The Forest is my Throne

This regal granite chair is a monument to saloon-keeper and cigar maker Patrick Dowling (1856-1896), his wife Ruth A. Page Dowling (1862-1944), and their daughter, Della (1893-1943) in Oak Ridge Cemetery, 1441 Monument Avenue in Springfield, Illinois. Chair-shaped grave markers are common in the Midwest, but this one is particularly elaborate, with draped cloth, ferns, tassels, vines, and a harp. It was carved by Springfield stonemason Edward Levanius. Oak Ridge Cemetery is the second-most visited cemetery in the United States, and its 365 acres are the final resting place for over 75,000 dead.

Patrick Dowling (1856-1896)

Water the Barren Tree

This majestic granite tree is a monument to George W. Hamer (1830-1913), his wife Mary Megahan (1833-1913), their daughter Ida B. Hamer Brant (1863-1889) and her husband, John W. Brant (?-1915), and their three other children in Oak Ridge Cemetery, 1441 Monument Avenue in Springfield, Illinois. John Brant was a railroad engineer and supervisor. Ida died tragically of tuberculosis at the age of 26. Tree-shaped grave markers like this are common in the Midwest, but this one is particularly elaborate, with flowering vines, ferns, and acorns. Oak Ridge Cemetery is the second-most visited cemetery in the United States, and its 365 acres are the final resting place for over 75,000 dead.

George W. Hamer (1830-1913)

More Stories from the Illinois Exodus

Friends share their reason for leaving (or planning to leave) the Prairie State.

Last week, I posted stories from what I call the “Illinois Exodus,” an outward migration of Illinoisans to other states. As someone who left Illinois to pursue better career opportunities, I’ve been interested in why so many of my friends and acquaintances have left Illinois for greener pastures. As of December 2019, Illinois as a whole saw six straight years of population loss. This decline has real consequences for the state’s political clout on the national stage, something its elected leaders seem not to have taken into consideration while steering it off a cliff.

As I noted before, Illinois currently has 18 U.S. representatives in Congress. In 1980, it had 24. As a result of the 2020 census, Illinois will likely see that number decline even further. The number of a state’s presidential electors in the Electoral College is also determined by population (technically it’s tied to the number of congressmen). In the 2000 presidential election, Illinois had 22 electors, while Florida (for example) had 25. In 2016, Illinois had 20 and Florida had 29.

Because Florida has seen a massive surge in growth and development over the past few decades, it will have a huge impact on the 2020 election and future presidential elections. Illinois? Not so much.

The trend is clear: the number of people moving out of Illinois is growing while the number of people moving to Illinois is declining. According to population estimates and the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois lost the equivalent of a large city (223,308 people) between 2014 and 2019. That’s like more than the entire population of Aurora, Joliet, Naperville, or Rockford just up and leaving.

But these are only statistics. To understand why people are leaving Illinois, you have to talk to individuals and families about what is motivating their exodus. One of my friends, Tracey, now a realtor in Florida, told me taxes were a big factor for why her wife and she moved from Illinois to the Sunshine State. “I left because I was tired of the winters and tired of the taxes,” she said. “It was uber expensive and it felt like everything was taxed. Our personal property taxes were a killer… Our taxes are less here for a more expensive house. In 2014 they were $12k. When we moved here in 2015, we paid about $4500.” However, she noted the cost of insurance is nearly double in Florida.

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The Mother

Designed by Albin Polasek, former head of the Art Institute of Chicago’s sculpture department, “Mother” depicts a woman sheltering two children, while her young boy holds an upright torch. It stands outside a Renaissance Revival-style crematorium and columbarium in Bohemian National Cemetery, at 5255 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois, and was erected in 1927. Polasek also designed another bronze sculpture in this cemetery called “The Pilgrim.”

Mother

Stories from the Illinois Exodus

High taxes, crime rates, and lack of opportunity cause residents to flee Illinois and post-industrial cities like Rockford.

I was born in Chicago and raised in the northwest suburbs. I moved to Rockford, Illinois after graduate school in 2008, where I hoped to make a life for myself. As my longtime readers know, I got involved in local politics and worked hard to promote the local community and address its social ills. Even as a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, I promoted Midwestern culture and urged my friends to stay in Illinois and fight to make it better. I honestly didn’t think I would ever leave.

Years went by and more and more of my friends and acquaintances moved away for greener pastures. Finally, I did too, enlisting in the Army and seeking to make a difference somewhere else. It became painfully clear I would have to uproot if I wanted to dramatically change my circumstances. The 2020 census will show just how many people joined this mass exodus. According to the latest estimates, Illinois is among the fastest shrinking states in terms of population, and Rockford is 15th in the country for highest percentage of population loss.

Since 2010, Rockford’s population has decreased by 5 percent. It was once the largest city in Illinois outside Chicago… it’s now the sixth. In December 2019, numerous websites reported Illinois as a whole saw six straight years of population loss. Anecdotally, I can name at least a dozen or more friends who have moved to other states over the past ten years, many with their families. I think when the final census data for 2020 is released, it’s going to be bad.

Continue reading “Stories from the Illinois Exodus”