The Museum of Gilding arts in Pontiac Illinois is a very high quality museum dedicated to Gilding (applying thinly beaten gold to things). Located just off Route 66, It’s located in an abandoned storefront in the city center. The Town of Pontiac, in an attempt to draw tourism offers these locations free to any small high quality museums that are willing to locate their collections here.
I’ll admit a bias, a very old friend of mine helped set this museum up. And when I say old I mean we’ve known each other pretty much our whole lives. When my dad was graduate student he did consulting work for her dad, our families went to the same synagogue, and then in high school we ended up hanging in the same click (I was a Freshman and the rest of them were Juniors. Growing up my friends were almost alway older than I was, and I didn’t tend to fit with kids my own age.)
The Docent walked me through the whole collection. She was very nice and helpful and probably could have kept talking … but I was on a schedule. First she showed me a very thin sheet of pounded gold, pounded so thin that you could the light through it… and then a box full of sheets of the stuff, where you can turn the box and see thing and light it is. I told her that in fact I’ve spent a lot time in Japan, where gilding is still a very active art, and knew all of this already. (In Japan I have eaten cakes topped with gild — very thin gold — and some where in all my boxes I have a little canister of the stuff should I ever want to put gold on a cake.)
According to the docent, … The Smithsonian wanted the collection that’s on display in Pontiac…. but they only wanted it for a temporary exhibit and the people who owned it — a family that had owned a now closed gilding company on the east coast — wanted a permanent space.
Then guilders who live in Pontiac, (hobbyists, there was never a gilding industry here) heard about this and connected the owners with city, like I said before, the town for all intents and purposes gave them that location to put their exhibit into. There’s no real connection between Pontiac and gilding otherwise
As I’m writing this, I googled the name in this board and found this, W H Coe Mfg Co Inc, Gold Leaf Manufacturer in 10 Love Ln, Hartford, Connecticut 06112. — but I couldn’t find more which makes me think the company really has gone out of business .
There is also a small gift shop selling goods that I assume are made by the local gilders who helped bring the collection to Pontiac. I bought Chai Magnet, and gave it as a gift to my friend whose home I was going to be staying at as soon as I got back to Chicago.
Located just North of Pontiac Illinois is an iconic route 66 Barn that advertises the Meramec Caverns, which are located in Sullivan, MO a good four hours (265 miles) away. When ever you see this iconic image in photos you get the impression that it’s much bigger and MUCH MUCH MUCH closer to route 66 than it actually is.
If anything the fact that this advertisement, located on the side of a barn is THIS far way from the attraction it advertises kind of tells you just what a tourist trap it is.
But seriously they couldn’t have put in the gravel path at least… I walked out a few steps but was worried about picking up a tick with lime disease along the path, and stopped
Finding the place wasn’t that easy either…. One questions if Route 66 didn’t use to run a bit closer to the barn because you can just barely see that thing from the road, and the you’re seeing in the picture isn’t even it… that’s a turn off from Route 66 which was only marked by this tiny little sign….
This Standard Oil Station is YET ANOTHER restored gas station photo-op that is used for nothing more creative than a gift store selling for the most part route 66 stuff. It’s located on Route 66 in Odell Illinois … at some point I have to count up just how many of these things I’ve seen over the last month and a half… but let’s just say I’ve seen my fill (joke intended)
I looked this up and according to a 2004 estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency there are somewhere just shy of 200,000 abandoned gas stations in the USA. I even found a web page from the National Park Service explaining to local towns what they need to do to convert theirs into a historic attraction. Along this route I’ve only seen ONE that sold stuff worth buying.
NOT only was most of the stuff they were selling utter junk, but it was EXPENSIVE junk
$10 for the fake license plate (I’ve seen it selling elsewhere for half that) and $35 for a rock engraved to say Illinois Route 66. I mean seriously? That and… and I am not overstating things when I say this… the woman inside the building, at BEST, grunted at me a few times. I kind of got the feeling that she doesn’t really like her job.
No hello, no smile, no “do you have any questions?” None of that… just a couple of grunts.
Dwight Illinois, which has a population 4,260… i.e., is smaller than the public high school I attended in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and as such is one of those small Illinois towns that when you’re planning your 66 trip you’re going to think you can pretty much drive through after a five-minute stop to take a few photos and stretch your legs … only you really shouldn’t… as I frustratingly learned.
I HAD known about the historic Ambler Texaco station, but assumed it would be more like the myriad of other gas historic gas stations I’d passed along Route 66, 90% of which are worth about a five-minute stop at best. I was wrong.
