The Weird and Wild Side of Coles County, Part 1

I thought it would be of interest to my readers to share the story of how I became fascinated with Coles County, Illinois. Most of you are familiar with Coles County either through my book, or because Ashmore Estates has been featured on TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Less well known is the story of how places like Ashmore Estates rose from obscurity to capture the imagination of people all over the United States. Join me for this three part article and take a journey through the recent past.

I have always thought Coles County was a unique and fascinating place, but even I was surprised when in June 2010 CNN rebroadcast a WTHI Channel 10 News in Terre Haute report on Lerna’s “world’s fastest pop machine.” Purchased in the late 1970s by Ivan Thompson for his welding business, the faded, clattering soda machine has become something of a tourist attraction in this village of 300 in Pleasant Grove Township.

As a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, I often brought my friends to it while I showed them various sites around Coles County. They never failed to be amazed by how quickly the cans fell into the delivery tray. Like the independently-owned Burger King in Mattoon, the “world’s fastest pop machine” adds to the charm of life in the county, a charm that has not been lost on the outside world.

I first laid my suitcase down on the bare mattress of my dorm room on the seventh floor of Carman Hall on August 17, 2000. I never thought I would spend the next eight years at Eastern Illinois University, but as a senior in high school, EIU had been my first and only choice. My parents had met there. My mother attended Eastern from 1965 to 1966, and my father attended from 1963 to 1967. My great-uncle John Kleen also attended EIU.