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I ended my Mile Marker weekend at the quirky and delightful DeMoulin Museum in Greenville, Illinois.

I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect from a museum devoted to DeMoulin Bros and Company – known today primarily as makers of band uniforms.  But so far Pat White from The Tourism Bureau ILLINOISouth had sent me to places that were just right.  Trusting Pat, I walked into the DeMoulin Museum with an open-mind, prepared to be interested.  Interested doesn’t begin to describe it.  I was fascinated.

The DeMoulin Museum: Invention. Imagination. Industry.

The DeMoulin Museum: Invention. Imagination. Industry.

Today DeMoulin Bros. is the largest manufacturer of band uniforms in the country.  (If you marched in your high school band, the odds are that you wore a DeMoulin uniform.)  But their roots are much weirder.

Fraternal lodges like Elks and Shriners were coming into their own in the 1890s.  There were more than one hundred different societies – all competing for members.  In 1892, the national head of the Modern Woodmen of America was looking for a way to draw new members.  He called on local photographer and inventor Ed DeMoulin for help.  DeMoulin and his brothers suggested that the Woodmen needed to add some humor to their initiation rites.  They suggested the “molten lead test:” candidates were told that to join the lodge, they had to plunge their hands into a bubbling pot of molten lead, an illusion created with the chemical reaction of dry mercury powder and cold water.  The molten lead test was a success, and a decades-long tradition of hazing new lodge members was born.  So was DeMoulin Bros. and Company, which became the leading inventor and manufacturer of fraternal paraphernalia, including spanking machines, collapsing chairs, and other devices designed to cause discomfort in the initiate and hilarity among his friends.  Their signature item was the DeMoulin goat, a vehicle halfway between a rocking horse and a tricycle certain to give a blindfolded rider an undignified ride.

The DeMoulin goat is the museum’s signature item

The DeMoulin goat is the museum’s signature item

The museum would be interesting even if it were no more than a collection of DeMoulin devices, but proprietor and curator John Goldsmith is as interested in the history of the company as he is in the devices.  And he tells the story well. Kids will like the opportunity to ride the goat.  Adults will be interested not only in the devices (which are weird and wonderful), but in the story of a company that has successfully re-invented itself over and over.  The museum’s catch phrase sums it up:  Invention.  Imagination.  Industry.

*#ILMileMarkersTip* Give yourself an hour or two of laughter: go ride the goat at the DeMoulin Museum.

– Pamela Toler, Illinois Mile Marker

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including The Tourism Bureau ILLINOISouth, the Collinsville Drury Inn and the Days Inn Vandalia. Want to follow in Mile Marker Pamela Toler’s footsteps? Travel the below map!


View Illinois Mile Markers: Collinsville Itinerary in a larger map

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Pamela Toler

History
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Pamela D. Toler is not your average freelance writer. She holds a PhD in history, is notoriously curious and has a long-standing love affair with road trips. As an author, Pamela has penned multiple books as well and has been featured on the History Channel.

She loves the thrill of exploring places of historical significance that link today with times of past. She blogs about history, writing, writing about history — and the occasional road trip through history — at History in the Margins.

 

On the second day of my Mile Marker adventure, I traveled 57 miles and 400 years from Cahokia Mounds to Vandalia, home of the Old State Capitol of Illinois and the terminus of the National Road.

I began my day at the National Road Interpretive Center, a small museum dedicated to the construction of the National Road—America’s first interstate highway.  Funded by the sale of land in what would become Ohio, the road was built in pieces between 1811 and 1834.  It was carved out of wilderness and prairie, constructed of rock, and dirt and mud over timber corduroys.  When it was completed, the National Road traveled through six states, from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia—then the capital of the new state of Illinois.

The National Road Interpretive Center is dedicated to the history of America’s first highway

The National Road Interpretive Center is dedicated to the history of America’s first highway

The museum does an excellent job of telling the story, beginning with George Washington’s dream of a trans-Appalachian road to unify the new nation and ending with the expansion of the road as the Old National Trails Road from Vandalia to the Pacific in 1910.  An electronic map not only illustrates the road’s path through Illinois, but also gives a visual history of each town along the way.  By the time I left the museum, I’d learned more than just the history of the road itself.  I’d also dipped into surveying methods, covered bridges, frontier road construction, and the economics of wagon trains and the development of the Illinois territory.

And that was just my first stop.

Catch a glimpse of history at Vandalia’s Old State Capitol building

Catch a glimpse of history at Vandalia’s Old State Capitol building

After lunch I moved on to the Vandalia Statehouse State Historic Site. The Federal-style building that stands today was the third statehouse in Vandalia, built in 1836 in response to a referendum to move the capital from Vandalia to Springfield.  Building a new statehouse wasn’t enough to stop the move.  In 1837, Springfield was chosen as the permanent location for the state capital.  The supporters of other locations immediately lashed out with charges of corruption against Springfield-area legislators, including “Honest Abe” Lincoln, then in his second term as a state representative.

In addition to telling the story of Vandalia’s brief history as Illinois’ capital, the tour guide offered a fascinating mixture of historical odd bits, the day-to-day practice of government in a frontier state, Lincoln lore, and nineteenth century political scandal. What history buff could resist the chance to touch a real “piece of eight?”  Not me!