When I got there, pulled over when I saw the state of Illinois Route 66 signage (I do LOVE these things and wish the other states along the route did the same), and discovered that the station was far more of a museum than just a “renovated”but just-for-display gas station, like MYRIAD of the others that I’ve seen along the route. To be honest by this point I’d seen so many preserved gas stations that I was beginning to get bored with themThis one, unlike an active and friendly docent who would have happily spent an hour telling me the history of her town, if I’d had the time, and insisted on taking my photo multiple times
and in addition I discovered that there’s a bunch of things that I would have wanted to see in Dwight, had I known about them in advance… that I simply did not have time to stop and look at.
Which is a shame because among those things that I now didn’t have time to stop to see, was a 1905 Frank Loyd Wright designed bank, which I would really have liked to see …. SIGH… a gothic church built in 1857 that the future King Edward VII had visited looked interesting (and I was VERY VERY VERY amused to see that the sign, which you know has got to have involved more than a few tax payer dollars, said Edward the IV instead of VII — since Edward the IV had died in 1483)… not to mention Dwight historical society in their 1891 train station, or original Keeley Institute which peddled the first cure for alcoholism, which according to this second sign below, included a very interesting looking windmill I would have looked to see.
Route 66 has two endpoints: one is in downtown Chicago, which many people think of as ‘the start’ of the route (because of the order in the “get your kicks on Route 66”, song), while the other is (currently) at the Santa Monica Pier, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, which is where I started my trip. In Chicago route 66 is a little complicated as it exists on two one way streets, Adams, which travels west, and Jackson, which travels east. SINCE most people take 66 going west, that’s where you’ll find most of the signs…
Because Chicago is home and I’ve pretty much walked or driven most of these roads at one time or another without realizing they ARE 66, I have to admit that once I did, I opted to fudge it a bit once I passed Dell Rheas’s Chicken basket in Willowbrook IL (a town I’ve only ever passed by while driving on I-55) and felt that I had for all intents and purposes I had finished the route on the 24th of October. (I admit this is largely because I knew the neighborhoods I would be passing through… knew most of them to HIGHLY unsafe ones with nasty traffic. When I go downtown I stick to safe routes and park my car in safe areas.)
So for instance, the above are some photos of me in 2001 having dinner with friends at what was then arguably the best Greek Restaurant in Chicago’s GreekTown (on Halstead between Adams and Jackson … i.e., 66) the now closed Roditites Greek Restaurant, which used to be one of my favorite go to’s (it was open for 45 years). (All of the old Greektown classic restaurants seem to be closing, I think the children weren’t interested in taking over the businesses)but on the 31st of October I had business I had to deal with downtown, and as such took the opportunity to finish my 66 trek (only this time on foot, cause driving into the city is NUTS). I was staying at my friend’s home in Northbrook, and took the Metra Train from North Glenview station to Union Station, which is also located between Adams and Jackson (again, both are Route 66, it just depends on which direction you’re going) with exits to either street. Ironically, I have only ever been in this station once before. The Metra train line adjacent to my parents home went to a different station, the Ogilvie Center, a few blocks north. Unlike that station, which only services local lines, this station is where you go in Chicago if you’re taking an Amtrak line. As such, the only other time I was ever here was when I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco back when I was in my late 20’s.The odds are you’ve seen this station before, even if you’ve never been to Chicago, as it’s been used more than few times in movies. The list includes Public Enemies (with Jonny Depp), My Best Friend’s Wedding (with Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett), Man of Steel (one of the Superman movies), Derailed, and most prominently in the movie The Untouchables, about Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) … with a scene steeling Oscar worthy supporting performance from Sean Connery… which had a LOT of Chicago locations in it.
From the station I went straight to my 11am appointment, and then double backed to have lunch at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery (click link for my blog post about it), which is located a half block west of Union Station, and is probably the only historic Route 66 eatery to be in the Michelin guide. After lunch I walked back east, along Adams (Route 66 west bound) past Union station and to the Chicago River which forms the station’s eastern boundary.
If you ever come to Chicago I strongly suggest taking one of our Water Taxi’s from Union Station (i.e, Route 66) to Navy Pier (the Orange line on the map above) which travels to where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan… that said I’m about to go a bit off topic, but really… you have GOT to try the water Taxis
While at Navy pier, before switching to the next Taxi, you might want to go up on the Ferris Wheel (which is sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel, as it actually served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side) which offers some great views of the city
but then make sure to take the Water Taxi that travels from the pier via Lake Michigan to Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, even if you don’t want to go to the Museums.
