Site Map


A Long-Range Plan to Brand the First Lincoln Namesake City as the Second City of Abraham Lincoln Statues

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Lincoln, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln and the Historic Postville Courthouse,
including a William Maxwell connection to the Postville Courthouse

About Henry Ford and the Postville Courthouse, the Story of the Postville Courthouse Replica,
Tantivy, & the Postville Park Neighborhood in the
Route 66 Era


The Rise of Abraham Lincoln and His History and Heritage in His First Namesake Town,
also the founding of Lincoln College, the plot to steal Lincoln's body, and memories of Lincoln College and the Rustic Tavern-Inn

Introduction to the Social & Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois,
including poetry by William Childress & commentary by Federal Judge Bob Goebel & Illinois Appellate Court Judge Jim Knecht

"Social Consciousness in William Maxwell's Writings Based on Lincoln, Illinois" (an article published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, winter 2005-06

Peeking Behind the Wizard's Screen: William Maxwell's Literary Art as Revealed by a Study of the Black Characters in Billie Dyer and Other Stories

Introduction to the Railroad & Route 66 Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois

The Living Railroad Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois: on Track as a Symbol of the "Usable Past"


Route 66 Overview Map of Lincoln with 42 Sites, Descriptions, & Photos

The Hensons of Business Route 66

The Wilsons of Business
Route 66
including the Wilson Grocery & Shell Station

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Lincoln Memorial Park
(former Chautauqua site),
the Historic Cemeteries, & Nearby Sites

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Salt Creek & Cemetery Hill,
the highway bridges, GM&O bridge, Madigan State Park, the old dam (with photos & Leigh's memoir of "shooting the rapids" over the old dam), & the Ernie Edwards' Pig-Hip Restaurant Museum in Broadwell

The Historic Logan County Courthouse, Past & Present

Route 66 Map with 51 Sites in the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District,
including locations of historical markers
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Vintage Scenes of the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District

The Foley House:  A Monument to Civic Leadership
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Agriculture in
the Route 66 Era

Arts & Entertainment Heritage,
including the Lincoln Theatre Roy Rogers' Riders Club of the 1950s

Business Heritage

Cars, Trucks & Gas Stations of the Route 66 Era

including the hometown churches of Author William Maxwell & Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

Factories, Past and Present

Food Stores of
the Route 66 Era


Hospitals, Past and Present

Hotels & Restaurants of the Railroad & Route 66 Eras

Lincoln Developmental Center
(Lincoln State School & Colony in the Route 66 era), plus
debunking the myth of Lincoln, Illinois, choosing the Asylum over the University of Illinois

Mining Coal, Limestone, & Sand & Gravel; Lincoln Lakes; & Utilities


Museums & Parks, including the Lincoln College Museum and its Abraham Lincoln Collection, plus the Heritage-in-Flight Museum

with Distinction

News Media in the Route 66 Era

The Odd Fellows' Children's Home


Memories of the 1900 Lincoln Community High School,
including Fred Blanford's dramatic account of the lost marble fountain of youth

A Tribute to the Historians and Advocates of Lincoln, Illinois

Watering Holes of the Route 66 Era

The Historic 1953 Centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois

The Festive 2003 Sesqui-centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois,
including photos of LCHS Class of 1960 dignitaries & the Blanfords

Why Did the State Police Raid Lincoln, Illinois, on October 11, 1950?

The Gambling Raids in Lincoln and Logan County, Illinois,
During the Late Route 66 Era (1950-1960)


Pages in this section tell about Leigh Henson's Lincoln years, moving away, revisits, and career:

About Lincoln, Illinois;
This Web Site; & Me

A Tribute to Lincolnite Edward Darold Henson: World War II U.S. Army Veteran of the Battles for Normandy and the Hedgerows; Brittany and Brest; and the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge)

For Remembrance, Understanding, & Fun: Lincoln Community High School Mid-20th-Century Alums' Internet Community
(a Web site and email exchange devoted to collaborative memoir and the sharing of photos related to Lincoln, Illinois)

Leigh Henson's Pilgrimage to Lincoln, Illinois, on
July 12, 2001

Leigh Henson's Review of Dr. Burkhardt's William Maxwell Biography

Leigh Henson's Review of Ernie Edwards' biography, Pig-Hips on Route 66, by William Kaszynski

Leigh Henson's Review of Jan Schumacher's Glimpses of Lincoln, Illinois

Teach Local Authors: Considering the Literature of Lincoln, Illinois

Web Site About
Leigh Henson's Professional Life


Pages in this section are about the writing, memorabilia, and Web sites of other Lincolnites:

A Tribute to Bill and Phyllis Stigall:
Exemplary Faculty of Lincoln College at Mid-Twentieth Century

A Tribute to the Krotzes of Lincoln, Illinois

A Tribute to Robert Wilson (LCHS '46): Author of Young in Illinois, Movies Editor of December Magazine, Friend and Colleague of December Press Publisher Curt Johnson, and Correspondent with William Maxwell

