15 Things You Might Not Know About Illinois
By Amanda Green
1. Illinois gets its name from the native Illiniwek people. The name translates to "ordinary speaker."
2. The state is the country's largest producer of pumpkins, second-largest producer of corn, and leading producer of arguments about whether or not ketchup is an acceptable condiment for a hot dog.
3. Speaking of Chicago's signature delicacies, if you're in the neighborhood, try a jibarito. The sandwich, which was invented by the city's Puerto Rican community, swaps out traditional bread for fried plantains, which are then filled with steak, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise, and sometimes cheese. It's not a traditional sandwich, but it's undeniably delicious.
4. The state fossil,Tullimonstrum gregarium, is called the Tully Monster. The carnivorous invertebrate looked like a cuttlefish and lived in the shallow swamp that was Illinois around 300 million years ago.
5. Illinois is one of the flattest states in the U.S.—so flat that the highest natural point, Charles Mound, is just 1,235 feet above sea level. Unlike most landmarks, this one's at the top of a family's driveway. They allow visitors just a few weekends a year and set up lawn chairs for taking in the view.
6. Chicago's low elevation and lack of a municipal sewer system led to serious flooding and disease outbreaks in the 19th century. To get out of the mud, engineers used hydraulic jacks to raise every city building up to six feet higher. Old, unwanted structures were put on rollers and moved to the suburbs.
7. Alas, then came the Great Fire of 1871. The Chicago Water Tower was one of the only buildings to survive. It's now a landmark—and apparently inspired the design of White Castle restaurants. Oscar Wilde wasn't impressed, though. He described it as "a castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it."
8. The Chicago River is the one of the few in the world that flows backwards. A system of three canals was built from 1892 to 1922 to reverse the flow and empty sewage into the Mississippi, instead of Lake Michigan.
9. Presidents Lincoln, Grant, and Obama all lived in Illinois. But the only U.S. President actually born and raised there was Ronald Reagan. Nonetheless, the state's been nicknamed the Land of Lincoln since 1955. (It was previously the Prairie State.)
10. Agriculture is an important part of the state's economy, so it makes sense that Illinois has an official state soil. The Drummer soil series is a silty clay loam that covers over 1.5 million acres of Illinois. The loam is perfect for growing corn and soybeans, which earned it the nod as the state's top soil.
11. Historic Route 66, established in 1926, starts in Chicago. If you're looking for the very beginning, the Federal Highway Administration directs you to the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Boulevard.
12. Chicago's nickname, the Windy City, has nothing to do with meteorology. The epithet—from a New York City journalist—actually referred to the boastful, long-winded politicians campaigning for the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893. Before that, it may have been a phrase referring to the breezes off Lake Michigan, but it wasn't popularly used.
13. The city had a lot more to brag about after the exhibition. It introduced the original Ferris Wheel, the mechanical dishwasher, the moving walkway, Shredded Wheat, and the first zipper, then known as a clasp locker.
14. Superman's fictional hometown of Metropolis shares its name with a real city 360 miles south of Chicago. Metropolis, Illinois has a Super Museum, complete with an outdoor phone booth, and hosts an annual Superman Celebration. The weekly newspaper is the Metropolis Planet, of course.
15. In 2012, Matt Groening revealed that The Simpsons' hometown of Springfield isn't based on the city in Illinois. "I figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S.," Groening said. "In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, 'This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.' And they do."