Thursday, October 20, 2016

Illinois River Ride & War Memorials

Ottawa Civil War Monument
On a beautiful, unusually warm Indian Summer day, we decided to take a long and leisurely drive along a stretch of the Illinois River and see the beginning of the fall colors.  We were a bit early for the colors but it was a wonderful tour just the same.  I hoped to visit the war memorials in Ottawa and Marseilles.

Ottawa is a small Illinois city which sits at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers, near the historic Starved Rock.  The old Illinois and Michigan Canal pathway runs through town on its way to its terminus a short way to the west in the town of LaSalle.  The Canal ran parallel to the river, connecting Lake Michigan, via the Chicago River, with the Illinois at the point where the latter became sufficiently navigable for larger cargo ships.  From the Illinois River a ship can travel to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico.  The Canal is no longer operable and many sections are dried up, but its path can still be seen. 

Statues of Lincoln & Douglas Debating
Ottawa was the home of the founder of the Boy Scouts, and there is a Scouting Museum now open.  The town was also one of the sites of the infamous Radium Girls tragedy, in which clock-making workers licked radioactive paintbrushes only later to suffer radiation illness.  And perhaps most famously, Ottawa was the site of the first of seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, held in 1858 between the two men to promote their candidacies for the United States Senate.  Lincoln famously lost, of course, but was so impressive that he was nominated two years later as the second Republican Party candidate for the Presidency.

Plaque at the Site of the First Lincoln-Douglas Debate
In the center of town, near old stately courthouses, is the large Washington Square Park, the site of that famous debate and now of two touching war memorials.  The larger is a tall obelisk dedicated in 1873 to the fallen of the Civil War.  Names were etched at the base but are mostly eroded now from wind and rain.  

Recently, stone panels were laid nearby with the names etched once again, of the fallen in the Civil War and the Spanish American War.  I didn’t see it, but no doubt present is the name of General W. H. L. Wallace, an Ottawa resident and one of the heroes of the critical Hornet’s Nest valiant hold out at the battle of Shiloh, which allowed the rest of the Union Army to survive and bought time for Grant to regroup his forces and eventually win the battle; Wallace was mortally wounded there and died three days later in his wife’s arms, saying in his last breath "We meet in heaven."  

Ottawa Memorial to the fallen of WWI, WWII, Korea, & Vietnam 
A second, later monument in Washington Square Park is dedicated to the fallen of World Wars One and Two and of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, all of whose names are once again etched in stone. 

East of Ottawa, also along the Illinois River, is the small town of Marseilles and the site of the Middle East Conflicts War Memorial.  It’s a bitterly sad and haunting place, with tall, granite sections of wall crammed with the names of the fallen, sitting high on the river bank where one can see and hear the rapids below.  As the water churns one contemplates the heroic but tragic loss of brave and sweet life, nobly sacrificed on people so often filled with rage and hate and for a confused and misguided purpose of such fleeting effect.

The Marseilles Memorial to the Fallen of Middle East Wars

R Balsamo

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