At the time this issue of the paper is published, we will be on the cusp of the slowest month on the peninsula. March is the time of spring breaks and this year includes Easter. It is a time when a large portion of full-time Door County residents depart for more temperate climates and those of us who remain hope for warmer than normal days and/or an early spring.
In theory, this month should be a relatively easy one, but – as you probably surmised by the absence of this column in recent issues – things at the Peninsula Publishing & Distribution, Inc. are (and continue to be) very busy, and I continue to find myself with a very full schedule of tasks to be completed.
I cannot, however, continue to shirk the responsibility of this column, so I went looking in my archives and discovered what follows in a piece that was originally published in March of 1999. As you will see, there is a very good reason that this was published in March when there are very few (if any) tourists in the county and that reason remains equally valid in the present. Hopefully it will provide a chuckle as we look ahead to what will, most assuredly, be a very busy tourist season.
If you read last week’s column you will remember that I closed by expressing some concern regarding my daughter, Molly. Specifically, I noted that she was beginning to wonder about things which most the world could care less about – an onus I have labored under for almost 41 years [NOTE: Now almost 58 years].
Well, Molly is here in Door County visiting this week and my concerns are growing. Not only does she seem to wonder about the arcane, absurd or irrelevant, she is also beginning to show signs of a much more serious affliction: the collecting of useless information. My case in point is as follows.
As I stated in last week’s column, Molly is now a fourth grader. She attends school in Bloomingdale, Ill. (just west of O’Hare airport, and right next to Addison) and, like fourth graders everywhere in this country, she is busy studying the state in which she resides. So when I called last week to confirm the arrangements for her visit, Molly informed me that she would need to finish a “big homework project on Illinois” while she was here. She then proceeded to share the following story with me, which she had discovered while doing her research.
Molly: Dad, did you know that Illinois is known as “The Sucker State?”
Molly: It really is!
Me: Why is it called “The Sucker State?”
Molly: Because a long time ago, when it was really dry and there wasn’t any water to drink, people here used to suck water out of crawfish holes.
Me: Are you serious?
Molly (somewhat indignant that I doubted her): Yeah. I found it in the library.
Me: Wow. I love that story.
Molly: I knew you’d like it.
Folks, one of the blessings (or curses, depending on the circumstance) of the way my mind works is that I am often overtaken by mental images. During the past week I have been continually amused by the image of Illinoisans hunkered down on all fours with their lips pressed to the earth sucking and I kept thinking … this is great!
Indeed, this story so tickled my imagination that I decided more research was necessary So, of course, I logged on to the Internet and typed in the following: Illinois sucker state.
I received 787 matches to my query, but the one I wanted was near the top (NOTE: one piece of trivia I discovered in perusing these matches is that there is actually a newspaper in Champaign County, Ill. called The Mahomet Sucker). The following is an excerpt from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Nature Bulletin; No. 233-A dated June 4, 1966:
“People from Illinois are still called ‘Suckers’ in some localities of neighboring states. There are several legends about the origin of this nickname. One is that on our prairies, during hot dry summers, the early travelers obtained water by sucking it up through straws thrust down into ‘crawfish’ holes. Another is based upon the fact that the first settlements, other than those of the early French at Cahokia and Kaskaskia, were made in the extreme southern portion and mainly by relatively poor people from tobacco-growing southern states. A tobacco plant commonly sends up sprouts around the main stem. These ‘suckers’ are stripped off and thrown away. Hence, because these emigrants had left their home states and come to the Illinois wilderness ‘to perish,’ they were derisively called ‘Suckers.’
“The most plausible explanation dates from the opening of the first lead mine, in 1824, about a mile north of Galena. By 1827 there were 6 or 7 thousand people in that area, most of them from settlements in southern Illinois and from the lead-mining district in southwestern Missouri. The Illinois men came up the Mississippi on steamboats in the spring and went back down to their homes each fall. The Missourians jeeringly named them ‘Suckers’ because the sucker is one of the few fish that migrates upstream each spring.”
So what can we derive from this assorted information? Well, the most obvious is that there are some remarkable similarities between those early lead-mining “Suckers” and the Illinois tourists who arrive in Door County each spring: they both migrate north like their fish-y namesake.
And finally, this information can provide a kind of solace for all of us as we prepare to enter another tourist season. Consider how much more pleasant this season will be, as we grow impatient with the Park Avenue traveling 20 miles per hour down the highway, compared to previous seasons when we didn’t know about the “Sucker State.” All we will need to do is visualize the offending party squatting on all fours with their derriere in the air and their lips pressed to mud and a broad smile will likely cross our face as our impatience drops away.