Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Veterans Memorial Park
Illinois Route 2 & Palmyra Road, Dixon, Ill., (815) 288-1911, honorourvets.org
You can honor military veterans rain or shine, day or night at this public park, which pays tribute to local military veterans.
“The military protected us; they fought for our freedom,” says Dave Lahey, park chairman. “Everything we do revolves around our freedom, and without the military, we would not have our freedom.”
At the west entrance of the park sit military artifacts including an F-105 Thunderchief fighter plane, a Cobra helicopter and a landing ship tank anchor.
There’s also a flagpole array, representing all military branches; a plaque with the names of fallen heroes; a park sign with a replica of the Purple Heart medallion; and battlefield cross – a downward facing rifle with a soldier’s helmet and a pair of combat boots.
The walkway to the park is made up of stones purchased by veterans and their families. Each stone is inscribed with a veteran’s name, his or her branch of the military, and years served.
The park has hosted funerals and memorial services. It also hosts Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Flag Day services and the annual VietNow annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which brings attention to the plight of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
The park was constructed in 2001 with the help of donations, fundraisers and hardworking volunteers.
“The park is still growing, with more exhibits and artifacts to come in the future,” Lahey says.
The park is open to the public year-round and is handicap-accessible.
Historic Auto Attractions
13823 Metric Road, Roscoe, Ill., (815) 389-7917, historicautoattractions.com
History buffs enjoy traveling back in time as they explore this museum’s large collection.
More than 75 vehicles are displayed in the 36,000-square-foot building.
The museum is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Wayne Lensing, owner of Lefthander Chassis in Roscoe, Ill., which builds and manufactures chassis for short-track racing and distributes parts for all types of race cars.
Opened in 2001, the museum has notable collections including the John F. Kennedy gallery, which contains the Secret Service car that traveled behind the former President in Dallas; the police cruiser from “The Andy Griffith Show;” and numerous movie vehicles.
Visitors can also see a wide variety of artifacts, including a World War II collection that has uniforms, maps, swords, knives, flags and banners from both Allied and Axis powers.
You’ll even spy wax figurines of celebrities such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and James Arness, better known as Marshal Matt Dillon from “Gunsmoke.” Lensing even has Arness’ complete costume, cowboy hats owned by Wayne and actor Tom Mix, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s beaded deerskin jacket.
Historic Auto Attractions is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m, Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. From September through November, it’s open weekends only, Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m and Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Group tours are available, by request, starting in April.
373 W. Geneva St., Williams Bay, Wis., (262) 245-5555, astro.uchicago.edu/yerkes
If you want a closer view of outer space, visit Yerkes Observatory and experience the night sky through one of the world’s largest lens telescopes.
The University of Chicago Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics manages this 77-acre site, where the star attraction is a 40-inch diameter refractor telescope. Yerkes provides laboratory space and access to its telescopes for research and instruction.
In operation since 1897, Yerkes was established to watch and measure stellar motion through telescopes.
“Yerkes Observatory is the place where astrophysics really got started,” says Richard Dreiser, public information officer. “The University of Chicago remains one of the best places on Earth to get an education in astrophysics.”
In 1892, University astronomer George Hale came across two optically perfect, 42-inch glass discs that had been intended for an observatory at the University of Southern California – until funding fell through. Together with University president William Rainey Harper, Hale sought to purchase the orphaned lenses with help from Charles Yerkes, a Chicago businessman who’d made a fortune in the city’s electric railway.
Yerkes agreed; the lenses and their housing were built just in time to be displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After the World’s Fair, the telescope was moved to a permanent home in Williams Bay, on land offered to the University by a Chicago lawyer and real estate speculator.
Today, the public is invited for monthly observing sessions with Yerkes’ two telescopes.
“Typically, about 20 nights every month are reserved for observing programs, if weather permits,” Dreiser says.
Yerkes Observatory is open for tours now through May 24, every Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Sat. 9:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m., with guided tours beginning at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon. Check online for the full 2017 tour schedule.