For spring break, we were looking for a destination with the word “spring” in its name. We considered Western Springs but the extra “s” bothered us. Then it hit us: The 17-year-old had never made the mandatory field trip to Springfield.
My wife is a no-nonsense driver who got us to the state capitol in a jiffy. I, by contrast, tend to putter down the road like I’m running up a meter on the dashboard.
Our first stop was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. My wife is normally not a history buff but this is no ordinary museum. On our last visit, I was the one trying to get her to leave. The museum contains unforgettable tableaus that capture the horror of a slave market and the unbridled fun of Lincoln’s young sons trashing his law office. The exhibits are eye-catching and the theater presentation makes you feel like you’re being rocked by cannon fire in a Civil War battle.
After several hours of soaking up the life story of the 16th president, we didn’t have the energy to visit his presidential library across the street. We went to the state capitol instead. I don’t know what was more impressive: the towering architecture, or the low numbers on the license plates in the parking lot.
When it was time to head back, they let the former cabbie choose the route. I’m not a fan of interstates, so we headed north on Illinois 29, a two-laner that hugs the western bank of the Illinois River. I was hoping we’d find some out-of-the-way restaurant loaded with rural charm.
We didn’t find any along Route 29, but we did stumble on the town of Ladd, off I-80. It turned out to be the “Forest Park” of Putnam County. Though it only has 1,307 residents, Ladd has a healthy number of Italian restaurants and pizzerias lining Main Street. It also has a downtown ice cream parlor. We ended up at Rip’s, famous for its fried chicken.
There was a bake sale in progress inside the restaurant, to benefit the Ladd Food Pantry. Wow, the same kind of community spirit you’d find at a Forest Park eatery. We bought some confections at ridiculously low prices and sampled the succulent chicken.
Spring break was more than just going wild in the countryside. We also went to the Loop to look up Marilyn Monroe’s dress, eat a hearty lunch at the Hancock and hit Oak Street beach. It was still wetsuit weather.
Finally, there was one last fling to use a coupon for ice cream. We didn’t think we could take any more excitement but we were invited to a White Sox game. $7.75 for a beer? For that kind of money, I’d rather go back to Ladd and buy a round for everyone at Rip’s.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.