Brad Dye (LCHS '60): His Lincoln, Illinois, Web Site,
including photos of many churches

Dave Armbrust's Memorabilia of Lincoln, Illinois

J. Richard
(JR) Fikuart
(LCHS '65):
he Fikuarts of Lincoln, Illinois, including their connections to the William Maxwell family and three generations of family fun at Lincoln Lakes

Jerry Gibson (LCHS '60): Lincoln, Illinois, Memoirs & Other Stories

Dave Johnson (LCHS '56): His Web Site for the Lincoln Community High School Class of 1956

Sportswriter David Kindred: Memoir of His Grandmother Lena & Her West Side Tavern on Sangamon Street in the Route 66 Era

Judge Jim Knecht
(LCHS '62): Memoir and Short Story, "Other People's Money," Set in Hickey's Billiards on Chicago Street in the Route 66 Era

William A. "Bill" Krueger (LCHS '52): Information for His Books About Murders in Lincoln

Norm Schroeder (LCHS '60): Short Stories

Stan Stringer Writes About His Family, Mark Holland, and Lincoln, Illinois

Thomas Walsh: Anecdotes Relating to This Legendary Attorney from Lincoln by Attorney Fred Blanford & Judge Jim Knecht

Leon Zeter (LCHS '53): His Web Site for the
Lincoln Community High School Class of 1953
including announcements of LCHS class reunions

(Post yours there.)


Highway Sign of
the Times:

The Route 66
Association of Illinois

The Illinois State Historical Society

Illinois Tourism Site:
Enjoy Illinois



     Email a link to this page to someone who might be interested.  Internet Explorer is the only browser that shows this page the way it was designed.  Your computer's settings may alter the display.)

April 24, 2004: Awarded "Best Web Site of the Year" by the Illinois State Historical Society "superior achievement: serves as a model for the profession and reaches a greater public"

Marquee Lights of the Lincoln Theatre, est. 1923, Lincoln, Illinois

You can go home again. Email Leigh Henson at

"Teach Local Authors:
Considering the Literature of Lincoln, Illinois"
An Article First Published in the Spring, 2005, Issue of the Illinois English Bulletin,
Journal of the Illinois Association of Teachers of English

Membership Pin of the Illinois Association of Teachers of English

Illinois English Bulletin Cover for Spring, 2005


     The following article was developed with the guidance of Dr. Bob Broad, editor of the Illinois English Bulletin and associate professor of English at Illinois State University. The article appears here courtesy of the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. The Illinois English Bulletin (IEB), published by the English Department of Illinois State University, is the oldest journal in the field of English education. Illinois State University offers the first and only doctoral degree in English studies.

Teach Local Authors: Considering the Literature of Lincoln, Illinois

Darold Leigh Henson

     Recently, in developing a community history Web site about my hometown of Lincoln, Illinois, I discovered information that suggests teachers can effectively include published creative writing and memoir by authors in a particular community as part of the English curriculum. This article first offers a brief rationale for teaching community-related literature and describes the project that led to my interest in the literature of Lincoln, Illinois--the first namesake town of Abraham Lincoln. Then, as a case study in this kind of literature, the article surveys the published poets and authors associated with Lincoln, Illinois. The article also discusses the content and themes of the most significant works that explicitly draw upon this community. This discussion considers how these works relate to the history of American literature and how they could be used in the English curriculum. Last, I suggest ways to find local literature.

Rationale for Teaching Community-Related Literature

     Community-related literature can supplement almost any approach to the teaching of literature and composition. This kind of literature is especially appropriate for thematic units on identity and literary movements relating to social and psychological realism in American literature. Many students would naturally be curious about literature whose subject matter refers to local places, people, and events. Students could be engaged by discussing how their own lives do or do not relate to the experiences and points of view expressed in literature relating to the local community.

     Students could also be asked whether community-related literature reflects the views of literary critics about the literature of place. For example, James Hurt cites James Cox's assertion that Midwestern writers tend to show "estrangement from flat landscapes, town, and society on which they looked" (Writing Illinois 2). Hurt notes that Cox's observation mainly relates to middle-class writers and that "marginalized voices" sometimes echo this "estrangement," but other times express "affirmation and even celebration" (2). In the work of some Midwestern writers, the theme of estrangement takes the form of social criticism. Robert Bray observes that from 1880 to 1930, "two generations of writers were angry about the 'village virus' and encouraged a wholesale 'revolt from the village'" (Rediscoveries 52). Bray further comments that, except for the fictionalized communities portrayed in Spoon River Anthology, "The country towns of downstate Illinois mostly escaped the critical attacks of the antivillage writers. This was not due to any chauvinistic feeling that Illinois's towns were superior, but to the historical accident that no first-rate novelists happened to be concentrating on rural Illinois (they were all busy dramatizing Chicago) . . . " (53).

     The present article shows that an abundance of literature relates to Lincoln, Illinois. This literature affords a generous sampling of downstate Illinois literary works to test whether they reflect the themes observed by literary critics. Next I explain how I became interested in local-community literature.

