This boast from the 1950s referred to all of the sites in our town featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” Beginning in 1918, Robert Ripley – a newspaper cartoonist obsessed with oddities – illustrated the unusual things he found on his travels around the world in a popular cartoon column. In 1940, that column reached 80 million readers in more than 330 newspapers.
Ripley found our town’s infrastructure particularly interesting, and in an April 10, 1931 cartoon, he noted that the city’s winding streets formed the letters “U” and “V” 51 times; the letter “S” 13 times; and the letter “O” seven times. Just below the Crescent Hotel, sits St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, whose distinctive entrance earned it three Ripley mentions. The church is unusual because there’s only one way to enter: through the top of the bell tower.
The Basin Park Hotel also caught Ripley’s attention because every floor is considered a ground floor. If that seems unlikely, look behind the building. There you’ll find that each of the seven levels has a fire escape bridge that leads directly to the adjacent mountain.
Not all of Ripley’s cartoon subjects were man-made. The Tall Pines Inn sits at the corner of Highway 62 and Pivot Rock Road – named for a 12-foot high chunk of V-shaped limestone. Ripley was a frequent visitor to this “top balanced on its pointed end” – an apt description since the monolith spans about 30 feet in diameter at its top but is only about 16 inches at its base.
Pivot Rock is on private property about 2 miles from the Tall Pines and accessible by following an undulating nature trail, only about a quarter-mile round trip. Visitors also can enjoy a nearby natural limestone bridge that spans about 20 feet across rocky terrain.
These are just a few of the peculiarities you can experience in our quirky little town! And Ripley never wrote about its residents…
(Thanks to Tanyanika Samuels for her 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune.)