I had known of the existence of Illinois since second grade. At least that's when Illinois as a specific geographical location became evident to me. We drove through it when we were moving from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to San Diego, California. We stopped in Springfield and visited Abraham Lincoln's house and that was what I knew about Illinois at that time.
Five years later we made another move--this time to Northwestern Indiana. Once again we passed through Illinois. Over the next few years my family would occasionally go perform our juggling act at various Illinois county fairs, but still the state somehow didn't register with me. Illinois was a place that you either passed through or if you were there you didn't really notice that you were there. To me at the time Illinois seemed like one big nondescript cornfield.
The Chicagoland area didn't count. We were there often, but I didn't think of Illinois when I was there. Chicago was like its own state--a state without cornfields. Chicago seemed real while the rest of the state seemed like a place that Chicagoans might dream about when they were asleep. Then they would awaken, briefly puzzled, before rubbing their eyes and going about the business of living in an urban area.
It was not until the mid-1970s when I woke up to the fact that Illinois was a real place that was actually interesting. I had gone to work on the Ken Griffin Magic and Illusion Show. They had ties to some people in Southern Illinois and the show gravitated toward that region for a while as we started doing promotional work and then performing the stage show. We became immersed in towns like Mount Vernon, Salem, Olney, and Effingham.
There was something peaceful about the towns and down-to-earth about the people. There were cornfields and farms like I had always seen before, but there were also small businesses, industries, and educational institutions. Illinois was a real place with heart and value. Illinois is a nice place to visit and probably not that bad of a place to live.
When you think of Illinois what is the first thing that comes into your mind? Do you think of rural areas as boring nondescript sorts of places?