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Ritter: Trying to get excited for Illinois' 200th ... with trivia!

By Geoffrey Ritter
Managing editor
Posted on 12/6/2017, 1:00 AM

So what?

That's the sound of the collective shrug many residents of the Land of Lincoln may feel in the increasing build-up to the state's 200th birthday Dec. 3, 2018.

Who really knows our state song? (It's a pretty tune called "Illinois," by the way.) No one says a pledge to our state flag. And it's too tempting these days to see our beloved state as little more than a political and ethical sinkhole, and not the leading state it should be in our union.

Because the only thing I love more than history is arcane trivia about it -- and because we Illinoisans all could use a pep talk if we're going to make this bicentennial party as un-awkward as possible -- I offer a few fun facts about our home state:

• Illinois became the 21st state on Dec. 3, 1818. The capital was located in Kaskaskia, and then Vandalia, before moving to Springfield in 1839.

• We used to be "The Prairie State," but we've been the "Land of Lincoln" since the 1950s. We even copyrighted the term and have been stamping it on license plates since 1954.

• We have an official state everything. State bird? It's a cardinal. White-tailed deer is the state animal. Our official snack food is popcorn. We even have an official bicentennial beer.

• Only one U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, was born and raised in Illinois. However, three other then-residents of this fine state -- Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Barack Obama -- have ascended to that highest of offices.

• Speaking of famous people: Bill Murray is from Illinois. Ernest Hemingway was from Illinois. Walt Disney was from Illinois. And Oprah lived here, too!

• We are the 25th largest state out of 50, but our population is the fifth largest.

• Seven out of 10 of us are white. Less than two in 10 of us are black. It goes down from there.

• The world's tallest man, Robert Pershing Wadlow, was born in Illinois and stood almost 9 feet tall.

• Illinois is the birthplace of the creators of Tarzan, Popeye and Zorro, among other enduring creations.

• We are the adopted home state of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, and Illinois was the first state to ratify the Constitutional amendment outlawing slavery. A U.S. senator from my hometown of Pekin, Ill., was a chief architect of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We have a history of leading in the cause of justice.

Of course, such noble achievements are easily clouded by the struggles of today. Now, our state is mired financial uncertainty, bitter division and political sniping. Several of our former governors have gone to the big house.

We may not sing our song at the start of baseball games, or stand and face the state flag at the beginning of each school day. Yet through circumstances of geography, we are the custodians today of a tradition of political and cultural achievement.

Hopefully, a year is enough time for all of us to appreciate that.