Although they may be competing for the "scoop" when it comes to news, staff members of Benton's two newspapers teamed up for a recent jail break.
Staff members of the Benton Gazette and Benton News recently teamed up to promote a Franklin County tourism project. The Historic Jail Museum in Benton serves as the home of the Franklin County Tourism Bureau.
The beautifully restored 1905 structure houses a collection of memorabilia from the gangland era of prohibition days nearly a century ago. There are also mementos from famous Benton natives including Doug Collins, John Malkovich and John A. Logan. There's even a piece or two about the Beatles' George Harrison, who visited his sister in Benton in 1963.
It also houses the jail where Charlie Birger spent his final days. Birger, often painted as a Robin Hood-like figure, was the last man publicly hanged in Illinois. On April 19, 1928, Birger met his death on the gallows, convicted for the 1926 murder of West City mayor Joe Adams.
Birger, who at age 8 was a newsboy at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, became a local legend known for both his philanthropy to local citizens and his bootlegging operation at "Shady Rest," a fortified speakeasy just east of the Williamson County line on old Highway 13.
Shady Rest is the site of the only aerial bombing to take place in the continental United States, carried out by the rival Shelton gang about a month after Adams' murder.
While Birger spent a year in the jail, unable to find a way out, the Escape Challenge offers teams of four to eight people 60 minutes to follow clues that will allow them to escape Birger's confines.
"That may seem like a long time," said William McPherson, editor at the Benton Gazette, "but it goes by fast."
Benton News sports editor Amanda Jarzynski proved to be the Ethan Hunt in what turned out to be a "mission impossible" for the group, which also included Haley Elam and Jeremy Ellis from the Gazette and Holly Kee from the Benton News.
Jarzynski was on a roll until a fake clue tripped up the group. With seconds remaining, she came up with the final answer, but no time remained to finish the task.
"It was fun even if we didn't win," Jarzynski said.
The Escape Room Challenge is open after 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. To reserve a time for your team, call the Franklin County Historic Jail Museum at 618-435-5777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.