Roadside America

Dead Man’s Curve

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Many communities in Illinois have an intersection or stretch of road to avoid where it’s said car accidents frequently occur. Northwest suburban Des Plaines has “Suicide Circle”, Spring Valley has “Help Me” Road, Henry County has “Death Curve”, and the tiny town of Towanda has a “Dead Man’s Curve” on Historic U.S. Route 66. Coles County’s is unique, however, because its name predates the road itself.

When settlers first crossed the wilderness of East Central Illinois, large groves of trees became important landmarks. One such grove, in LaFayette Township on the north branch of Kickapoo Creek, was originally known as Island Grove. It was two miles in diameter and filled with hackberry, elm, and oak trees, and supplied a neighboring village of Kickapoo Indians with firewood and wild game.

In March 1826, a man named Samuel Kellogg discovered the frozen body of a Sand Creek settler named Coffman sitting upright against a tree with his horse bridle thrown over his shoulder. Kellogg hoisted the dead man onto his horse and took him to a nearby settlement for burial. Since then, Island Grove has been known as “Dead Man’s Grove.”

Photography Roadside America

The Kiss

Statue called “Embracing Peace” by artist J. Seward Johnson on American Way in National Harbor, Maryland. Embracing Peace is based on an iconic photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square on August 14, 1945 as celebrations broke out upon news of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War 2.

The Kiss II
Historic America

Stories in Stone: Writers and Poets

Whether it’s “Author’s Ridge” in Concord or the small church cemetery where a mysterious visitor leaves flowers for Poe on the anniversary of his death, the graves of literary heroes have long been popular destinations.

For aspiring authors, poets, and fans of literature, the grave sites of America’s famous writers have become pilgrimage sites. Devoted fans leave behind flowers, pens, pencils, and even their own writing as tokens of affection. As a writer myself, I find stops at the graves of famous writers an obligatory inclusion on my travels. Here are just some of them. Have you ever visited a famous author’s grave? Leave a comment with your story!

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was a leader of the transcendentalist movement and champion of individualism (most well-articulated in his essay “Self-Reliance“). He was a prolific author and lecturer. It’s difficult to think of a writer who had greater impact on American intellectual life. He is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts on Author’s Ridge.

Roadside America

Catoctin Iron Furnace in Frederick County, Maryland

For over a century, the Catoctin Iron Furnace smelted iron, its forges spewing smoke and burning red hot. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it fueled the machines of war. Much of this backbreaking work was done by slaves.

Catoctin Iron Furnace is a historic iron forge along U.S. Route 15 from Frederick to Thurmont in Frederick County, Maryland. Though forges were present when the ironworks were operational, there is currently no forge at the site. But you can still tour the grounds and the ruins of the “Isabella forge” casting shed and the owner’s mansion.

In 1774, four brothers: Thomas, Baker, Roger, and James Johnson, built Catoctin Furnace to manufacture pig iron from locally-mined hematite. The oven produced cannonballs for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, including shells fired during Yorktown’s siege. Some claim it also provided cannon and produced plates for the USS Monitor during the Civil War, but researchers consider that improbable.

On the eve of the American Revolution, the Johnson brothers eyed the Monocacy River Valley’s industrial potential. They acquired land under Catoctin Ridge and erected an iron furnace. The original Johnson Oven burned until 1776, producing useful tools and household products including the famous “Catoctin Stove,” also called the “Ten Plate Stove” and the “Franklin Stove”.

Mysterious America

Archer Avenue’s Lesser-Known Haunts

While hoping to catch a glimpse of Resurrection Mary or some of the area’s other famous haunts, visitors to this southwest suburban Chicago road often overlook these lesser-known but no less spooky destinations.

Archer Avenue—the name sends shivers down the spines of locals well-versed in Chicago lore. Archer Avenue begins in Chicago and travels steadily west until merging with Route 171 in suburban Summit. There the road turns sharply southwest at an obtuse angle, then runs parallel with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It passes through Justice and Willow Springs before ultimately entering scenic Lemont.

It is near these three villages—Justice, Willow Springs, and Lemont—where the road has gained an unusual reputation. Starting with Resurrection Cemetery and ending at St. James-Sag Church, this section of Archer Avenue forms the northern border of a triangle of forest preserves, lakes, trails, and burial grounds encompassing most of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s Palos Division.

At the hinterlands of civilization, this area has a well-deserved reputation built upon generations of strange encounters and creative storytelling. It is home to no less than ten mystery sites involving everything from hauntings, to unsolved murders, to healing springs, to the site of America’s second nuclear reactor. These locations dot the area on either side of Archer Avenue, with the majority falling inside the boundaries of the triangle.

The roads there are long and dark, the lakes and parks remote, and the landmarks emerge from the shadows to capture the imagination of visitors.


Unfree Markets and the Diminishing of Choice

Over the past several decades, major cities across the country have introduced market-strangling regulation designed to protect certain industries from competition, resulting in a net loss for consumers and an unhealthy constraint on the local economy.

In a truly free market, choice would only be limited by supply and demand, and human imagination. If retailers see a steady stream of profit, whatever a customer desired would be made available. If the market for one product declined, merchants and manufacturers would repurpose and cater to some other need or desire.

As government comes calling, however, freedom of choice is restricted. Sometimes those restrictions are good, but often they are not. Arbitrary restrictions on street vendors and ride sharing companies like Uber are a good example of what happens when business and government collude to reduce consumer choices.

Over the past several decades, major cities across the country have introduced market-strangling regulation designed to protect certain industries from competition, resulting in a net loss for consumers and an unhealthy constraint on the local economy.


Stories in Stone: Preston King

Relief bust of U.S. Senator Preston King (1806-1865) in Ogdensburg/Riverside Cemetery on State Route 812 in Ogdensburg, New York. Morbidly obese his whole life, Preston King began his political career as a Democrat, served in Congress for two terms as a Free Soiler, then joined the Republican Party and was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1857. He was a staunch ally of President Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 election. After Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson appointed him Collector of the Port of New York, where he committed suicide by jumping in New York Harbor.