The Context for My Discovery of Literature Treating Lincoln, Illinois

     Early in 2002, I began to research the history of my hometown as preparation for developing an educational, book-length Web site history of that community. This research led me to collect and read the works of William Maxwell based on Lincoln. I had known he wrote about this place, but I had never read him. I also discovered other published creative writing associated with this town.

     The Web site project has been part of my work as a member of the English faculty at Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU), Missouri's second-largest public university. The central mission of SMSU is public affairs, and the University encourages students and faculty to help define this mission. One of the objectives of this public affairs mission is promoting public service, and I created the community history Web site about Lincoln as a "distance" public service. Specifically, the purpose of this Web site is to educate viewers about this community as a way to increase interest in it, to foster civic pride, and to promote heritage tourism. On July 4, 2003, I launched Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois. Since then, I have expanded this site, and presently it has the equivalent of more than 1,000 printed pages and more than 1,200 images (published and original photos, maps, and vintage picture postcards). In the spring of 2004, the Illinois State Historical Society honored Mr. Lincoln with its "Best Web Site of the Year" award (refereed competition). The use of local-community literature in Mr. Lincoln greatly strengthens its content and educational purpose, for some of this literature portrays social history and some of it offers social criticism.

Overview of Published Writers and Poets Associated with Lincoln, Illinois

     Two famous writers had lived in Lincoln but did not make it a major subject of their writing: Poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and Theologian Reinhold Niebhur (1892-1971). Hughes, arguably one of the most significant American poets of the twentieth century, stated that "I can never forget Lincoln, Illinois, because in a sense my writing career began there in the eighth grade when I was elected class poet" (letter to Ethel F. Welch). Niebuhr, the author of the "Serenity Prayer" (published in 1951), grew up in Lincoln. His major works are Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) and The Nature and Destiny of Man (1943). Life magazine named Niebuhr to its 100 most important Americans of the twentieth century, and he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

     The best-known writer from Lincoln who wrote about it is William Maxwell (1908-2000). He was born in Lincoln and lived there until 1923, when his father and stepmother moved to Chicago. After graduating from the University of Illinois and Harvard University, Maxwell returned to the University of Illinois for a year to teach English, but decided against an academic career. By 1936 he had moved to New York, where he began dual careers in creative writing and in editing fiction at The New Yorker magazine. He worked with several major authors, including Brodkey, Cheever, Nabokov, O'Connor, O'Hara, Updike, and Welty. His own publications consist of more than forty short stories, a family history, a work of literary criticism, and six novels. Maxwell used Lincoln-related personal experience in several of his books and eleven of his short stories. His best-known work is So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980), a novel about a murder and suicide in rural Lincoln of the early 1920s.

     Other authors I discovered who wrote about the town of Lincoln are William Childress (a professional poet and writer), Robert Wilson (an editor), Lee Gurga (a dentist), and James Knecht (an Illinois Appellate Court Justice). Award-winning Poet Lee Gurga, a native of the Chicago area, has for several years lived in or near Lincoln. Restricting himself to Haiku, he draws upon the nature of central Illinois for its universality, so his work does not treat the history and society of Lincoln. Wilson, Childress, and Knecht wrote about Lincoln, Illinois, and I discuss their works below.

     I also discovered several memoirists who wrote about the Lincoln, Illinois, area. One is acclaimed Sportswriter David Kindred, a native of Atlanta, Illinois. In 1982 he published a memoir of his grandmother at the time of her passing. She had run the West Side Tavern on Sangamon Street in Lincoln during the 1940s and 1950s, and Kindred had spent summers with her in Lincoln so he could play Pony League baseball. Kindred's memoir first appeared in the Washington Post, then in the Bloomington Pantagraph. With Mr. Kindred's permission, I published his memoir in Mr. Lincoln on a special page. Later, I cite other sources of memoir relating to Lincoln and Logan County. Also, in developing the Lincoln Web site, I used some of my own recollections about growing up there.

     In "Dream Deferred," Journalist Maureen McKinney laments the city of Lincoln's neglect of its authors. She notes the signs along old Route 66 on the outskirts of town announce the community's service organizations and schools' championship sports teams; but no signs proclaim the community's association with Hughes, Maxwell, Niebuhr, or Gurga. In response to McKinney's lament, in addition to using Lincoln's community-related literature throughout the Lincoln Web site, I state the town's literary connections prominently under the nameplate on the introductory page (formerly the homepage). The signs on old Route 66 do not identify the town's famous writers, but the introductory page announcement that does so is like a billboard on the "information super highway." Next, I discuss how these poets and writers have treated Lincoln, Illinois.

Perspectives on Lincoln, Illinois, Expressed in Literature

     This section discusses the range of subject matter and theme in the literature of Lincoln, Illinois, from the twentieth century. I begin with the two authors who published the greatest amount of work about this town: William Maxwell and Robert Wilson. I then discuss William Childress and James Knecht.

