorority).
Spanning nearly 30 years, the Dance Card Collection is a testament to the vibrant Greek life at Monmouth College and the rich social history of groups like Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma, two early sororities known as the “Monmouth Duo”. Popular in European ballrooms during the 18th century, dance cards were originally used by women to record the names of dance partners at formal balls. They typically consisted of a booklet with a decorative cover and a decorative cord by which it could be attached to the wrist or clothing. The booklet might include sections providing details about the event menu and music, patrons and other featured guests, and most importantly, blank lines where dance partners’ names could be “penciled in”. In the hands of young college students, the dance cards reflect their owner’s individual personality as well as the variety and playfulness of the dance cards created for specific dances in campus Greek life such as the Rose Formal or the Holly Hop.
Below are a few of our favorite items from the Dance Card Collection at Monmouth College:
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Visit the IDHH to view even more items in the Dance Card Collection from Monmouth College, as well as items related to the pastime and art of dancing.
On January 28, 1969, an underwater oil well drilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California suffered a blowout six miles from the coastline. Oil seeped out of the ocean floor bedrock at a rapid rate, creating an oil slick that would extend across dozens of square miles. The largest oil spill in American waters at the time, an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel over the course of the next month. The impact on the local marine environment was extreme as thousands of sea birds and marine animals were killed, and the clean-up efforts took months to address the damage of the spill. The enormity of this environmental disaster, and the increased awareness among Americans in the 60’s of environmental concerns generally, would prompt President Nixon to sign the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 and inspire the creation of an annual Earth Day.
Held on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was conceived as an “environmental teach-in” that would educate citizens about the importance of environmental conservation. The product of collaboration between Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelsen and activist Denis Hayes, the day eventually abandoned the “teach-in” model and saw numerous demonstrations and protests across the United States as more than 20 million people organized in city streets, which is still the largest organized demonstration in American history today. Over fifty years later, Earth Day is an annual reminder on April 22 to support efforts protecting our ever-changing environment and to contribute to a more sustainable world.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring early Earth Day celebrations in Illinois as well as the beautiful nature of Illinois:
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Visit the IDHH to view even more items related to the environmental observances of Earth Day and Arbor Day.