The St. Louis newspaper reported over the weekend that the state of Illinois is closing three interesting but not very well known French colonial historic sites in “Les Pays des Illinois” along the east side of the Mississippi. Partly this is being done so that no Abraham Lincoln shrine can be left unvisited during Lincoln’s bicentennial next year. French Colonial America has long needed a new agent, especially for the French presence here in the Midwest, but this also strikes me as another case of a modern cultural institution abandoning its duty to make it possible for citizens to discover something they might not have known about, in favor of providing even more about an already popular subject that automatically generates high visitation numbers. (This is related to the phenomenon of public libraries clearing their shelves of world literary classics and non-fiction on relatively obscure topics so as to have more current bestsellers and self-help books on hand, the same ones prominently displayed at the local Target, Barnes & Noble, etc.) Nothing against Honest Abe — far from it — but it is always sad to see Famous Presidents and Their Smallest Doings crowding out other forms of history.
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency will close the Cahokia Courthouse in Cahokia, Fort de Chartres near Prairie du Rocher, the Vandalia Statehouse in Vandalia, and Fort Kaskaskia and the Pierre Menard Home, both near Ellis Grove. Those sites are currently open five days a week. Some may open on a limited basis for special events after Oct. 1.
The Cahokia Mounds and Lewis and Clark sites will continue to be open Wednesdays through Sundays, as they have since 2002.
Statewide, 13 historic sites and 11 state parks will be closed to accommodate $1.4 billion in budget cuts made by Gov. Rod Blagojevich after the Legislature passed an unbalanced budget. None of the affected parks are in the Metro East area or Southern Illinois.
Four Abraham Lincoln-related state historic sites — Lincoln’s New Salem near Petersburg and the Lincoln Tomb, Old State Capitol and Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, all in Springfield — will resume seven-day-per-week schedules next spring, the Historic Preservation Agency has announced. All are currently open five days a week.
Next year is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth and the expanded hours will be made possible by funding from the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.