William Maxwell

     William Maxwell's treatment of Lincoln, Illinois (Draperville/Elmsville), could be used in teaching psychological and social realism, but a full discussion of Maxwell's use of realism is beyond the scope of this essay. Presently I am seeking a publisher for my article titled "Social Consciousness in William Maxwell's Writings Based on Lincoln, Illinois." There, I explain that Maxwell's characters represent the full range of social classes in early twentieth-century Lincoln and that his treatment of Midwestern small-town life is richer than corresponding portrayals seen in Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis.

     Below, I briefly identify types of Maxwell's characters whose lives are representative of people living in small Midwestern towns. Maxwell's characters derive from the people he knew best: his extended Lincoln family, servants, neighbors, and ultimately himself. In fact, his most complex use of psychological realism appears in authorial personas seen in many works relating to Lincoln, Illinois, spanning nearly sixty years of his literary career.

     Maxwell's short stories present an abundance of benevolent figures. An example is Miss Vera Brown, a popular fifth-grade teacher, whose death devastates her male students ("Love" in All the Days and Nights 245-248). Another example is Mr. Danforth, the venerable horse veterinarian whose advice is quietly sought by many townspeople (Time Will Darken It). A third example is Lincoln College biology Professor Chris Oglevee, who ably mentors the Cub Scout troop of the First Presbyterian Church ("With Reference to an Incident at a Bridge" [For Eudora Welty] in All the Days and Nights 265-269).

      Other characters are less pleasant, even domineering (including his father) and sometimes eccentric. One of the eccentrics is his religion-obsessed Grandmother Maxwell, who selfishly convinced her son to let her raise his five-year-old son, Blinn, when Mr. Maxwell moved his family to Chicago (Ancestors 288) and who "never stopped talking about immersion, or thinking about it. She kept track of who was and who wasn't. She had the makings of an evangelist" (Ancestors 144). Another less-than-sympathetic character is Mrs. Sinclair, owner and manager of the town's newspaper, the Evening Star ("What Every Boy Should Know" in All the Days and Nights 67-83). Rather than implementing a policy to suspend delivery to customers delinquent in payment, she compels paperboys to turn in money to pay for each paper, thus making them extend credit to customers. The paperboys strike, but she bullies them to return, berating them individually. When Eddie Gellert (fictional counterpart of the author) parks his new bicycle on the curb in front of the newspaper building and a driver runs over it, Eddie cries, but she tactlessly tells him, "You're not supposed to leave your wheels in front of the building" (All the Days and Nights 81). A third example of an unsympathetic character is Mrs. Pearl M. Donald, the wife of the popular horse veterinarian: "for many years my mother's best friend and our next-door neighbor, a beautiful woman with a knife-edge to her voice and a grievance against her husband (What? What on earth could it have been? Everybody loved him.)" ("A Final Report" in All the Days and Nights 125).

     Maxwell does not usually treat unsympathetic characters harshly. He explains, "I am aware that Sherwood Anderson writing about a similar though smaller place saw it quite differently. I believe in Winesburg, Ohio, but I also believe in what I remember" (Ancestors 190). In a remembrance of Maxwell, John Updike notes that Maxwell's "disapproval sought no stronger terms than 'small-minded' . . .[;] he had a gift for affection" ("Maxwell's Touch" 29). Biographer Barbara Burkhardt praises Maxwell for his "power of restraint" (William Maxwell 249), his "wise and empathetic approach to human experience" (251).

     The following passage from "The Value of Money" captures Maxwell's attitude toward middle-class Lincolnites:

From the Franklins', they [the autobiographical main character and his father] drove downtown again, to join Helen's family in the cafeteria of the New Draperville Hotel [Hotel Lincoln on Pulaski Street]. With several drinks under his belt, Edward [the main character] looked around the noisy dining room. The faces he saw were full of character, as small-town faces tend to be, he thought, and lined with humor, and time had dealt gently with them. By virtue of having been born in this totally unremarkable place and of having lived out their lives here, they had something people elsewhere did not have . . . . This opinion every person in the room agreed with, he knew, and no doubt it had been put into his mind when he was a child. For it was something that he never failed to be struck by -- those sweeping statements in praise of Draperville [Lincoln] that were almost an article of religious faith. (All the Days and Nights 183)

     Teachers could use Maxwell's "Lincoln" characterizations as counterpoint to such harsh psychological realism as that seen in Sherwood Anderson's "grotesques."

