This week in Illinois history: Aug. 20-26
Aug. 20, 1966 — Springfield. An accident at the Illinois State Fair claims three lives. When the U.S. Army Green Berets were scheduled to show their high-flying rescue skills during a live demonstration at the state fair, workers wasted little time in building a catwalk with a 100-foot rope to aid the exhibition, according to the Sangamon County history website. But when Ernest Schmidt tried to check whether the line was too tight, the entire display collapse, killing two photographers and a stage manager. Thirty-eight onlookers were injured, some seriously, although an inquest “ruled the deaths accidental.”
Aug. 21, 1858 — Ottawa. Presidential candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas square off in the first of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates. This must-see event drew a crowd that topped 10,000, according to the National Park Service website. Attendees heard Douglas attempt to smear Lincoln as a treasonous abolitionist, while Lincoln told the crowd Douglas wanted to “nationalize slavery.” Lincoln’s turn, however, was delayed by the listeners’ lengthy applause, a harbinger for Lincoln’s win as commander in chief two years later.
Aug. 22, — Southern Illinois. Earthquake hits Southern Illinois and five nearby states. The U.S. Geological Service officially measures earthquake intensity by the Modified Mercalli scale, rather than the more famous Richter Scale favored in the media. But no matter: the 1905 earthquake was scored as a Level VI event (roughly 5.0 on the Richter scale), meaning it was enough to send chimneys crashing to the ground from Cairo in Pulaski County and as far away as Clarksville, Tennessee. Four other states felt the seismic disruption: Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri.
Aug. 23, 1911 — Riverdale. Olympian Elizabeth "Betty" Robinson was born. Robinson sprinted to Olympic gold in the women’s 100-meter race during the 1928 competition, according to TeamUSA.org. However, the article points out that she narrowly escaped being embalmed after paramedics sent her unconscious body to a funeral director after a plane crash She awoke just in time, and “five years later … won another Olympic gold medal,” this one in 1936. The website Mentalfloss.com lists Robinson as one of “Seven People Whose Death Notices Improved Their Lives.”
Aug. 24, 1965 — Morton Grove. Oscar-winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin was born. With impaired hearing from the age of 18 months, as OnThisDay.com reports, Matlin has refused to let her inability to hear hamper her acting career. She has scaled the heights of achievement, including a 1986 Academy Award for “Children of a Lesser God,” a Golden Globe win and several Emmy nominations. The actress was discovered by “Happy Days” star Henry Winkler, which led to her casting in the Oscar-winning role.
Aug. 25, 1860 — Payson. A confrontation between the Quincy Wide Awakes takes place. The Wide Awakes were a political organization fostered by the Republicans to engage young male voters, the Herald-Whig reports. A group of 7,000 of them from the town of Quincy attended a political rally on this date where disgruntled Democrats jeered a slate of Republican speakers. After the Wide Awakes defended the speakers and retreated, they found 100 Democrats had massed around their group flag. Shots were fired and a number in the group were injured.
Aug. 26, 1818 — Kaskaskia. State leaders ratify Illinois’ first constitution. Just four months before Illinois attained statehood, a Constitutional Convention met to create its official document at Kaskaskia, as reported on Illinois.gov. A state seal, the first of several versions, was also crafted, bearing the motto “State Sovereignty, National Union,” though the design emphasizes “National Union," thanks to Sharon Tyndale, the secretary of state at the time.