Visit Vandalia for a look at the days when Illinois was the Wild West.

A look inside the historic Statehouse State Historic Site

A look inside the historic Statehouse State Historic Site

*#ILMileMarkersTip* Liberty Olde Towne Cheese Shoppe is a great place to stop for lunch in downtown Vandalia.  They serve excellent sandwiches and soups.  They also sell a selection of locally made food products.

For more information about the National Road and other historic attractions in Vandalia, visit the Interpretive Center’s website: nationalroadvandalia.org.  More information on the Vandalia Statehouse State Historic Site is available at illinoishistory.gov/hs/vandalia_statehouse.htm.

— Pamela Toler, Illinois Mile Marker

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including The Tourism Bureau ILLINOISouth, the Collinsville Drury Inn and the Days Inn Vandalia. Want to follow in Mile Marker Pamela Toler’s footsteps? Travel the below map!


View Illinois Mile Markers: Collinsville Itinerary in a larger map

Meet the Mile Marker:

arrow

Pamela Toler

History
close
info:
Pamela D. Toler is not your average freelance writer. She holds a PhD in history, is notoriously curious and has a long-standing love affair with road trips. As an author, Pamela has penned multiple books as well and has been featured on the History Channel.

She loves the thrill of exploring places of historical significance that link today with times of past. She blogs about history, writing, writing about history — and the occasional road trip through history — at History in the Margins.

Let me start out by saying that if you’re not interested in history, I’m the wrong Mile Marker to read.  No, I take that back.  You should read me.  I’d love to change your mind.

I began my Mile Marker adventure at Cahokia Mounds.  It’s one of my favorite Illinois historic sites – and one of the most important.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  In 1982, Cahokia Mounds was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Vatican City and Notre Dame Cathedral are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Like I said, Cahokia Mounds is important.)

Monks Mound is the largest totally earthen prehistoric mound in the Western Hemisphere

Monks Mound is the largest totally earthen prehistoric mound in the Western Hemisphere

From 800 to 1400 CE, Cahokia Mounds was the dominant city of the Mississippian culture, the most sophisticated prehistoric culture in the Americas north of Mexico.  With no metal, no draft animals, and no written language, the Mississippians built monumental structures (Monks’ Mound is as tall as a ten-story office building), made beautiful pottery, and built giant sun calendars that accurately tracked the solstice and the equinox.  At its height, around 1250 CE, Cahokia had an estimated population of 20,000 people—larger than London at the same time.  The next North American city with a population that large was Philadelphia, five hundred years later.

The Woodhenge sun calendar accurately tracks the equinoxes and solstices

The Woodhenge sun calendar accurately tracks the equinoxes and solstices

If you visit Cahokia Mounds on a gray afternoon with the threat of snow in the air, like we did, you might want to head straight to the exhibits in the Interpretive Center.  This is not a dry, specialists-only museum.  Divided into thematic sections—Time, Culture, City, Structures, Life, and Products—the kid-friendly exhibits do a terrific job telling visitors what archeologists know about the Mississippian culture and how they know it.  A clever series of panels featuring two characters, the Storyteller and the Archeologist, offers commentary on the exhibits from two different viewpoints.  A new video tells the story of one of the most interesting features of Cahokia: the circular wooden sun calendar known as Woodhenge.  The final portion of the exhibit – Knowing – talks about Cahokia Mounds as an archeological dig.

In better weather, there is plenty to see outside, including a reconstructed Woodhenge.  There are several different ways to tour the site.  Volunteer docents offer guided tours on the weekends in the spring and fall and every day during the summer.  If you prefer a self-guided tour, you can choose between a printed guide, and audio tours in two different formats.  If you can’t schedule a visit to Cahokia Mounds when the interpretive center is open, the trails are open basically from sun up to sun down.  Printed trail guides and information signs along the paths do a good job of introducing a visitor to the Mississippian culture and the mounds themselves.

No matter when you visit, something is apt to be going on. The site offers plenty of special events during the year:  flint knapping workshops, Native American art shows, and solstice sunrise observations at the Woodhenge.  When an active archeological dig is going on, visitors are welcome to the site.

Make a date with America’s ancient past and visit Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

*#ILMileMarkers Tip* Cahokia Mounds is located in Collinsville, Illinois, not Cahokia.

For more information about Cahokia Mounds, visit their informative website:  www.cahokiamounds.org

— Pamela Toler, Illinois Mile Marker

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including The Tourism Bureau ILLINOISouth, the Collinsville Drury Inn and the Days Inn Vandalia. Want to follow in Mile Marker Pamela Toler’s footsteps? Travel the below map!


View Illinois Mile Markers: Collinsville Itinerary in a larger map

Meet the Mile Marker:

arrow

Pamela Toler

History
close
info:
Pamela D. Toler is not your average freelance writer. She holds a PhD in history, is notoriously curious and has a long-standing love affair with road trips. As an author, Pamela has penned multiple books as well and has been featured on the History Channel.

She loves the thrill of exploring places of historical significance that link today with times of past. She blogs about history, writing, writing about history — and the occasional road trip through history — at History in the Margins.