     Two of Maxwell's later works feature key roles for their author-narrator personas: So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980) and "The Front and Back Parts of the House" (1991). These personas reflect the author's strong interest in social and psychological realism. In So Long, the narrator closely corresponds to Maxwell (Burkhardt 206), whose personal experience frames the main story of adultery, murder, and suicide in rural Lincoln of the early 1920s. Maxwell convincingly describes the tedious, exhausting farm life that first bonds neighboring tenant farmers Lloyd Wilson and Clarence Smith as friends who help one another with difficult farming tasks. Lloyd Wilson and Smith's wife, Fern, however, are disillusioned with their marriages and become lovers. Fern Smith divorces her husband, and the court ironically gives the adulteress custody of the children and a large settlement. Despondent, Clarence Smith kills Lloyd Wilson and then commits suicide. Maxwell and the murderer's son, Cletus, were playmates, and So Long skillfully blends the author-narrator's memoir of this friendship with the domestic tragedy. So Long earned the American Book Award and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. "The Front and Back Parts of the House" explores the intertwining social and psychological factors between the author and one of the black servants who had worked for his parents. Specifically, the author-narrator comes to realize his own prior insensitivity toward the black servant and her husband.

Robert Wilson

     Robert Wilson (1928-1983) was born in Lincoln and lived there until early adulthood. After being discharged from the Army in 1954, he lived in Hyde Park, earned a master's in sociology from Roosevelt University, and edited trade publications in the Chicago area. After losing his job and divorcing, he returned to live in Lincoln in the 1970s, where he wrote and taught part time at Lincoln College. In 1975, he published Young in Illinois as a special 112-page issue of December magazine, a leading independent American literary journal of the twentieth century. I discovered Wilson when I bought a copy of Young in Illinois on eBay in 2003. Wilson was also the movie critic for December, and he co-edited scholarly works titled The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson (1971) and The Otis Ferguson Reader (1982). Publisher Curt Johnson describes Reader as "the only December Press book to get reviewed all over--The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper's, The Village Voice, Downbeat--and favorably, and the only book in 25 years to make a nickel for the Press" (Green Isle in the Sea 264).

     Young in Illinois develops the theme of small-town youth attracted to Chicago, a theme earlier seen in such writers as Hamlin Garland (Rose of Dutcher's Coolly 1895), Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie 1900), and Carl Sandburg (Chicago Poems 1916). Yet Young in Illinois extends the theme by showing its autobiographical persona returning to his small hometown after suffering the devastation of job loss and divorce in the big city. Several selections in Young in Illinois treat problems of growing up. The first two selections are short stories showing young characters struggling for peer acceptance.

     The first selection is a short story titled "Winner's Take" (1956), set in the 1930s. Twelve-year-old Jack lives near the rough coal-miners' neighborhood of north Elmsville (Wilson adopts Maxwell's fictional name for Lincoln) and struggles for peer approval. Trying to impress the older Mike and Roy, Jack beats the younger Finch in a fistfight, but fails to impress the older boys. In the end, Jack is alone and tearful with remorse.

     "Young in Illinois" (1954), a short story, is the second selection. Set in the 1940s, it shows high school sophomore and junior boys playing basketball on the playground of St. Mary's Catholic Grade School in Lincoln. Sophomores George and Paul (the author-persona) are friends as the story opens. Then, varsity star Ed, a junior, insults George with hints at the promiscuity of George's girlfriend; and Paul becomes angry with George for failing to defend himself and the girl against the bully. As Paul and George scrimmage on opposite teams, they compete fiercely, lose their tempers, and play rougher and rougher. Finally, George knocks Paul to the pavement. Getting to his feet, shaken and bleeding, Paul hesitates, then says with dramatic tough-guy understatement, "You fouled me. . . . "It's my out" (40). Readers are left wondering what effect this experience will have on the characters' friendship.

     "The World Outside Illinois" (1965) is a memoir of the author's life in Chicago as a young man becoming involved in a worldly urban lifestyle. The central scene is in a bar where the girlfriend of a wealthy, irresponsible male friend is a stripper.

     "Life and Art in the Thirties" (for William Maxwell) (1972) is a memoir of childhood in the coal-mining area of north Lincoln, Illinois, during the Depression. The author describes the bleak lives of children who, like their parents, grew old at thirty because of the hard work. Some men followed their alcoholic fathers into abusive relationships and early death. Children escaped the unpleasantness of life by listening to the radio and by going to the three movie theaters: "In the dreamlike, violent world of childhood we looked to the movie screen for an opening into the future. The kid who had been knocked down by his father could find in Cagney the possibilities of a tough, jaunty grace at thirty and not a mean-spirited alcoholism" (77). The essay includes brief, endearing portraits of his parents and grandfather.

     "Chicago" (1975) is a memoir of living and working in Chicago, including the unreasonable demands of the author's job as editor, bouts with depression, losing his job, divorcing, and returning to Lincoln to write. Then, he observed, "The years have been kind to Lincoln" (111).

     Robert Wilson had written William Maxwell to tell him about Young in Illinois, and they occasionally corresponded until Wilson's death in 1983. Wilson's only child, Sue Young Wilson, formerly an editor of Lingua Franca and now a freelance writer and editor in New York, provided me with copies of Maxwell's letters to her father, and Maxwell's first letter (October 31, 1977) says in part:

Dear Mr. Wilson: Why on earth did you wait so long to make yourself known to me? I don't know whether, as an editor, I could have been of use to you but I would certainly have wanted to. I like your book very much indeed, and am proud to find my name in it. It is the real thing. And very moving. And so well written. I particularly admire the trick of offering facts that would stop a clock in such an offhand way that they cannot fail to make the effect you intended them to make . . . .

