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Historic Sites of Alton – Grand Theatre

Grand Theatre, 230 Market Street

The Grand Theatre was built in 1920 and was the largest theater in downtown Alton, with an original seating capacity of 1,400. In the 1920s it screened silent films and offered vaudeville acts. The opening feature was The Sin That Was His, starring William Faversham. A ten-piece orchestra played as an accompaniment until 1925, when a theater organ was installed. Theater organs were built to provide the greatest possible variety of timbres with the fewest possible pipes and are playable by one person. They can imitate a full range of orchestral instruments and sound effects from bird calls to train whistles. You can find links to several YouTube videos of theater organ music at the bottom of this Web page:

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Historic Sites of Alton – World’s Fair Building

World’s Fair Building, 322 East Broadway

Our most recent program at the Hayner Genealogy & Local History Library was a talk by Wayne Hensley titled “Historical Sites of Alton.” Wayne’s presentation was excellent, and I am now embarking on a series of blog posts about the buildings he discussed. I also created a temporary display on the buildings, so come check it out at the library if you get a chance!

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The Great Flood of 1993: Twenty years ago today

Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service,

The Mississippi River crested at Alton at an all-time high of 42.72 feet on August 1, 1993. The National Weather Service’s Web site on the Great Flood of 1993 states that “[T]he size and impact of the Great Flood of 1993 was unprecedented and has been considered the most costly and devastating flood to ravage the U.S. in modern history.”

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Clark Bridge: “Stunningly Beautiful and Eminently Practical”


When I moved to Alton, my uncle, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, told me he had been using a NOVA TV special on the construction of the Clark Bridge in his business classes for years. “Super Bridge” was broadcast on November 12, 1997, and the official description from PBS states:

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Prom as a Civil Rights Issue


As a documentary fan, I recently watched Prom Night in Mississippi, which featured Academy Award–winning actor Morgan Freeman. The film follows a group of Charleston High School students in 2008 as they prepare for their senior prom. Mississippi fully integrated its schools in 1970, but until 2008 Charleston held two proms privately funded by parents, one for black students and one for white students. In 1997, Morgan Freeman offered to pay for an official, school-sponsored senior prom in Charleston under one condition: the prom had to be racially integrated. His offer was ignored. In 2008, at the urging of filmmaker Paul Saltzman, Freeman offers again. This time the school board accepts, and Charleston High School has its first-ever integrated prom. Not everyone is happy with this decision, but most students are thrilled and see it as a huge step forward. One racially mixed couple, who in years past would not have been able to attend prom together, had particularly touching interviews.

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Artistic Portrayals of Lovejoy and Lincoln

The Death of Elijah Lovejoy by Noah Van Sciver

I’ve searched the Internet for anything related to Elijah Lovejoy and came across this 23-page piece (I hesitate to call it a comic or graphic novel, so I’ll call it a graphic mini-novel), The Death of Elijah Lovejoy, written and drawn by Noah Van Sciver. Van Sciver, an artist whose work has appeared in Mad Magazine,published The Death of Elijah Lovejoy in 2011 in Minneapolis, Minn. Van Sciver takes some liberties with the dialogue and order of events during the riot, but the basic facts are there, and the drawing is well done.

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Alton: Sesquicentennial Cook Book


The Genealogy & Local History Library possesses many cookbooks compiled locally. All are housed in the Illinois Room, and I plan to periodically feature a recipe from one of these cookbooks. Up first: Fireman’s Slaw, p. 44 of Alton: Sesquicentennial Cook Book, published in 1987. This cookbook can be perused in the Genealogy & Local History Library, call number IR 641.5 ALT, and is also available to check out at the Hayner downtown library or Alton Square library, call number 641.5 CIT.

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Uncle Tom's Cabin

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

I’m currently reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe It is an extremely important book that helped polarize the North’s and South’s positions on slavery.  My first large display is on Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist murdered in Alton.  One of Lovejoy’s close friends and supporters was Edward Beecher, who is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother.

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