Springfield as Mecca

1909 postcard

Something I’ve never considered before is the Muslim practice of facing toward Mecca to pray. I know it’s their faith, and far be it from me to wander into an area I don’t have any knowledge about. But five times a day is enough to make the point that Mecca is very important for Muslims.

I say this because I recently received an inquiry from a reader of this blog about the Gettysburg Address tablet that is on the wall of my younger daughter’s school. He sent me some fascinating materials about the observance of the Lincoln centennial in 1909, of which the Gettysburg tablets were a part. There were roughly 450 of them installed, in every public and parochial school in Chicago at the time. I was told that four of these are known to still exist, which sounds about right after 103 years have gone by. It’s a fascinating thing to know this was ever done in the first place.

So where does the Mecca part come in? I had read, some time ago, that school children were told, on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, to face toward Springfield and recite something or do something or I can’t remember exactly what it was. But this was a one-time event, on a special day, and it struck me as a strange thing to do.

I understand the desire to pay tribute to Lincoln, and few are more enthusiastic about him than I am, but this act of reverence seemed out of place in this country. Part of me hopes that I’m imagining this, or that I misunderstood what was in the book I was reading. But I’m also trusting my memory enough to report that this did happen, or at least was supposed to happen, on February 12, 1909.

Many thanks to the reader who provided all of the interesting Lincoln materials, including the postcard above. They have certainly given me food for thought, as all things Lincoln generally do.


Pink elephants, real and imagined


A couple of days ago, I wrote that the number of countries where my blog has not been viewed is a small number, and that the removal of any nations from that list is a cause for, if not celebration, then at least a sense of wonderment on my part. I’ll never physically travel to most of these nations, but the internet allows something that I’m associated with to go there, and that will have to be enough for me.

Today, that small number of nations dropped by one, when Botswana joined the fold of 159 nations to have seen something on my blog at least once. Botswana is a sparsely-populated nation in sub-Saharan Africa, which is covered in many places by the Kalahari desert.

Botswana had a pink elephant sighting a few years ago, which amused me because I grew up not far from a liquor store with a large pink elephant holding a martini glass in its trunk. Apparently “pink elephants” is a euphemism for seeing things when someone is drunk. Jack London first used the phrase a hundred years ago, in his autobiographical work John Barleycorn.

Here’s hoping that if New Year’s Eve leads to any pink elephants in the U.S.A–and certainly it will–those experiencing them won’t be stupid enough to get behind the wheel of a car and put the lives of others at risk. If actual pink elephants can exist in Africa, anything’s possible, isn’t it?

An experiment you can eat

My hometown of Springfield, Illinois is known for a few things besides Abraham Lincoln. It’s about the only place in the world where you can get a horseshoe sandwich, which is basically bread and meat and french fries and cheese sauce.  It’s also home to a restaurant, the Cozy Dog Inn, that claims to have invented the corndog. That’s a tough one to verify, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But there’s another claim that maybe isn’t so widely known. Springfield, by virtue of a proclamation by the Illinois legislature, is the “Chilli capital of the civilized world.” There must have been quite a chilli cook-off held to determine that prize. I wish I could tell you we had chilli in the lunchroom every day in school, but that wasn’t the case. And the spelling of the word with two ells in the middle is to recognize Illinois, I think.

There are two kinds of people I think I would instinctively stay away from. One group is the bigots, of any form or fashion, and the other group is those who follow chilli recipes printed on the packets of seasoning that you can buy in the store. The ones that say “Brown one pound of ground beef, add seasonings and a can of beans, and serve.” Anyone who lacks the imagination to make a pot of chilli for themselves isn’t the kind of person I could be around for too long.

Tonight’s dinner contains dark kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, chili beans (spelled with one “l”), diced tomatoes, sauteed onions, red pepper, yellow peppers, celery, corn, ground turkey (with Ash Wednesday apologies to the observant Catholics), seasoned salt, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, green onions, garlic lovers’ salsa (since I didn’t have any actual garlic), adobo seasoning, green chiles, and probably ten other ingredients that I can’t think of right now.

Making a pot of chilli is all about experimentation, and every batch turns out different from the time before. And I haven’t yet made a pot of chilli so bad that I, and those around me, can’t eat it. Which is what we’re going to do right now. Pass the shredded cheese!