A 1993 essay in the Review-Atlas:
by William Urban
Having been recently "vilified" to a reporter from the Chicago Tribune as a leader of the "opposition" and then castigated in the Review Atlas for hurting tourism, I thought I might write a few lines in praise of the true tourist centers in Monmouth, centers which attract many thousands of visitors from near and far, year after year, without any advertisement or state financing.
First and foremost, visitors come to Monmouth to see friends and families. Almost nobody, the truth be told, drives down from Chicago just to see houses of controversial age, no matter who was born in them. But once these visitors have spent a few hours talking and have eaten too much, they want to get out and see the community and countryside. Then, after seeing the physical changes ("nice," "oh, how sad"), speaking briefly with casual friends they see along the way, they are ready for some diversion.
It's no secret Monmouth doesn't have lots and lots of things to do that people can just walk into. Sure, there are dances, bingo, bars, lodge halls, the Rivoli, the YMCA, the swimming pool in summer, a bowling alley, a skating rink, two golf courses, numerous church functions, fly-ins, community breakfasts and suppers, an occasional marijuana bust, and so forth; there are high school and College plays, musical performances, drum and bugle corps, tractor pulls, and for all I know there is a hog wrestling contest. In fact, when you begin to list all the things we do around here, you might wonder when we have time to earn a living. None of these things get done without somebody putting in a lot of effort to make them work.
However, these activities don't seem enough. They are nothing that the rest of America doesn't have, and, according to Melba Matson, won't bring in the tourist dollars that will save the community. That is why we must have the gunfight at the OK Corral. But, she argues, who will come see the town where Wyatt Earp was born if we don't all agree that the birthplace is authentic?
When I did my research into the birthplace, I never knew that I would end up holding so much power: it is apparently in my ability to make Monmouth a tourist center: all I have to do is bend my principles enough to say something I do not believe C that the major part of that house looks today as it did in 1848. Well, I don't believe it yet, any more than I believe I have such power; moreover, I don't like being pressured. The world doesn't give two hoots what I think. People like to get out of the house and drive around; they will look at snake exhibits and elephant graves if you give them a chance C at least, I do.
Most visitors to the birthplace museum just drive by. They don't even hoot once. After all, it isn't a 24 hour a day operation, and lots of people can't show their guests around until after work. We know who goes in C the curator seems to list them all in the Review Atlas C just as we know that John Ketterer once won the Look-Alike contest (and who says they don't have a sense of humor?).
Back to the topic: the second source of tourism is sports. Quite a few people come from out of town to see high school football, basketball, and track events. Almost all of them get something to eat and gas up. As a result, our local restaurants have acquired pretty good reputations. I have noted that Bernie's food and decorations reflecting Monmouth's early aviation history make a very good impression on visitors, and I imagine that the birthday dinner fare is enjoyed as least as much as the shootout itself.
The third largest group of tourists come to see Monmouth College and to participate in associated activities. We must have a thousand families stop at the College every year to look around and to speak with the Admissions program. We have a beautiful campus and, moreover, it is located in an attractive neighborhood C something which is increasingly rare in higher education now. Hundreds of parents attend athletic events, plays, drop off and pick up their offspring. Alums come for homecoming, relatives for graduation, performers to give musical and dramatic shows, speakers to share their knowledge. Over a hundred teachers and high schoolers came in recently for the State Latin contest. All these thousands of people spend money on motels, restaurants and fast food.
Sororities gather at the Holt House and the Minnie Stewart home. After all, every sorority woman in the United States knows that the first women's Greek letter society began at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. I don't know how many Kappas there are, but the curator of the birthplace museum might know C she's a Kappa C and every one of them wants to see the Stewart house.
There are other places in town to look at as well. In the park just outside of town you can see a real bridge. If you know architecture, there are some neat houses, not all of them on Broadway. Quinby House, now being renovated thanks to a state grant and a generous alum's gift, will be a spectacular home. At Christmas we have some awesome lighting displays, tours of extremely interesting homes, and the living windows. Oquawka offers a beautiful river view, the Phelps house, the covered bridge, and in winter an opportunity to get an exciting glimpse of eagles fishing; in addition, there are boating and fishing activities, and fall festivals.
The Prime Beef festival draws a good crowd every year, as does the Fourth of July fireworks show. In short, there is a great deal more to this local tourism than meets the eye. And each of us in our own way contributes more to it than we realize. I, like many travelers nowadays, prefer the older state highways to the Interstate when I'm not in a hurry; and if I am in any way a typical drop-in tourist, our weekend garage sales attract more summer visitors than any state marker in the local park will. Certainly the auctions featuring antiques and Lincoln memorabilia bring in a good deal of money.
To sum it all up, I am not against tourism. I'm certainly not against history. I even went to see Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: the Wimp. It's just that I take a wider view of what tourism is and I like my history authentic. The most overlooked historical site hereabouts is the Warren County Museum in Roseville. It is a well-done project. Although it isn't open in the winter, for the rest of the year it is a fine place to get in touch with your family's past. Drop in next time you're looking for a place to drive by.