Archive for  October 2012

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Calling all chocolate lovers! Get away to Illinois and treat your taste buds to chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate. From decadent morsels of chocolaty goodness to creamy fudge, rich shakes and flowing chocolate fountains, the following trip ideas are dedicated to one of America’s favorite delicacy.

The Northwest Chocolate Trail

The Northwest Chocolate Trail will ensure chocoholics get their fix. The self-guided trail runs through four counties, including Carroll, Lee, Ogle and Whiteside. Visitors can stop at stores selling chocolate “everything,” participate in a gourmet chocolate cooking class and experience a chocolate themed English High Tea. While in the area, make a pit stop at the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour and stroll through John Deere’s restored home and grounds. B&B’s, hotels and cabin rentals are located near the trail for visitors to unwind after a chocolate adventure.

John Deere Historic Blacksmith Shop

Chocolate, Champagne & Candlelight in Galena

Spend an evening dedicated to chocolate at the Chocolate, Champagne & Candlelight event in historic Galena on Saturday, November 3. Visitors can enjoy a chocolate buffet and fountain paired with bubbly champagne. The special night takes place at one of Galena’s finest destinations, the famous DeSoto House Hotel. Explore the quaint riverside town while shopping at boutiques, art galleries and specialty shops on Galena’s Historic Main Street. After you’ve gotten your chocolate and shopping fix for the weekend, taste some of Illinois’ finest cuisine at the town’s abundant restaurant destinations.

DeSoto House Hotel

Chicago Fine Chocolate Show

Taste artisanal chocolate creations from around the world at the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show from November 16 – 18 at Navy Pier. Over 125 vendors will showcase chocolate masterpieces and offer samples for visitors, including truffles, pralines, bars, caramels, brownies, cookies, cupcakes and more. While in the city, explore Chicago’s cultural and historic attractions, dine at award-winning restaurants and enjoy a stay at world renowned hotels.

Chicago Navy Pier

To plan your chocolate getaway in Illinois, visit

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

Legend states that many towns throughout Illinois are haunted by ghosts from the past. Alton, Aurora, Galena, Springfield and Lebanon are a few towns that offer ghost tours to celebrate the Halloween season. Test your bravery on a spooky weekend getaway and learn about the history and legends of Illinois’ haunted towns.

Springfield Walks Ghost Tour

Alton is rumored to be one of the most haunted towns in the state and the inspiration for Troy Taylor’s novel, “Haunted.” Visitors can explore Alton’s ghostly locations on Mineral Springs Haunted Tours or Alton Haunting Tours. Mineral Springs Haunted Tours explains the legends of Alton, visits 12 locations, and offers tarot card readings, séances and ghost hunting. Alton Hunting Tours takes visitors on a three-hour tour of the most authentic spine-chilling sites, including the old Alton penitentiary, First Unitarian Church and Enos Sanitarium.

Aurora boasts more than 175 years of mysterious history. The Historic Ghost Tours of Aurora explores the local history on a two hour downtown walking tour. EMF ghost meters are provided for tour guests to hunt for ghosts along the route.

Galena is also known for unusual phenomena and ghost sightings. The town’s rich past sets the stage for the folklores that surround the charming destination. Visitors can embark on Annie Wiggins Ghost Tour, a haunted walking tour of Galena’s downtown. The tour begins at Annie Wiggins Guest House on Park Avenue and proceeds through Grant’s neighborhood, stopping at various haunted locations. It is led by the widowed Annie, clothed in her tattered mourning gown and veil.

President Abraham Lincoln’s stomping grounds are known for ghost sightings. Springfield Walks Tours offers four ghost tours that visit the unnerving sites surrounding the state’s capitol. Lincoln’s Ghost Walk: Legends and Lore is a 90-minute 10 block walking tour with stops at famous Lincoln attractions. Springfield Ghost Hunt features a light paranormal investigation and includes three sites. Mary’s Ghost Walk highlights the life of President Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Lastly, The Dead Walk tells the twisted tale of cannibalism, Springfield’s Dr. Frankenstein and Civil War soldiers.

Lebanon is one of Southern Illinois most haunted town and home to Illinois’ oldest college. The Haunted Lebanon Tours take tour-goers on a walk through the hair-raising downtown area. Visitors can hear tales and learn about the first-hand experiences of the tour guides.

To learn more about Illinois ghost tours and to plan your trip, visit

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

It’s likely that the first person you will see when you walk into the Joliet Area Historical Museum, located right on Historic Route 66, is Elaine Stonich who has managed the museum’s gift shop since the very first day it opened 10 years ago.

It was Elaine who was on duty when Paul McCartney strolled through the doors one Saturday in August 2008. She didn’t take a picture of the knighted musician with an interest in the charm and the quirks of Americana because, she says, he should enjoy Route 66 “just like everyone else.”

And Elaine would know. Route 66 kind of grows on you she says. She loves hearing the stories of the travelers from all over the world who visit the museum to pose with the Blues Brothers, explore the state-of-the-art Apollo/Houbolt exhibit or check out the storied history of the temporary – and downright hometown – special exhibition about the Joliet Township High School Band.

