It’s maybe poetic that Illinois' bicentennial celebration was born in a mild cloud of controversy, with a limited budget and worries that state leadership had different visions for the big bash.
Call it apropos because politicking has been a part of this great state from the beginning; it’s practically the bedrock on which we stand, buttressed by names like Kerner, Daley, Ryan and Madigan.
We’ve been thinking of the bicentennial because The Pantagraph and other news organizations across the state have teamed up to produce a series of stories looking at important locations, achievements and personalities that make up our state’s rich history, including entries from Central Illinois focusing on our ties to two of presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.
Other topics include Illinois' role in the Civil War, World war I and II, transportation, and prominent athletes and performers in the arts.
Starting today, we’ll publish a story each Sunday in the newspaper and at pantaqraph.com, continuing for a year and leading up to Illinois' 200th birthday on Dec. 3, 2018.
The state also is planning a series of events, but there have been various headaches along the way. About $6 million was budgeted as of October, way lower than other states for similar milestone birthdays.
The two states admitted into the union right before us are having lavish affairs. Mississippi is spending $100 million, which includes new museums, for its bicentennial. Indiana raised $55 million.
Naturally, it would be strange for Illinois — mired in a budget stalemate for two years, and still owing billions in back bills — to break the bank on a back-slapping celebration. But there’s also value in celebrating the greatness of our state and changing the narrative.
“People want us to use the bicentennial as a platform to change the conversation about the state of Illinois, to talk about all the great things that Illinois has contributed to society,” says Stuart Layne, executive director of the Illinois Bicentennial. “The second is pride. People are proud to be from this state … That has become our mantra.”
Not only are we the place that gave this country Lincoln and Reagan, but also Jane Addams, Harold Washington, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and George Halas and where Gwendolyn Brooks, Clarence Darrow, Frank Lloyd Wright and another president, Barack Obama, rose to prominence.
We are home to Cakokia Mounds near Collinsville, the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico; were the first state to ratify the 13th amendment; and where the zipper, barbed wire and cell phone were invented.
We are 57,914 square miles, 102 counties and 12.8 million residents. Our influence on America is deep and lasting.
We have a lot to celebrate, despite the bruises, budget battles and politics.
Happy bicentennial, Illinois.