I was particularly struck by "In a prairie town there is only one season--a season to be young, to play football or basketball, to fall in love and marry. This season must warm you each day of your life as the past inevitably recedes into dim memories and the pictures in a class album." My bones tell me that this is correct, and surely all you would need for a novel.

     The theme expressed in the passage quoted by Maxwell suggests the relevance of Wilson's material to the English curriculum.

     Wilson's colleague, Curt Johnson, editor/publisher of December magazine and December Press, experienced the appeal of using Young in Illinois in the classroom:

Young in Illinois is a beautiful book, steeped in bittersweet nostalgia, beautifully written. I once had to give a talk to high school student writers in Crete-Monee and asked them to read an essay from his book, "Life and Art in the Thirties," as preparation. These writers were born at least 25 years after the time Bob spoke of in his essay, but so evocative and skillful was his prose that when we discussed it they told me--at length about all the many good things the essay had and did. (Green Isle in the Sea 263)

     Curt Johnson's experience testifies to the ability of Wilson's material to bridge generations. Mr. Johnson has given me permission to include "Young in Illinois" and "Life and Art in the Thirties" on a Web page that I have created as a tribute to Robert Wilson (letter to author). Sue Young Wilson has provided much information about her father for use on that page, a major addition to the Lincoln Web site.

William Childress

     William Childress published a poem titled "Lincoln, Illinois (Circa 1970)" in West Coast Poetry (1971). This poem came to my attention during a phone conversation I had with my Aunt Mary (May) Wilson in Lincoln in the fall of 2002 when I told her about my Lincoln history Web site project. She sent me a copy of Childress's poem, which she had found among her mother's papers. My aunt knew nothing about the poet or the circumstances that led to the poem. It is an exposť of the narrow mindedness, smugness, and social problems he had experienced or observed there, including the scandal of sexual disease among high school students and the racial prejudice of some townspeople.

     Curious to know about the source of this poem, I used the Internet to locate Childress's e-mail address and began corresponding with him. I discovered that he had retired in 1997 as a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and that he had published Out of the Ozarks, a popular collection of some of his columns about living in rural southwest Missouri. Early in his career he had taught journalism at Lincoln College one year (1969-1970), and his "Lincoln" poem stemmed from disappointment in living there: "As a writer and poet, I brought a keen eye to the study of people and their hypocrisies, and soon grew disillusioned with Lincoln society" (E-mail to author). Childress's poem cites experiences that led to his disillusionment, for example: "The woman in the camera shop is a bigot, saying: I WISH THIS TOWN WERE NOT NAMED / LINCOLN. / WHAT DID LINCOLN EVER DO / BUT FREE THE GODDAMN NIGGERS?" Mr. Childress gave me permission to use this poem in my Lincoln Web site, and it appears at "Introduction to the Social and Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois."

     Mr. Childress's poem could be used in the English curriculum as an example of the "village virus" theme seen in the work of Edgar Lee Masters and Sinclair Lewis. Of course, using literature criticizing the local community can be controversial. Thus, other local literature could be used to show a balanced perspective. On the Web page presenting Childress's poem about Lincoln, Illinois, I use brief memoir of other Lincolnites to show that some were racially tolerant. For example, the memoir of Pete Andrews tells how his restaurant was one of the first businesses in Lincoln to welcome black customers. Andrews and his partner, Tony Rufogales, were Greek immigrants sympathetic to "outsiders," so they moved their African-American customer Lee Townsend, a janitor, from the back room to the front of the lunch counter. Andrews recalls, "It didn't go good with a couple of guys. They threw one of those old-time coffee mugs and almost took his head off. We continued that practice. Some people didn't like it, but most people accepted it" ("From Greece to America" 5).

The Honorable James A. Knecht

     James Knecht is a native of Lincoln, a 1968 graduate of Illinois State University with an English major, and presently a Justice of the Illinois Appellate Court (office in Bloomington). He had been raised by a single-parent mother in an apartment above a tavern on Sangamon Street in the business district of Lincoln. Judge Knecht, who had sent me the Kindred story cited earlier, composed some memoir specifically for the Lincoln history Web site to help me offset Childress's criticism (see "Introduction to the Social and Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois"). Judge Knecht later sent me his short story, "Other People's Money," originally published in the Southern Indiana Review.

     The setting of this story is Hickey's Billiards, located in downtown Lincoln on Chicago Street in the early 1960s. In the story, a local gambler wants to send a city slicker back to Peoria with a "thinner wallet," but is too drunk to take his money at billiards. The local gambler hires the young autobiographical pool player to do it. In the decisive game, the local gambler scolds his young hire for taking risky shots (but successful ones). Quietly angry at this ingratitude, the young player sets up the table so his opponent can win, but does it with such skill that his "stakehorse" (Knecht's term for the backer) does not suspect the game has been thrown.

