Barry calls it the most American city in the nation. It's the home
of the Broom Corn Festival and the birthplace of Raggedy Ann and is
located in the heart of Illinois Amish Country.
Arcola is located in the central part of the
state on Interstate 57, approximately two and one-half hours from both
Chicago and St. Louis. It's location lends to its character, surrounded by
rich, Illinois farmland that has become home to a large Amish population.
Also, it gave rise to what was once the town's main industry, the growing
of broom corn used to make enough brooms that led to the town claiming the
title of "The Broom Capital of the World".
While the cost of the labor-intensive growing of
broom corn has shifted the production of the raw material used in the
bristles to Mexico and Latin America, the town today remains a major
source of the manufacature and distribution of brooms.
Each fall on the first weekend after Labor Day,
it celebrates its heritage with the annual broom corn festival.
Thousands flock to the small village of 2,000,
swelling its population, to stroll the brick, tree-lined streets, watch
one of the best small-town parades in the nation and tour the historic and
restored buildings of the business district. The Festival features a tent
for dancing, free street entertainment and some of the vest food
concessions you will ever experience. A favorite is always the fried onion
blossoms or the locally produced and sumptuous breakfast pork chops.
It was the Broom Corn Festival that attracted
Barry's attention. He became such a fan of the town, that he was named an
honorary "Lawn Ranger". The Lawn Rangers are a drill-team of
sorts that push a some of the most dilapidated power mowers and carry
brooms as their staff. They dress in bandanas, straw hats ands wear
sunglasses, taking their name in honor of Clayton Moore, who, the year he
was grand marshall of the parade, was banned from wearing the Lone Ranger
mask by producers of the TV show, although it was he who was so closely
identified with the Lone Ranger's character.
So, he turned to wearing very dark sun glasses in
place of the mask It became the inspiration for the formation of the Lawn
About that drill team aspect, the Rangers, who
seem to increase their numbers yearly and are virtually legends in
downstate Illinois, meet once a year for practicing their routines. The
session takes place the morning of the parade on the town's high school
football field (which has spawned a number of state champions and even an
NFL standout). To be a Ranger for that day, you must bring the stiff
initiation fee of a case of beer. It's all wonderful fun, though, and the
participants take their association with the town and the Festival serious
While in Arcola, be sure to visit Rockome
Gardens, located approximately three miles from downtown. The site is home
to a salute to the region's Amish heritage, featuring a crafts village, an
authentic Amish home and rides in an Amish buggy through the rolling
countryside. It is also the home to the annual Amish fund-raising blankets
and crafts sale by which the group raises money to help their
less-fortunate brothers and sisters.
The "garden" features some of the most
unique handicraft of using stones for decorations and stone work that you
will see. All of the rocks and stones came from farm fields surrounding
Rockome. Another highlight of your visit will be the opportunity to sample
some authentic Amish country cooking at the restaurant at the Gardens.
If that isn't enough to entice you, Arcola is the
birthplace of Raggedy Ann, the doll that has capitvated our hearts for
more than 80 years. The loveable doll is the creation of Johhn Gruell. But
the poignant story behind her creation is a wonderful tribute to Johnny's
Prior to World War I, the pre-teen Marcella found
a tattered rag doll in her grandmother's attic. She excitedly showed it to
her father, Johnny, who was an artist of some repute and had moved about
125 miles east to the larger city of Indianapolis.
Johnny drew a face on the doll and took a pair of
sissors to cut out a paper hear on which he wrote, "I Love You."
That might have been the end of the story, but
just a few years later, Marcella fell victim to a contaminated smallpox
vaccination in 1917 and died.
The grief-stricken father turned to writing
storiers about a little girl, Marcella, and herdoll, Raggedy Ann. The rest
is, of course, history. Today, Marcella lives forever in the stories
written by her father, who loved her so much, that he immortalized her in
the Raggedy Ann books. It is almost 100 percent certain that few of the
millions of children around the world who have read about Raggedy Ann and
her mistress, Marcella, know that they are reading about a real little
Today, the beautiful brick buildings of the
business district of Arcola feature a wealth of Raggedy Ann memorabilia.
Also, each year, the town celebrates two festivals, one in the summer, The
Raggedy Ann Festival, and the other during Christmas, with a Raggedy Ann
Christmas, when the rag doll comes to life in the personification of a
local girl (and a boy to represent Raggedy Andy), and ride into town with
Amish country, festivals, Raggedy Ann--is it any
wonder it's called "Amazing Arcola"?