Thursday, November 29, 2018

Illinois State Symbols

The other night while watching the news, we saw a story about a woman living on the south side of Chicago who plants milkweed in her front yard for the Monarch Butterfly, to aid its migration from Mexico up through the US and back again.  Our "septuagenarian"neighbor, Chester, has done the same thing.  But Chester is a whole other blog unto himself.  More on him later.

And then I remembered as a 6th grader, I sent a letter to Governor (of my home state) of Maryland, Blair Lee III, requesting the Monarch Butterfly be adopted as the State Insect (this was during a class lesson on State Government).  My classmates and I chose the Monarch because of its coloring - orange and black just like the State Bird, the Baltimore Oriole.  A few weeks after mailing the letter, I received a response from the Governor thanking me and my classmates for our interest, but noting that the State of Maryland already had a State Insect: the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly.  The letter came addressed to me at my elementary school.  In those days, that was a BIG deal - on par with getting your picture or name in the newspaper.

So then I got to wondering about state symbols and learned that the Monarch Butterfly is actually the State Insect for (my new state of) Illinois.  Coincidental, I thought, but Chester probably already knows this.  But learning this was not as surprising as finding out the other state symbols for The Land of Lincoln (our State Slogan).  We can start with the popular ones:
State Capital:  Springfield
State Motto:  State Sovereignty, National Union
State Nickname:  The Prairie State
State Song:  "Illinois" (not sure I've ever heard this)
State Tree:  White Oak
State Flower:  Violet
State Bird:  Northern Cardinal
Along with these, we also have a State Flag, a State Seal, and a State Language (English).  However, we also have a few other state symbols that may be a tad more shall-we-say obscure:

State Amphibian: Eastern Tiger Salamander
Illinois designated the eastern tiger salamander as the official state amphibian in 2005. An election was held on the Internet in 2004; the students and citizens of Illinois chose the eastern tiger salamander over the other two candidates (gray tree frog and American toad). Eastern tiger salamanders are the largest amphibian found in Illinois and live throughout the state.

State Fish:  Bluegill
The Bluegill was designated the official state fish of Illinois in 1986, selected by the school children of the state.  A member of the sunfish family, Bluegill are found throughout Illinois.  They grow to about 9 inches and weigh about 12 ounces.

State Fruit: Goldrush Apple
Illinois designated goldrush apples as the official state fruit in 2008.  Mark Richardson's fourth-grade class of Woodlawn Elementary School initiated this legislation after learning that Illinois was one of the few states that did not recognize a state fruit. After doing research and discovering the part played by the University of Illinois in developing the goldrush apple, they contacted Senator John Jones, who was the primary sponsor of the bill. Goldrush apples are a cross of golden delicious and an experimental variety of apple developed by the disease-resistant apple breeding program of the University of Illinois, Purdue University, and Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Sidenote:  Since Illinois has a state fruit, we must also have a state vegetable right?  And that would be sweet corn, so chosen based on the preponderance of corn grown throughout Illinois.  Which naturally brings me to...

State Snack Food:  Popcorn
No real surprise here, but Illinois designated popcorn as the official state snack food in 2003.  There are 333 farms in Illinois that grow popcorn on 47,000 acres​. Corn is native to the Americas, probably first cultivated in Mexico about 5,000 years ago; native Americans started growing corn in Illinois about 100 A.D. Second and third-grade students at Cunningham Elementary School in Joliet proposed popcorn as the state snack food. State Senator Larry Walsh sponsored the bill.

State Folk Dance: Square Dance
Illinois designated the square dance as the official state American Folk Dance in 1990. Twenty-two states have declared the square dance as an official state symbol, and more than thirty bills have been introduced at the federal level proposing the square dance as the national (folk) dance of the United States.

State Reptile: Painted Turtle
Illinois designated the painted turtle as the official state reptile in 2005 (also the reptile symbol of Michigan). An election for favorite state reptile was conducted on the Internet in 2004 (other candidates considered were the Eastern Box Turtle and the common Garter Snake). The citizens of Illinois elected the painted turtle, one of the most widespread and abundant turtle species in the US and Canada. 

State Tartan:  Illinois Saint Andrew Society Tartan
The Illinois Saint Andrew Society tartan was designated the official tartan of the state of Illinois in 2012.  According to Chicago Scots; "The Governors chose a field of blue and white, representing the flag of Scotland. White was also reminiscent of the Illinois State flag's background. Green was incorporated for its representation of the Scottish homeland and a touch of red was a nod to the red, white and blue of the United States flag. Finally, a strand of gold for its association with the eagle on the Illinois State flag."

State Pet:  Shelter Dogs and Cats
Illinois designated "shelter dogs and shelter cats that are residing in or have been adopted from a shelter or rescue facility in this State" as the official state pet of the state of Illinois (effective August 25, 2017).  It seems Illinois couldn't pass a State budget but we had no trouble deciding on what our State Pet should be.  And in doing so, Illinois joins four other states recognizing rescued and shelter pets as official symbols (California, Tennessee, Colorado, and Georgia). 

State Pie: Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin pie was designated as the official state pie of Illinois in 2015.  According to the Chicago Tribune; "State Representative Keith Sommer of Morton sponsored the legislation as a tribute to how  much pumpkin is produced in Illinois. About 85 percent of consumed pumpkin in the U.S. comes from Illinois."

And there are several others, like our State Prairie Grass (Big Bluestem), State Soil (Drummer Soil), State Mineral (Fluorite), State Fossil (Tully Monster), State Exercise (Cycling), and even our State Artifact (a Pirogue, a canoe made from hollowing out a tree trunk).

Now as unnecessary as all this sounds, these are only the symbols for Illinois.  There are different states that have other legally-adopted emblems that they believe are necessary to help them self-identify; items that they feel represent their great state in a way that nothing else can.  For example, an official State Boat (Maryland), a State Caricature Artist (Texas), a State Gun (Kentucky), a State Cantata (Connecticut), and my personal favourite, a State Cooking Pot (Utah, 'cause nothing says Mormon like a Dutch Oven), to name just a few.