pexels patrícia paixao 4134527Today is National Popcorn Day – a day to grab Illinois’ state snack to celebrate. First originating in 1988, National Popcorn Day fell on the same day as the Super Bowl for years, giving people a fun way to celebrate the day.

Popcorn has special roots right here in Illinois. Since 2003, popcorn has been Illinois’ state snack. There are more than 300 popcorn farms throughout the state which led second and third grade students at Cunningham Elementary School to propose that popcorn become the state snack. Their teacher, Fran Hollister, helped get former Senator Larry Walsh to sponsor a measure to make popcorn the state snack.

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Vase and casket from the 19th centuryColonel Benjamin Stephenson, one of the 33 men who helped design the Illinois Constitution, is one of the founding fathers of Edwardsville, the third oldest city in the state. As a renowned merchant, sheriff, road commissioner, U.S. House of Representative member and Federal Land Officer, Colonel Stephenson left behind a legacy of wealth and political power that is captured in the Benjamin Stephenson House of Southern Illinois.

The Benjamin Stephenson House was built in 1820 as a place of dwelling for Colonel Stephenson and his family. After his death, it survived a series of ownership and is now an establishment recognized by the Illinois Association of Museums. As a museum, it allows patrons to immerse themselves in the 19th century with the help of actors who portray the honest story of the cultural, political, social and architectural beginnings of our state. In addition to these live exhibits, the Benjamin Stephenson House offers holiday food programs which incorporate period-appropriate recipes in modern-day delights, educational lectures, workshops and special events such as trivia nights. It also provides activities from the Stephenson era like bread baking, leatherworking, constructing and period games for entertainment and education.

Just last year it celebrated its 200th anniversary. The site serves as one of Edwardsville’s historic highlights, having housed many of the wealthiest and most powerful political figures in Illinois at its inception. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is among a handful of homes built in the first quarter of the 19th century that remains standing in Illinois. The gravity of these accomplishments can also be seen in the toys, clothing, books and other items from the past available for purchase at the website.

The Benjamin Stephenson House is located at 409 S. Buchanan Street, Edwardsville, IL 62025. Admission fees are $6 for adults, $3 for children between ages 6 and 12, and free for children ages 5 and younger. Masks are required in the building regardless of vaccination status. Tours occur March-December on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. During these same months, tours are available on Sundays from 12-3 p.m. More information can be found at https://stephensonhouse.org/.

calculatorMore students from diverse backgrounds will now be able to become accounting professionals thanks to a new partnership between the City Colleges of Chicago and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The partnership will focus on improving access for students who want to pursue accounting but don’t want to leave Chicago. Southern Illinois University Carbondale has entered an agreement with City Colleges of Chicago that will allow students in Chicago to pursue a bachelor’s degree from SIU while staying in Chicago. Both institutions of higher education say they hope it’ll help draw more students of color to the field of accounting. The National Association of Black Accountants says fewer than 9% of accountants and auditors are Black. Illinois is taking the lead in expanding professional access to historically underrepresented groups.

Students participating in the program will pay the first two years of tuition at their community college rate. Following graduation with an associate’s degree from the community college, students can go on to complete their SIU bachelor’s degrees online without leaving Chicago. After completing their first two years in their community college, students will receive a $4,000 scholarship once they transfer to Southern Illinois University for their final two years.

This recent initiative is part of a broader effort made by SIU to expand its joint programs with participating community colleges across the state.  On Oct. 4, SIU Carbondale entered agreements with Harper College, Oakton Community College and Harold Washington College, part of City Colleges of Chicago. The signing ceremonies were part of a larger SIU Carbondale initiative, called the “Saluki Takeover Tour: Chicago.” Representatives of SIU Carbondale met with school administrators, alumni groups and others to improve access for students and build partnerships in the Windy City. The agreements with Harper College and Oakton College, in suburban Cook County, will give qualified community college students the option to earn their bachelor’s degrees remotely and at a lower cost in six academic programs: accounting, business and administration, health care management, radiologic sciences, criminology and criminal justice, and psychology. Beginning next year, Illinois students will have more educational opportunities that they may not have thought were available to them before.

corn gcab804a5a 1280Illinois is officially home to the world’s largest corn maze. The Richardson Adventure Family Farm’s corn maze in Spring Grove takes the prize with its 10 miles of trails winding through 28 acres of corn stalks. The farm is located about 65 miles away from downtown Chicago. The farm is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and its 2021 theme will be “20 years of a-Maze-ing.”

The maze is actually created out of four smaller mazes. Each one has its own dedicated in-and-out path. There are multiple checkpoints throughout the maze, as well as three bridges that will help people find their bearings while looking at the map.

In order to avoid getting lost in the maze, the traveler must find several key checkpoints on their walk. Finding the checkpoints is the most challenging part of the experience. However, the farm cheers up all its guests by providing fresh donuts and hot chocolate just an easy walk outside the maze. People can typically find their way out in minutes. The challenge is to stay in the maze and make it all the way through. There is a perimeter path surrounding the entire maze, and there are no dead ends in this maze! And participants have the choice to do one maze or all four.

If a difficult challenge is not what someone is feeling up to, there are many other less stressful activities to choose from. The farm has many other attractions, including a 700-foot zip line, a 50-foot observation tower, pedal carts, giant slides, wagon rides and, of course, a pumpkin patch.

The Richardson adventure farm also has a Christmas tree farm during the holiday season. The farm is open Thursday through Sunday through Nov. 7. On Thursdays, the farm is open from 3-9 p.m. then from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

halloween g5a7c2d7e6 1280Ghost seekers will be excited to learn that Illinois now ranks fifth in ghost sightings in the U.S. A new study conducted by CardsChat.com that claims to have collected every reported ghost sighting since 1972 has found that Illinois has the fifth highest number of spirit sightings in the past 50 years. The group reported a total of 62,482 ghost sightings across the United States-showing at least 2,398 of those were at locations across Illinois. Other Midwestern states that made the list include Michigan at No. 4, Ohio at No. 3 and Indiana at No. 8. In 2012, Illinois sightings hit their highest number since 1972 with 3,697 reported sightings. However, that number has dropped in the last decade, going from 1,297 reported sightings in 2016 to only nine reported sightings in 2020. According to votes taken by participants in the study, the DeSoto House Hotel in Galena was voted as the spookiest spot in the state. Illinois not only has spooky places, it also has some scary ghost stories.

One of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois is the story of the “Resurrection Mary,” a story which fits into the broader category of urban legend known as the “vanishing hitchhiker” myth. The story takes place on the roads near Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, located a few miles southwest of Chicago. Since the 1930s, several men driving northeast along Archer Avenue between the Willowbrook Ballroom and Resurrection Cemetery have reported picking up a young female hitchhiker. This young woman is usually wearing a white party dress and is said to have light blond hair and blue eyes. There are other reports that she wears a thin shawl, dancing shoes, carries a small purse, and possibly that she is very quiet. When the driver nears the cemetery, the young woman asks to be let out. The woman then disappears into the cemetery never to be seen again.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, as Illinoisans get ready to celebrate Halloween dressed up as ghosts, they may be just as likely to run into the real thing.

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