Chicago (CBS) – This story is both a journey back in time and a look forward.
Historic Route 66, which certainly had a terminal point in Chicago, turns 100 in a few years. And an Illinois museum needs your help to celebrate the milestone.
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Illinois State Museum Springfield – a town where Route 66 passed. Due to COVID-19, CBS 2’s Marisa Parra took a virtual tour – and also traveled virtually through time.
The first pieces from an exhibit have survived for decades in the construction of Route 66. Holst shows Parra a detailed map of Route 66 by artist bob waldmire, and the solar oven used by the artist.
Holst is on a treasure hunt – the story of Route 66 in the Prairie State – looking for anything that tells our story.
The iconic road, officially born as US Highway 66, spans 2,000 miles—the first time a roadway connects the West Coast to the Midwest.
Historic sign in Chicago where Mother Road first opened in 1926. You’ll find the end point at Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue and the starting point one block north at Adams Street and Michigan Avenue. Jackson Boulevard was the original route, but it split into two east–west streets when the Jackson one-way was built east.
Route 66 follows Ogden Avenue through the city’s West Side and west suburbs, and turns southwest through Downstate Illinois before crossing into Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The route eventually ends in Santa Monica, California.
During the glory days of the highway, Route 66 was a muse. “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” has been a part of the American songbook since Nat King Cole first released it in 1946.
“(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” has been a cover for many of my artists in nearly 76 years. Here’s a 1961 version from Chuck Berry, a native of the Route 66 city of St. Louis:
Route 66 is also a powerful symbol in John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath”, representing a path from the Dust Bowl to hope:
“66 is the path of people in flight, refugees from dusty and shrinking land, from the rumbling of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the slow northward invasion of the desert, from the swirling winds that blow up and out of Texas; bring, and steal what is there. All of these people are in flight, and they come from tributary roads, wagon tracks and rough rural roads into 66. 66 is the mother road, the road to flight “
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And there’s art, like the above works by Bob Waldmire (1945-2009), who made a name for himself with his maps and sketches of Route 66 landmarks—often accompanied by historical text.
“Bob Waldmeier was an artist, and he would travel from city to city and create artwork,” Holst said.
As the museum noted, Waldmire traveled from city to city along old Route 66 in the 1970s, 80s and 90s as he made and sold postcards. In 1985—the same year Route 66 was officially decommissioned—Waldmayr purchased the 1972 Volkswagen camper van he lived in Arizona in.
Waldmeier’s van became the inspiration for Fillmore’s character in the Disney-Pixar film “Cars”.
Waldmayr’s family donated a large collection of his artifacts and personal belongings. In addition to maps and solar ovens, the collection includes other drawings, paintings, prints and postcards – and the manual typewriter Waldmayr used to write his newspapers. The museum also found a pair of his patched cutoff shorts he wore on the road, a roadside display stand for his postcards, and the hood of his 1965 Mustang—on which he painted a Route 66 map. .
And while the iconic highway was closed decades ago, it never went out of style—and the Illinois State Museum wants to hear from you about the items they can add to the collection.
“We’re casting a wide net,” Holst said. “We’d love to see what comes of it.”
If you’re ready to see what remains of the road’s past, you’ll have to brake and wait another four years for 2026 – when Mother Road turns 100.
“Since we’re taking this call out, we want to give it time to grow,” Holst said. “We want to see where this takes us.”
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The Illinois State Museum, again, is looking for donations from the people of Illinois. So whether you, an Illinois, took a road trip all the way along Route 6, or you got stuck in your state, the museum wants to hear from you. Email Holst here with your photo and description.