This past Sunday I had the pleasure of traveling to Illinois for work. When most Americans conjure up an image of the Land of Lincoln, or the Prairie State, it includes one of two things: Chicago or corn. Indeed, I was able to see both of those on my trip. Beginning on Sunday night, a colleague and I flew from Queens, NY to Chicago, IL.
From the international airport, we hopped on a moral rural connecting flight to Peoria, IL. Peoria is actually the oldest European settlement in Illinois, founded in 1691 by a French explorer. There is an ongoing understanding of Peoria as the archetypical example of middle American culture. Indeed, the place becomes referenced in pop culture often as a stand-in for Anywhere, USA. This filler place name is considered the representative of mainstream taste, hence the bromide “Will it play in Peoria?”
“The sound of the engines and the smell of the grain / We go riding on the abolition grain train / Steven A. Douglas was a great debater / But Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator.” – Sufjan Stevens, Decatur
Finally, from the archetypal town, we rented a car and drove an additional hour to Galesburg, IL. Although small, and certainly rural, Galesburg has some key pieces of American history: the birthplace of esteemed poet and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Sandburg; the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate, on a temporary speaker’s platform attached to Knox College’s Old Main building on October 7, 1858; and a smattering of railroad and baseball history. Quintessential Americana.