Big Hole Where Illinois Used to Be

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Chicago Southland. I left the Toyota parked in South Holland over the Fall and the battery started leaking. So I replaced the battery, got the nodes all lubed up. Running up and down E 162nd and S Halsted. Between the auto parts, the burgers with dressings, the shopping centers, Wampum Lakes Woods. In quiet solemnity passing the Memorial Gardens en route through the big hole to either side of the errands.

It makes sense from the municipal way of thinking, to put the cemeteries over by the quarry. Over by that big hole where Illinois used to be. But it’s something very obscene when you think about it.

How big are we talkin’ about? Well, at some points it’s deep enough to bury the Merchandise Center. It’s large enough to stretch out the Loop to either long side and to split the Magnificent Mile between the two shorter ones. The numbers suggest you could even bury five Merchandise Centers. The former largest building into the former largest grave. Or you could just pack in the neighboring village of Thornton and a good chunk of South Holland, too. Pack it in and fill it up.

Pays des Illinois. Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard acquired the land from the Pottawatomi sometime before opening Chicagoland’s first stockyard. He didn’t like the rock, I guess. It’s aggregate. What’s aggregate? You know, it’s the mechanically separated beef of the geological scene. Hubbard came from Vermont along the old French fur routes. He had learned Pottawatomi, and he had married a young “squaw”. Had two children that died in infancy. He married a woman from Ohio who died nine years later. Then in the good New England tradition he married his cousin. All that is to say, Hubbard was a man of the world who in short order made the world of the man Hubbard. And at some point he had the first shovelful of Illinois removed from the area, inaugurating the Thornton Quarry. Where did all that Illinois go off to, you ask? Cement, mostly. That Illinois got smeared along the trodden paths of other parts of Illinois and the Chicago Tri-State area.

The aggregated I-80/I-294/Tri-State Tollway crosses the hole on a dry dike elevated hundreds of feet above its bottom. There are loads bound for Salt Lake, commuters coming from Valparaiso, Indiana. The traffic is thick above this hole. Like the fireworks signs, it’s all just a given. The scenery of urban interference. The absence of the earth from which the metropolis was fashioned. They don’t know about the cemeteries. You see, interring these folks six feet below beside this 400 foot crater is a bit of an obscenity. At least bury the Merchandise Center beside them. Four million square feet of afterlife retail space.

So I left the Toyota in South Holland for the Winter. When I came back the battery was dead again. I remember it was about ten below freezing outside that night and I had to curl up beneath an emergency blanket in that little hatchback. Drinking some tequila, trying to stay warm with the occasional aid of a propane heater. I watched the snow gently fall into the big hole where Illinois used to be, and I never had any doubts about the situation after that.

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