The skyscraper on the left is the Big Willy (see below), the one in the middle is the Standard Oil building — no self-respecting Chicagoan refers to it as the Aon center and if you asked them where the Aon center was I doubt they’d know, and one to the right is the John Hancock (where I used to work back when I was in my 20’s)….. again, NO ONE calls it 875 North Michigan Avenue. Apparently the John Hancock building, the corporate headquarters for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co, at around 2013 ceased to be their headquarters, and just a few months ago the name got changed to its address. The pics above were from when I did this back in 2013 when my friend, who I knew from when I was teaching in S. Korea, came to visit during a summer break.
But I digress… returning to Route 66….
From there I continued my trek down Adams (the west bound 66). The above picture is looking west down the street, across the bridge I had just passed over… and, the ‘small’ white building just above the black van is Union station.
Again, this photo is looking west. The sky scraper in the distance is the same one shown in the picture from the Water Taxi. Which I referred to as “The big Willy.” It was originally called the Sears Tower (my best friend from high-school has worked there for almost 15 years), and when first built in 1973 (I remember it going up) it was the tallest building in the world. But Sears then sold it to Willis Insurance in 2009, who renamed it as The Willis Tower. Many Chicagoans to this day absolutely refuse to use that name, but I, personally, LOVE IT… because it allows me to call it “the big Willy” (Willy being a British slang word for penis) and just how great is that?! The GORGEOUS historic building in the foreground of the picture is the SIDE entrance (if you can believe it) of the Rookery Building, which designed by deeply important architectural firm of Burnham and Root in 1888. If you have ever read the best-selling novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, about the Chicago world’s fair, you know who they are. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but the lobby was design by Frank Loyd Wright. If you’re an architecture enthusiast you will LOVE Chicago.
Another thing Chicago is famous for, one of which is visible on Route 66, is our collection of public art. The above is Alexander Calder‘s Flamingo (sculpture). I remember when it was first unveiled in 1974, none of us could make heads or tails of what it was… but it’s pretty.
After this I pit stopped off at the historic Berghoff Restaurant (click the link for a fully review of the place) for a mug of their root beer (they brew it themselves). For some reason this iconic German restaurant which is a landmark of downtown Chicago, its been there since 1898… is NOT in the Michelin guide… shrug?… I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the image above, and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. If you love German food, EAT HERE, this place has been rocking my socks off my whole life… if you don’t… at least try the root beer and look around, the interior is just amazing to look at and reeks of Chicago history (photos and murals of Chicago Exposition line the walls)
AND THIS is also a route 66 establishment — and I never realized it was that until this trip. Did I mention I have been eaten here my whole life.
If you look carefully at the building, you’ll see how the sign above… which I’ve never seen before, and keep in mind the roman looking building is Art Institute of Chicago, were I went to school for four years….. and this one below are on either end of the same city block…
The Berghoff Restaurant is a MUST visit traditional German restaurant in downtown Chicago, which is also one of the city’s landmarks. First opened in 1898 by Herman Joseph Berghoff, a recent immigrant from Germany, this restaurant has been run by successive generations of the founding family until it first closed 2006. Unrecognized by the family, the restaurant was so iconic to Chicago residents that its closing created something of major scandal, with outcries of horror and loss so resounding and vociferous that one of the great-grandchildren of the founders, who had not wanted to run it, changed her mind and reopened it shortly there after.
In 2016 that same great-granddaughter (who REALLY had not wanted to run) sold it to her brother, but other than laying off the entire staff and only rehiring the ones who were NOT cantankerous old farts (I will say service has improved MARKEDLY since they did it) nothing has really changed.
They have essentially kept the menu full of its old artery clogging classics, but have added some new newer, healthier options (when people ask me what German food is like I describe it thus, “meat, meat, meat… more meat, a bit more meat… and something white on the side.”). So if you look at the images below it is photos from two different visits one in 2013, with a friend visiting from China, and the other with a one I’ve known my whole life (I actually just went to the Shiva for her mother in law last night) where we got healthy food.
I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the very first image of this post (see above), and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of what is the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. Every time my mom took me there, that visit was almost always followed up by a meal the Berghoff.
This time, like EVERY other, I got a mug of their Root-beer. I LOVE their root beer, it has a licorice taste to it which you don’t normally find in root beers. That said, during this last visit I noted they were installing a microbrewery INSIDE the restaurant. This place has ALWAYS had their own brew, but I guess having the huge brewing vat sitting in your place makes you a bit trendier (and hopefully more profitable) … but again, no substantial changes.
