Thursday, February 05, 2009

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Ronald Reagan's Dixon, Illinois

There is a Bedford Falls quality to Dixon, the northern Illinois town that is the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan. The 40th president moved with his family to Dixon when he was nine and stayed until he moved to Iowa to take his radio broadcasting job.

Reagan is the only president born in Illinois.

Dixon is located just north of Interstate 88, which was rechristened "The Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway" in 2004.

Here's how the Gipper described Dixon in An American Life:

Dixon straddles the Rock River, a stretch of blue-green water flanked by wooded hills and limestone cliffs that meanders trhough the farmland of northwestern Illinois on its way to the Mississippi.

The river, which was often called the "Hudson of the West, was my playground during some of the happiest moments of my life. During the winter, it froze and became a skating rink as wide as two football fields and as long as I wanted to make it. In the summer, I swam and fished in the river and ventured as far as I dared on overnight camping trips through the Rock River valley, pretending to be a nineteenth-century explorer.

While he was growing up in Dixon, Reagan, who was nicknamed "Dutch," was a lifeguard at Lowell Park. Public pools were a rarity in 1920s America, the people of Dixon were compelled to cool off in the strong currents of the Rock. During his years as a lifeguard, Reagan saved 77 lives.

More from An American Life:

As I look back on those days in Dixon, I think my life was as sweet and idyllic as it could be, as close as I could imagine for a young boy to the world created by Mark Twain in The Adventurers of Tom Sawyer.

The Reagans lived in several homes in Dixon, but both Dutch and his brother Neil, nicknamed "Moon," when recalling their years there always considered the house at 816 South Hennepin Avenue the family home.

When Little Marathon Pundit and I were in Dixon last month, the home was closed, it's open to visitors only from February through November. However, I visited the inside of the house in 2005; the furnishings, although not original, are typical of the items of found in a 1920s home, and drew upon the recollections of Moon and Dutch. Which is why there is a cast iron bed, which the brothers shared, in their room.

Next to the boyhood home is a bronze statue of Reagan. Unlike Galena's "Mrs. Butterworth" fiasco, the sculpture looks like The Great Communicator, but Reagan is holding an ear of corn. While corn was--and still is--grown outside of Dixon, the image of a cornhusker Gipper just doesn't fit. A better idea would have been giving Reagan a leather football helmet--Dutch played football for Dixon High School and Eurkeka College. And in what's regarded as his best-known movie role, Reagan portrayed Notre Dame halfback George Gipp in Knute Rockne: All American.


Next: More Dixon.

Earlier posts:

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Herbert Hoover Library and Museum

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Herbert Hoover Birthplace

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Where Grant worked as a clerk

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Mrs. Butterworth

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Ulysses S. Grant Home

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1 comment:

Jimbo said...

I think your mother must have
dropped you one too many times as a child. You're 2 fifths short of
a party!!!! Who cares about a
stupid sign? You of course, how
silly of me to critcize one such as
yourself who has nothing better to
do than taking pictures of road
signs.