     With permission from Judge Knecht and the Southern Indiana Review, I re-published his story on a page in Mr. Lincoln titled "The Honorable James A. 'Jim' Knecht: Memoir and Short Story Set in Lincoln, Illinois." This page includes period photos of Hickey's Billiards and the apartment building that was home to the Knechts. Also on this page is Judge Knecht's account of how growing up in Lincoln's business district led to his interest in a legal career and influenced his work on the bench.

Other Sources of Memoir About Lincoln, Illinois

     As a literary genre, memoir encompasses diverse experiences and perspectives, broadening the scope of material that an English teacher can draw upon to teach literature and composition. Memoir may be found in published histories of local communities and counties. For example, much memoir of residents of the Lincoln area is found in Paul Beaver's History of Logan County 1982 and Nancy Lawrence Gehlbach's newsletter titled Our Times, and these publications are in the Lincoln Public Library. Memoirists in Beaver's book recall life from the 1910s through the 1970s. Those cited in Gehlbach's work reflect on such various historical topics as farm life, factories, outdoor recreation, movie theaters, other businesses, schools, hospitals, and other well-known local institutions. In addition, local citizens may be asked to write memoir. To help develop the Lincoln Web site, I used e-mail to solicit memoir from more than two dozen mid-twentieth-century alumni of Lincoln Community High School scattered across the nation, and this collective memoir adds a great deal to the community history.


     This essay suggests that creative writing and memoir of local authors can be a rich resource for the English curriculum. The following classroom experience supports this view.

     In April, 2004, James Knecht e-mailed me that Judy (Malerich) Cortelloni, one of his Lincoln Community High School classmates, had e-mailed him to say she had used the online version of his story in one of her courses at Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois. Ms. Cortelloni, who earned a master's in English from Illinois State, responded to my request for information about her use of this story (quoted here with her permission):

When I am teaching ENG 102, which is the second part of freshman composition, I like to introduce a segment of reading and critical thinking with the documentation of MLA. However, many of todayís students are not that familiar with even the basic readings of the classics or even good short stories. Literature offers so much about life experiences for every student, so I refuse to completely abandon it and only teach argument.

In preparation for the big paper, we begin by reading and discussing several stories together in groups and finally share as a class. With the diversity of students, sometimes it is difficult to find stories to which they can all relate. Some stories in anthologies are either beyond their experiences or not relevant to their lives. After encouraging them to complete more than a single reading, we analyze the story using New Critical methods to familiarize the students with terminology and structure. They are encouraged to write a response to the story. These usually fall under reader responses in which they recall similar experiences from their own lives.

"Other Peopleís Money" was a perfect subject for this introduction. The story appeals to all the students in my classes. Many students who have seemed resistant really like the conflict. They argued over fifty minutes and kept finding more meanings for the text. [Three] of the initial student written responses [were]: [1] "I got a feeling of how the power of money influenced the game of pool. I learned how it feels to play the game." [2] "I liked how he kept winning all the money, and on the last game, he lost. Thatís how life really is. We canít always be perfect. This story shows us that." [3] "This story was easy to follow. Pool is a common activity in my generation. I found the story interesting because of the way the characters played."

After we spent more time discussing the story, the students focused on how the protagonistís losing is not important once he gives the money away. They felt that this demonstrated a moral code that was more important than winning. Some of the athletes termed it "for the love of the game." Since todayís students always want points or some reward for their work, I found it pleasantly surprising that they were able to think in higher terms. Maybe someday they will actually complete assignments without wondering what the payoff will be. I think reading this short story brought them a little closer to that day. (E-mail to author)

     When Judge Knecht wrote to tell me of Ms. Cortelloni's use of his story, his language implied that he may be thinking about a second career as a creative writer:

Judy Malerich Cortelloni teaches literature at Lincoln College--she read my story and the web page and more of your site as well and wrote me a few e-mails--just this morning she told me she had her students read my story online and then discuss in class--with a little detail about how they related to the story--I think she was interested in the story because she thought young men--with no particular interest in literary analysis, would nonetheless be drawn to the story and the protagonist--she then wrote what every writer is thirsty for--the boys/men asked if he (the writer) had any more stories like that--here it is Saturday morning and there are three girls sleeping in the family room on the floor--granddaughter and friends, and my grandson running around the house and my wife is on the cell phone to her sister in Florida giving her the address of your site and I am lusting for pen and paper and rough drafts in my office so I can give them more stories. (E-mail to author)

     The population of Lincoln, Illinois, has never exceeded 19,000; and for its size this community has been the subject of an extraordinary amount of literature. Yet creative writers have probably treated many other communities; and as the current article suggests, this kind of literature can usefully supplement the English curriculum.

     Let me offer a couple of suggestions about finding the literature of local writers. Sometimes newspapers as well as books of community and county history include memoir and poetry written by native citizens, and sometimes small presses publish local authors and poets. These publications often find their way to local public libraries, the libraries of nearby colleges and universities, and the offices and museums of local historical and genealogical societies. The published work of locals is typically little known or obscure, so teachers and students will need to enlist the help of librarians to discover writers' names and titles of works. Vertical files often contain buried literary curiosities.