All through the restaurant are murals and photographs of the Chicago world’s fair, including this one bottom left of the ORIGINAL Ferris Wheel (sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel), which served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, i.e., the Chicago world’s fair, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side. In its honor Chicago has opened up one on Navy Pier by the lake, which offers some great views of the city
One thing that I had never realized and this is one of my favorite places to go to where I have eaten at my whole life… is that the Adams street, where the Berghoff is located, is also one of the end points for Route 66… who knew?
Located on Historic Route 66 adjacent to I-55 in Willowbrook, IL, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket opened in the late 1920’s as a lunch counter in gas station.
As the story goes, in 1938 two women who ran a chicken farm overheard the owner, Ervin ‘Irv’ Kolarik, complaining about how much he hated running the gas station part of business and wished he could just run the food counter. They promised to share their secret chicken recipe with him on condition he bought his chicken from them. The chicken was so popular that by the mid 40’s it was clear he needed a bigger place and in 1946 he opened a restaurant adjacent to the gas station.
One of the cute things that happened was it was the birthday of one of the customers and the whole staff came out to sing her happy birthday, only they clucked the words … as in made chicken noises instead of singing the words
This is one of those places that has been a chicago are institution but I have never been because this is not a part of town I’d normally go to. As such, the odds of me being here again were equally low, so I had to try their specialty, the fried chicken. That said… The chicken was very good… but I’ve had better … the fried chicken at Disneyland’s Plaza Inn was in fact MUCH better. So I’m not in fact sure it was worth the damage to my diet (and in fact when I got back to Chicago I failed my blood test… my liver numbers had jumped again).
My waitress was an obese middle-aged woman with the smile planted firmly on her face who was scurrying around the place checking on everyone regularly, Really friendly and asking all the right questions without being overly in your face about it…all while limping really badly with a sort of waddling walk. At the end of the meal I asked her what was wrong with her leg and she said it wasn’t her leg it was her back and by the end of the day she was in a lot of back pain. To which I exclaimed, “And you waitress?!!!” That woman deserves a reward… I gave her a $20 tip on my $18 bill.
Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery located just outside of the loop in Chicago Illinois, is probably the only historic Route 66 eatery to be in the Michelin guide (here’s the link)
In spite of this being a Chicago institution, I think this is probably my very first time eating at Lou Mitchell’s. This is ironic, considering that I was born and raised in the northern suburbs and got my undergraduate degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is about a 10 minute walk away.
The most likely reason for this is that Lou Mitchell’s only does breakfast and lunch and my family usually came downtown in the evenings, and I ate my lunches during college either in the school cafeteria or at any of the restaurants within a block or two of school.
I got the apple and cheddar omelette because I’ve never had one before… which was served with Greek toast (toast made using greek style bread with sesame seeds on it). The omelette is ridiculously fluffy… it’s good.. but would have been better with a much sharper cheddar, and maybe folding the apples INTO the omelette rather than topping it… and I think raw crispy apples that were tart would have been better than cooked
That said there was clear Route 66 theme to the restaurant, with all the 66 branded stuff being specific to the restaurant rather than any of that hopeless generic stuff.
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.
the reason, in my mind, is because it is where THE real Dorothy, Dorthy Gale, she of the Wizard of Oz, is buried…
Dorothy Louise Gage, born June 11 1898, and died November of that same year. She was the niece of Frank L Baum, and he made her immortal.
FINDING the grave wasn’t all that easy. Just as you come into the graveyard there’s a caretaker’s house, with a map, but it’s not all that easy to follow. There’s also a memorial garden there in her memory, but that’s not the grave.
In the images below, the top left one shows the statue on the left edge, and the grave (just in front of the tree in the back right corner, in the shade) where it sits between the two green bushes.
I ended up at first on the road between the plot section at the back edge of the graveyard. From there I found the statue easily enough but it was just far enough from the actual grave as to sort of mislead you (you’re in the right plot, you just can’t spot the grave). So I went back to the house asked various locals visiting their loved ones (who seemed to have no idea that in fact Dorothy was buried there, let alone where), checked the map again, and this time found the road in FRONT of the lot, where the big plaque showing the statue AND the grave is located. With that, and now knowing what the grave looked like, I was able with some effort to find the grave.
The same graveyard has the graves for Adlai Stevenson (Governor of Illinois from 1948 to 1953, has an expressway named after him) but I don’t care as much about him… He’s just a politician, time will forget about him