Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Night at the Museum (of the Grand Prairie)

Guest Blogger:  Doug Sanders
Site Superintendent for Lake of the Woods Preserve, River Bend Preserve, and Sangamon River Preserve

Recently, I spent an entire night locked in the Museum of The Grand Prairie. Ameren, the local utility company, had to perform some routine repairs to the electrical service that supplied power to the Museum. This left the facility and its contents vulnerable for a period of six to seven hours without any fire protection.

My role during this excursion was to be the onsite "fire-guard." Each hour, I performed a safety sweep of the complex, visually checking to make sure everything was normal. If by chance something was to go terribly wrong it was my job to call 911 and alert emergency personnel. To my surprise I ran into several notable individuals and some unique creatures during my stay. Each had some great stories to share.

Among the most notable was Abraham Lincoln. He told me of his journey through Champaign County which eventually lead to his election as the 16th President of the United States. I was amazed as to how tall he was, towering over me at 6' 4". I even ran into Stephen Douglas who opposed Lincoln in the 1858 race for the Illinois Senate. 

There were even a couple of local residents that stopped me to share their stories. The first was a young man by the name of James Kinley Stewart. After graduating from Urbana High School, James enlisted in the Army. He shared with me a letter he had sent his parents while serving overseas. He even mentioned his Unit’s movement during the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. James was kind enough to introduce me to another area resident by the name of Zay Wright.

Zay was from Champaign and attended Illinois Women's College. She was inspired to become a writer and went on to become a reporter for the Urbana Courier and the News Gazette. Zay even gave me a peek inside her diary which consisted of some magnificent photos she had taken throughout her life. (Editor's note:  Pages from Zay's diary form the background of our blog website!)

Oh, before I forget, I have to tell you about the animals that have made a home at the Museum over the winter. Traveling all the way from the Ice Age is a mammoth. It's kind of hard to describe but is similar to an elephant. Talk about huge!  You should see the size of its leg bone! I also saw a porcupine and a bobcat. They were both a little skittish around me at first. By the end of the night they told me they were glad I stopped by and that they planned on sticking around for a while.

I am happy to report my stay ended without any issues and everything is back to normal. Overall I had an interesting night and have earned a greater appreciation for all of the hard work the Museum staff does to preserve our history and share the story of the Grand Prairie. I can't wait to bring my niece and nephew to the Museum and introduce them to all of my new friends!

We hope you'll join Doug and the rest of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District Staff in celebrating the opening of our new permanent exhibit, The Grand Prairie Story, which includes Doug's friend the porcupine (above)!

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