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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 05:43 pm

Oddball Illinois

Ticket to fantastic and eccentric

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Oddball Illinois: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places, by Jerome Pohlen, is your ticket to the fantastic and eccentric in the land of Lincoln. The book offers interesting information about unusual people, locations and museums, oddities and bizarre histories from the Mississippi River banks of Quincy to Ashmore, and from Cairo to the streets of Chicago.

Have you always wondered where all the holy visitations in the Windy City took place? Oddball Illinois lists many. Maybe you remember the weeping Our Lady of the Underpass made famous in 2005. The location and story synopsis are in the book. Also in the volume is Our Lady of Cicero, the other weeping icon declared a miracle by eight Orthodox bishops in 1994.

Entries are condensed and brief for the most part, but intriguing and amusing. Each includes the address, direction, phone number, website, admission price and operating hours, if the information is available or if the venues are not free and open to the public.

Oddball Illinois reads like a travel guide to the fantastic. So if you are Ponce de Leon longing for hidden treasures and new discoveries calls, this book will be right up your alley. With this reference, you can plan a week’s trip around the state or a weekend excursion to one specific town.

New experiences wait for you in places such as a humble little downstate eatery that cooks what many consider the tastiest burgers you will ever eat. Or a fun house menagerie, with scares and sillies like no other you have attended.

Or you might opt for a themed tour. There is a small section in the book with “The Dead Circus Sideshow Tour” boasting 11 stops; another is called “The Mob Mania Tour.” Of course there’s plenty of “the world’s largest” or “the world’s first” to check out on your travels, too.

Four maps and two indexes will guide the way. One handy index lists attractions by town. The capital city, by the way, has 17 entries. Decatur has six; Taylorville, four; Lincoln three, along with other smaller community listings. You don’t have to travel far to get a start on your excursion to the odd in our state.

And even if you won’t be hitting the pavement anytime soon, it’s a fun, quirky 325-page book to read. Published in May of this year by Chicago Review Press, the book is Pohlen’s second edition, the first printed in 2000. Pohlen is a Chicago editor and educational writer who has penned 10 travel guides. Oddball Illinois’ cover price is $16.95. Available at bookstores everywhere, also available in electronic form.

Oddball central Illinois

Here’s a list of a few area sites taken from the book. Descriptions are not word for word, but recounted and abbreviated, with none of the humor and wit found in the book. We think Quincy merits mentioning. A mere two-hour drive away, it makes an interesting day trip.

Birthplace of the Corn Dog, Cozy Dog Drive In, 2935 S. Sixth Street. If you haven’t heard of Ed Waldmire, Jr., you probably haven’t been in Springfield long enough. He came up with the idea for this tasty little treat during WWII while stationed in Oklahoma. You can sample his recipe at this eatery filled with memorabilia, souvenirs and other good food for purchase, such as a delicious bowl of chilli. (Open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 525-1992.)

General Santa Anna’s Leg and Lincoln Target, Illinois State Military Museum, 1301 N. MacArthur Blvd. Check out this museum that houses Illinois militia and Illinois National Guard artifacts. It also houses a couple unique artifacts – the artificial leg of Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and the wooden target board that President Abraham Lincoln used to test fire the Spencer rifle in 1863. (Open Tuesday through Saturday 1-4:30 p.m., 217-761-3910.)

Haunted Greenwood Cemetery, 606 S. Church St., Decatur. Legend has it that years ago a flood from the Sangamon River displaced more than caskets, bones and stones from this burial ground. In the supernatural mix since, visitors have seen strange flickering lights and roaming specters, including the ghosts of eight Native Americans murdered there in the 1820s. (Free and open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 422-6563.)

Tomb for Accordions, near Oak Ridge Cemetery N. Monument Ave. entrance, where the road forks to Lincoln’s tomb, you can’t miss the elevated tablet of Roy Bertelli, master of the accordion. Having always dreamed of getting a burial spot in ORC, Roy did. Shortly after its purchase though, he received a letter from the cemetery that there was a mistake, and he had to give it back. Instead, Roy had a memorial tablet erected. Rumor has it he would sit on top of the tomb and play the accordion. (Gate hours are 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. through March and until 8 p.m. April through Oct. Free entrance.)

Villa Katherine, 532 Gardner Expressway, Quincy. For those who love a good tale and a bit of foreign architecture plopped in the middle of the prairie, this Moorish villa is a must see. Home of George Metz, he commissioned the building in 1900 after traveling for two years in northern Africa. It is now home to the Quincy Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. (Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 800-978-4748.)

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