     By actually going to libraries and librarians, students will realize this activity can be an essential step in the research process. Library research is necessary to get the kinds of information that can then be used for keywords to search online indexes and such online used booksellers as Searching Google or Yahoo! could also lead to interesting information unavailable anywhere else.

     Students could be assigned to ask family members for names of local authors or poets (and some relatives may even be willing to compose memoir for young readers). Many communities have writers' clubs, and some of their members may be published. Students would find it useful to interview local writers for insight on how place can influence writing. Local writers might also share work in progress or agree to speak to classes. Having students research, discuss, and write about literature from local areas offers fresh opportunities to increase connections between students and literature and between schools and communities.

Works Cited

Beaver, Paul, ed. Logan County History 1982. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1982.

Bray, Robert C. Rediscoveries: Literature and Place in Illinois. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1982.

Burkhardt, Barbara. "William Maxwell: A Critical Biography." Diss. U of Illinois, 1994.

Chamberlain, Dorothy, and Robert Wilson, eds. The Otis Ferguson Reader. Highland Park: December Press, 1982.

Childress, William. "Lincoln, Illinois (Circa 1970)." West Coast Poetry 1.1 (July 1971): N. pag.

---. Out of the Ozarks. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

---. "Re: Social History Sketch of Lincoln, Illinois." E-mail to author. 25 March 2003.

Cortelloni, Judy. "Re: 'Other People's Money.'" E-mail to author. 3 April 2004.

Dreiser, Theodore. Sister Carrie. New York: Modern Library, 1997.

Garland, Hamlin. Rose of Dutcher's Coolly. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 1969.

Gehlbach, Nancy Lawrence. "From Greece to America." Our Times 6.1 (spring 2001): 5.

Henson, Darold Leigh. "A Tribute to Lincolnite Robert Wilson: Author, Editor, and Film Scholar." Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois. 20 June 2004. 8 December 2004.

---. "Introduction to the Social and Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois." Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois. 12 December 2003. 20 March 2004.

---. Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois. 4 July 2003. 6 April 2004.

---. "The Honorable James A. "Jim" Knecht: Memoir and Short Story Set in Lincoln, Illinois." Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois. 17 February 2004. 20 March 2004.

Hughes, Langston. Letter to Ethel F. Welch. Lincoln Evening Courier 31 August 1953: 9.

Hurt, James. Writing Illinois: The Prairie, Lincoln, and Chicago. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992.

Johnson, Curt. Letter to author. 11 October 2003.

Kindred, David. "Fond Memories of Grandma Lena." The Pantagraph (21 January 1982): N. pag.

Knecht, James A. "Other People's Money." Southern Indiana Review (2000): 53-57.

---. "Re: A Result." E-mail to author. 20 March 2004.

Kruchkow, Diane, and Curt Johnson, eds. Green Isle in the Sea: An Informal History of the Alternative Press, 1960-85. Chicago: December Press, 1986.

Maxwell, William. Ancestors: A Family History. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.

---. All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

---. Letter to Robert Wilson. 31 October 1977.

---. So Long, See You Tomorrow. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.

---. Time Will Darken It. New York: Vintage Books, 1948.

McKinney, Maureen F. "Dream Deferred." Illinois Issues Online. 2001. 15 December 2003.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932.

---. The Nature and Destiny of Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943.

Sandburg, Carl. Chicago Poems. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992.

Updike, John. "Postcript: Maxwell's Touch." The New Yorker (14 August 2000): 29.

Wilson, Robert, ed. The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1971.

---. Young in Illinois. Chicago: December Press, 1975.

     Darold Leigh Henson received bachelor's (1964), master's (1969), and doctoral (1982) degrees in English from Illinois State University. He taught English at Pekin Community High School for thirty years (1964-1994) before going to teach technical writing at Southwest Missouri State University, where he is an associate professor of English.

     Note: since this article was published, Darold Leigh Henson was promoted to professor of English. Also, on August 28, 2005, Southwest Missouri State University's name changed to Missouri State University.

     Henson has published refereed articles in several areas of English studies: the theory, practice, and pedagogy of technical communication; rhetoric and composition; the pedagogy of literature; and twentieth-century American literature.

     The Illinois Association of Teachers of English (IATE) has more than 1,000 members: mostly they are faculty at the elementary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary levels. Please visit the Web site of the IATE at The address of the Web site of the Department of English at Illinois State is


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Also please email me if this Web site helps you decide to visit Lincoln, Illinois:

"The Past Is But the Prelude"


The founding fathers of this town asked their attorney, Abraham Lincoln, for permission to name this new community after him, and he agreed.  On the first day lots were publicly sold--August 27, 1853--, Abraham Lincoln, near the site of the train depot, used watermelon juice to christen the town as Lincoln, Illinois.  It thus became the first town named for Abraham Lincoln before he became famous.