Posing with the Blues Brothers

A mother of two, Elaine recently traveled the Pontiac portion of the route with her son. “The more you learn, the more you want to do it and travel it,” she says. It’s the stories that attract her, and the people and, of course, the three major food groups along the route: grease, fried food and sweets.

The converted church turned museum in Joliet boasts original stained glass windows and uses the arch of the old altar to illustrate the grand scale of the building of the I&M Canal. A new rooftop space hosts concerts and events, a Lincoln Highway kiosk tells the fabled story of Illinois’ northern scenic byway, and a 1907 automobile shows us what cars looked like back when the Chicago Cubs were winning the World Series.

This is what Paul McCartney experienced when he strolled through the museum almost unnoticed.  Almost, that is, except for the sharp eyes of Elaine Stonich who quietly ensured his visit was just as it would be if you or I should swing by this gem on the Illinois stretch of Route 66.

Gift shop manager Elaine Stonich holds up Paul McCartney’s autograph

Always a gentleman, McCartney offered Elaine an autograph. You can see that autograph at the museum, too. It’s framed and tucked just behind the counter at the gift shop where Elaine keeps a careful eye on it, just as she will on you when you stop by.

— Jen Hoelzle

Deputy Director, Illinois Office of Tourism

Faces of ghosts, ghouls and goblins flicker from jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night. Children across the country spend the weeks leading up to Halloween picking the ideal pumpkin and expertly carving jack-o-lanterns. Surprisingly, the holiday tradition didn’t originate in the United States, but in Ireland hundreds of years ago. The Irish carved jack-o-lanterns in turnips or potatoes until they arrived in America and discovered the pumpkin.

Pumpkinfest at Didier Farms in Lincolnshire

With Halloween fast approaching, now is the time to visit Illinois’ pumpkin patches and find the picture-perfect pumpkin. Many of the state’s pumpkin patches feature corn mazes and haunted houses so visitors can get in the Halloween spirit. Here’s a listing of pumpkin patches around the state, or you can visit for more information.

Chicago & Beyond

The Didier Farms Pumpkinfest in Prairie View allows visitors to adventure on a tractor-drawn hayride through the farm’s pumpkin patch and pick a favorite pumpkin. After choosing the perfect gourd, Pumpkinfest goers can check out a five-acre corn maze, pony rides, petting zoo, crafts, antique tractor display and much more. Didier Farms also offers delectably distinct homemade pumpkin and apple cider donuts.

Land of Lincoln

The Great Pumpkin Patch boasts over 300 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds from over 30 countries. In addition to picking pumpkins at the U-Pick Patch, visitors can explore six mazes, a restored one-room schoolhouse, Wanda’s Haunted Crib and gardens and natural retreats. The farm also features a delicious bakery, seed shop and gift store. The Great Pumpkin patch is located near Arthur, in the heart of Illinois’ Amish Country. While visiting the area, stop by the 150 Amish shops to pick up handcrafted keepsakes.

Great Rivers Country

Country Corner, a full-service agritourism farm market in Alpha, showcases giant pumpkins weighing over 500 pounds at the annual Giant Pumpkin Festival. The gigantic pumpkins are for sale, or visitors can pick their own in a 20-acre pumpkin patch. After pumpkin picking, guests can play in the Fall Fun Park, enjoy hayrack rides and explore the Kid’s Corn Maze. Country Corner is located only 20 minutes south of the Quad Cities and 20 minutes north of Galesburg.

Trails to Adventure

Bandy’s Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze offers fun for the entire family with a 10-acre corn maze, kids play barn, straw maze and pumpkin patch. The 2012 corn maze honors the Girl Scouts’ centennial celebration. Visitors can explore the corn maze and hop on a farm hayride. Bandy’s Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze is located in Johnston City, between Marion and West Frankfort.

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

Visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago on Sunday, September 16, 2012 received a slightly different cultural experience than they expected: at the top of the museum’s Grand Staircase leading to the Impressionist Galleries, a full-sized replica of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884 was installed but devoid of most of the foreground characters, leaving visitors puzzled by the strange new version. In anticipation of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical Sunday in the Park with George, characters from this famous painting came to life for a surprising musical performance.

Characters from Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte came to life for a surprising performance

Hundreds of patrons heard music as fully costumed characters from the painting emerged and sang a rousing rendition of the song “Sunday.” Afterwards, the acting company cascaded down the Grand Staircase, out the main entrance of the Art Institute between the iconic lions and onto a Chicago trolley. The trolley then carried them up Michigan Avenue, along the city’s lush Millennium Park, and back to Chicago Shakespeare Theater, on Navy Pier, where the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical opens the Theater’s season, September 26 through November 4, 2012. The “faux” painting will be auctioned off to raise money for the Team Shakespeare arts-in-education program.

Patrons take in the show at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Grand Staircase

Only in Chicago could these two masterpieces have engaged in conversation with one another. Inspired by the Art Institute’s famous Seurat masterpiece, the musical Sunday in the Park with George tells the story of a painter’s struggle between creating art and living life. The Chicago Shakespeare production is staged by Associate Artistic Director Gary Griffin (The Color Purple, Follies) and features Jason Danieley as George Carmen Cusack as Dot/Marie.

Performances in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater are September 26-November 4, 2012. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at

Anna Marie Wilharm

Public Relations

Chicago Shakespeare Theater