As always was the case after a tough night’s work and several breakfasts,
Dan was in the great depths of sleep which for him was filled not so much
with dreams, but vivid flashbacks to moments in his life.
Today’s sleep was no exception as October became July and his dad was
helping him get dressed. The whole family was going into the city early that
day for the centennial celebration. And just to think, a little over 10 years
before the country was nearly “rent from the top to the bottom,” as his
Biblically-minded Grandma used to say, by the War Between the States.
Now they were celebrating 100 years of unity.
With aunts, uncles, and cousins loaded aboard three wagons they bought
especially from Herr Knapheide in Quincy, they got ready for the short trek
into the busy city. From their home, they could see the dust of the early
travelers already billowing on the road in the distance. They would soon join
this smoky procession and Dan’s only memory of the trip is his cousin, Dave,
making funny faces at him every time they hit a bump in the road.
That was a special day, obviously, for the entire country, but especially for
Peoria, where the Great Orator – Colonel Robert Ingersoll – was set to speak.
Ingersoll was the most popular speaker back in a time when speaking
engagements were the main form of public entertainment. He once spoke
before a crowd of 50,000 people in Chicago, with ticket prices going for $1,
and it was rumored that his speaking fee reached as high as $7,000 per
While he had recently moved to New York (where the money REALLY is),
Ingersoll and his family had lived in the Peoria area since the 1850s. The son
of a fiery abolitionist priest, Robert himself took a decidedly non-religious
path in life.
After serving in the war, he became Illinois’s first attorney general before
gaining fame, fortune and notoriety as a travelling speaker. He had two
favorite subjects: Shakespeare and Free Thinking, with a special fondness for
biblical criticism, which made him both beloved and despised.
But thanks to a charismatic and humorous nature coupled with an ability to
make his point without insulting his audience, people came from far and
wide to hear him speak, even if they disagreed with him. And today the
whole family (and city) was going to hear him – and for free!
In his dream, Dan has spotty memories of the big celebration in the city that
day: something from Ingersoll’s speech about the “first secular government
ever in the world,” the river brimming with bright boats from bank to bank,
and colorful lights every few feet along the streets.
It was at this event that the first ever Whiskeydaddle Festival was held. It
started as a drunken challenge that came up over a game of cards among
the owners of the various distilleries – whose Whiskeydaddlers were the best?
The only way to truly know was through a competition testing their speed,
strength and facial hair. And they were holding the inaugural one at this
centennial celebration. But Dan doesn’t remember any of that.
His last memory in the dream is sleeping in the back of the Knapheide
wagon as it bumped along the busy road back home and the roman
candles that exploded like golden threads in the dark night – which caused
him to wake up both in his dream and in real life.