Driving along route 66 there are “designated stops” and if you want to really do it (66 I mean) you sort of have to stop at them, even if when you do you find yourself going… “OK then, this is it.” These two “attractions” in Gardner Illinois pretty much fall into that category.
The first of these is the a jail with only two cells in it. Built in 1906 the community has recently renovated it and turned it into a tourist attraction. No one was in there providing information,
There was however a recorded message you could listen to. Adjacent to this was a monument/replica of a historically important but recently destroyed by fire (2010) diner that had existed on route 66 in Gardner. Built in 1928, in what had originally been a horse-drawn-streetcar, and then expanded from that into a larger adjoining building
the Riviera Restaurant was a reputed favorite hangout for Al Capone because during prohibition it secretly offered gambling and a drink.
I found this video on YouTube taken of the fire department trying to save the structure as it burnt to the ground. The original location was NOT next to the jail cell but rather a little bit outside of town — a more secluded location — along route 66
That said…. Gardner has put up at this location an information board about one of its most famous former citizens, a native of Norway, the Reverend Christian Christiansen. Born in 1859, the reverend first came to the area between 1897-1907, moved to Wisconsin for 20 years, but then returned for his retirement. In 1942, when he was 83, he read an article in the Chicago Tribune about how the Nazis were trying to develop an atom bomb and had built a heavy water plant that the Allies couldn’t destroy because of the protection of a mountain shelf, and battleships couldn’t navigate the fiords. As he read the article he realized it was the area he had grown up in, and contacted the military with the information they needed to attack the plant.
Located in Staunton, Illinois, Henry’s Rabbit Ranch really is one of the route 66’s “must sees” and it’s one that lives up to the promise … mostly because of the owner. Remember the Cadillac Ranch and the Slug Bug ranches in Texas? Well this is the Rabbit Ranch…
That said, Henry, the owner of this place, who is a lover of rabbits (he told me that at one point he was fostering 27 rescues) really is why you come.
When you first approach the place it looks like run down pile of junk that’s trying to take advantage of some of the 66 trafficBut when you get out of your car and start really looking, you realize this is one of must see stops (with accolades from both the route 66 landmark group and the state of Illinois
Among his “junk” he’s got a sign from a depression era WPA project on the route!!! (this should NOT be outdoors in the elements, it should be in a museum)
Inside you’ll find Henry. I had read this over and over again but it’s true, he is a ridiculously sweet guy who takes joy in helping 66’s travelers, and will talk to you all day if you let him. All of his bunnies are rescue bunnies and he told me that at one point he had like 27 of them.
After talking to me for a while, he took me around to see his property, including the fairly large a Rabbit cemetery along the side of the house (each stone marks multiple rabbits), which includes a MASSIVE fiberglass rabbit he insisted of photographing me on top of
To be honest, I almost missed the place… the two images on the left side of the picture above is what the place looked like approaching from the north bound route 66. NO references are made to it being the Rabbit Ranch… all of his signs assume those sorts of tourists (on 66) will be going south bound… starting in Chicago and heading to LA.
First opened in 1924, The Luna Cafe in Mitchel Illinois on historic Route 66 is a dive bar with historic value… supposedly Al Capone used to hang out here.
Sadly, their Neon signs, which to be honest is half of why the place is worthy of note… were in a horrible state of disrepair when I saw it.
According to what I read, the upstairs at Luna’s was a whore house, and when the local ladies where ‘ready’ to see gentleman callers the cherry in the martini would get lit up with red neon… otherwise it was “apparently not working.” (Since this was NOT visible on the neon at all, I swung by the next day to get a picture of it in daylight. Good thing I was staying for two nights).
That said, the place has HORRIBLE Yelp reviews, so I stuck my head in, took a look around — spotted a lot of people too drunk to drive… and left
MooseJaw, is located halfway between Calgary and Winnipeg alongside the Trans-Canada Highway (population 33,000), and has enough local history and street art to be worth a two day visit (I really regretted only having a few hours). The Moose is impossible to miss from the highway, and stands adjacent to the city’s tourist information center/ the starting point for a guided tour of the city in an antique looking trolley/bus, a good way to begin your visit.
I had initially wanted to stop in Moosejaw in part because I had remembered hearing about this town (with a name like that it’s hard to forget, although I forgot in what context) … but after having been massively let down by towns like Medicine Hat (really not much to see), I had decided to just drive through… and then I saw THIS along the highway… and of course, I had to stop in order to take pictures, and utilize the facilities
Once I was inside the building I realized that Moosejaw, even though it is a tiny little town has REALLY invested their tax dollars into doing everything they can towards making itself a worthwhile tourist destination. There is a Casino and a geothermal spa, and its the home base for a lot of fight training (both NATO and Canada’s equivalent of the Blue Angles — which quite humorously, are called the Snowbirds — a term that most people associate with something quite different) — none of which I had enough time in my schedule to enjoy. In fact I had totally underestimated how long it would take me to drive cross country and I had theater tickets already for the night of the 9th of August in Stratford, Canada, so in retrospect (once I realized JUST how much there was to do there) I quite simply could not give this town the time I think it deserved.
From inside the information center I learned that Moosejaw HAD been an important railway town, at one point, from which agricultural goods from the surrounding area were shipped to the cities, and that there was museum in town devoted just to that topic, that was in fact part of an area wide network of museums.
And that precisely because of the existence of that train line from Canada to Chicago, MooseJaw had become embroiled in, and received a massive economic boost from, the prohibition era in the U.S.A.
I knew already from my previous reading on the topic (I had in fact only JUST finished a really good book on the topic a few months previous) that while the town “makes plenty of hay” from Capone having been in their town, there’s actually no hard historic evidence to support the claim.
While walking around the tourist information area, the two things that really sparked my interest (in terms of what to do during the few hours I could invest in the place), was the local tour bus and the tunnels that apparently run below the city. Apparently, if I had timed my stay for a weekend, at night the tour bus, which gives only a general tour of the city during the day, on weekend nights will do Ghost and murder tours of the city.
However, there was a ‘treat’ offered to the regular daytime tourists that unfortunately my diet would not allow me to partake of… a local pizza parlor that was a bit off the beaten path was offering free slices to anyone who took the tour (as a way to draw business).
The bus took us all around town, and in particular made a point of showing us all the local street art, of which it was very proud
Although, I will admit now… Pokémon-Go had come out a few months before, and while waiting for the bus I realized that this town had all sorts of RARE Pokémon I had not seen before, so I got a bit obsessive during the ride, putting more attention towards trying to catching the Pokémon than on listening to the tour guide (me bad — but I will note I’ve NOT seen any of these guys, well except the purple one, since this town).
After the tour was over, I drove over to where the tunnels were, only to discover that while the tours of them leave every hour, the fact that I had arrived during a local holiday period meant that they were overwhelmed with tourists, and the wait to get into one of those tours was a good three hours, meaning I didn’t have enough time to be able to do one; and there are two, one about prohibition, one devoted to the Chinese population of town who apparently lived mostly underground (??) … as such I strongly suggest booking these tours in advance.