50 States: Illinois
We’re continuing a series at Tweetspeak — 50 States of Generosity, in which we highlight the 50 states of America and give people beautiful ways to understand and be generous with one another by noticing the unique and poetic things each state brings to the country. A more generous people in the States can become a more generous people in the world. We continue with Illinois.
Illinois (capital: Springfield)
Many states have a state fossil, but Illinois’ fossil is of a genuine monster, the Tully monster.
Scientists don’t know exactly what it is, but it is found nowhere else in the world except Illinois. Could it be a prehistoric worm? Some sort of snail? Could it be related to something now extinct? Does it have a spine or not? Some discoveries defy explanation.
The Tully monster fossil was discovered by an amateur collector named Francis Tully in 1958. He brought it to what was then called the Field Museum of Natural History, and after several years of research Dr. Eugene Richardson wrote a paper about the creature in 1966, describing Tullimonstrum gregarium “In all its radiant splendor.” If you’d like to catch a glimpse of it, just look for a U-Haul truck from Illinois — artwork depicting the Tully monster is featured on its rental vehicles.
Here’s the text, which you might not have a chance to read while you zoom past a U-Haul on the interstate:
Did you know…
Illinois once lay near the equator on the supercontinent of Pangea and was home to unique creatures. How did the strip mining of Illinois’ coal deposits reveal the secret of the Tully Monster?
The answer is that fossils lay buried in shale beds. When strip mining began in the 1920s to get to the coal underneath, the shale was dumped in huge piles. Anyone willing to do a little digging, like Mr. Tully, was rewarded with fossils of prehistoric animals, plants, and monsters. Sometimes we find what we aren’t looking for.
Of course, most of us, when we think of Illinois, aren’t thinking of swamp-like supercontinents, but of Chicago, the Windy City, the third-most populous city in the nation. It’s a city of culture, higher education, and the wide world of sports. But it is not the capital; Springfield is, the home of Abraham Lincoln before he became president. That’s why Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln. It might also be called the land of presidents, since three have been elected while living in Illinois — Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Barack Obama — and Ronald Reagan was born and raised there.
But Illinois is more than cities. It’s also known as The Prairie State, and prairie is one of the nation’s endangered ecosystems. The state, which was once 61 percent prairie, has greatly declined in its amount of tallgrass prairie acreage and the quality of that land. But grass is important. Some varieties can grow up to 20 feet deep and up to 15 feet tall, providing an unexpected, powerful carbon sink and supporting all kinds of butterflies, dragonflies, and bees, along with rabbits and deer. When the prairie is healthy — the soil and the grass and even the monsters — then the water is healthy, and the people are healthy. The planet smiles.
Oh, send me a skyscraper!
blue-green leaves like feathers
gold-bronze stems in fall
Poetry Prompt: Illinois Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about Illinois (research more, if you want!), and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About Illinois: Poets & Writers + Landmarks
Ray Bradbury, science fiction writer, poet
Gwendolyn Brooks, poet
Sandra Cisneros, author, poet
Home Alone house, holiday movie icon
Ernest Hemingway, author
Vachel Lindsay, poet
Archibald MacLeish, poet
Edgar Lee Masters, poet
Port of Chicago, the Illinois International Port District links port traffic between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River
The Art Institute of Chicago
Carl Sandburg, poet
Frank Lloyd Wright, born in Wisconsin, but the Chicago suburb of Oak Park is home to more Frank Lloyd Wright buildings than anywhere in the world, including his home and studio
Browse more 50 States of Generosity
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro