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This week in Illinois history: Feb. 5-11

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By Robert Hadley | Jan 22, 2018

Lyricopera
Chicago Lyric Opera | Wikipedia

This week in Illinois history.

Feb. 5, 1954 – Chicago. Opening day for the Chicago Lyric Opera. Opera, like all great art, has the power to change lives, according to the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s website, and the company has upheld that legacy during six decades of operation. Its recent performances have included "Don Giovanni," "Porgy and Bess," "Il Trovatore," plus other classics, and 25 performances of "Carousel" during its recent 60th birthday.

Feb. 6, 1911 – Tampico. Birthdate of Ronald Reagan. Born in an apartment above a tavern, Reagan transcended his modest origins to become a Hollywood actor, California governor and 40th president of the United States. Biography.com credits him with championing an end to "Big Government" and ending the Cold War. While some say his policies did little to help the poor, others say his tax cuts and stimulus policies ushered in a long period of prosperity.

Feb. 7, 1990 – Springfield. Riverboat Gambling Act becomes law. Racetracks and other forms of gambling had long existed in Illinois before this law was enacted, and a crackdown during the early 20th century had banned riverboat gambling, according to a historical article on state Sen. Chris Nybo’s (R-Elmhurst) website. The state re-entered the gambling boat industry with this law’s passage, designed to trump competition from neighboring states’ boats.

Feb. 8, 1910 – Chicago. Boy Scouts of America launched. Although Boy Scouts are known for helping the proverbial little old lady cross a street, the group’s impetus actually occurred after a Scout in Great Britain helped Publisher William D. Boyce navigate London’s foggy intersections. After huddling with Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the British Boy Scouts, Boyce created the American version that exists today, according to Scouting.org.

Feb. 8, 1951 – Chicago. Woman makes history surviving sub-zero temperatures. Dorothy Mae Stevens Anderson’s name may be all but lost to history, but her accomplishment is one preserved in the annals of medicine. After a night spent in an alcohol-induced slumber in minus 11-degree weather, the 22-year-old was pronounced dead until an astute doctor noticed her eyelids had moved. Anderson survived, although her legs and some fingers were amputated, as reported in a 1973 issue of Ebony magazine.

Feb. 9, 1862 – Alton. First Confederate prisoners of war housed at former Alton state penitentiary. This prison had shut down just before the start of the Civil War, but Union Col. James B. McPherson authorized its wartime use. Altonweb.com says the site had more than 11,000 inmates during its three-year stint as a military prison.

Feb. 9, 1826 – Murphysboro. Birthdate of Union Army Gen. John Alexander Logan. Before distinguishing himself as a brigadier general during the Civil War, Logan had a long career as an attorney and two-term representative in the Illinois House. The Republican also served as a congressional representative and two-term senator, according to bioguide.congress.gov.

Feb. 10, 1851 – Chicago. Charter granted to the Illinois Central Railroad. Stretching from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico, this line was dubbed “The Main Line of Mid-America,” according to the website American-Rails.com. Although it was fiscally sound enough to weather the Great Depression of the 1930s, the website claims it merged with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio line some 40 years later to remain viable. Its 1980s recovery caught the attention of Canadian National, which bought it in 1998.

Feb. 11, 1861 – Springfield. Newly elected President Abraham Lincoln departs for Washington, D.C. Text of Lincoln’s goodbye speech to Springfield’s citizens who turned out to see the 52-year-old new president depart for Washington, D.C., contains the typical expressions of sadness and humble thanks to his constituents. Aside from thanking God, what stands out is his seeming prescience about his fate: “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever I may return. …” The short speech is published on the National Park Service’s website.

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Boy Scouts of AmericaLyric Opera of Chicago

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