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Thread: Cairo, Illinois: worth the stop if I'm going in that direction?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Cairo, Illinois: worth the stop if I'm going in that direction?

    I may be making a cross-country road trip in a few weeks, where I'll be driving to the Southwest,. I'm looking at different routes incorporating as many Interstates I haven't traveled on as possible, and one of the routes takes me through Cairo, Illinois: Cyburbia's favorite ghost town.

    So, is Cairo worth the stop? A few concerns: I-64 west to I-67 south going to be about two hours longer compared to taking the more scenic Western Kentucky Parkway, I-24 and the Purchase Parkway. Is Cairo safe? It's discussed a lot on Cyburbia, but have any Cyburbians spent time in the town itself?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Safe? Compared to East St Louis or DT Detroit, or a coal mine, or...what?

    My father went to SIU for his undergrad there. It was the big city for southern Illinois. Excellent NPR station with great folk music all the time.

    Dan, you can't go wrong stopping in small towns and looking around. That's where you find the wrap-around front porches and five-calendar diners. And friendly folks who'll recognize that "you're not from around here," and open a conversation.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    Dan, you can't go wrong stopping in small towns and looking around. That's where you find the wrap-around front porches and five-calendar diners. And friendly folks who'll recognize that "you're not from around here," and open a conversation.
    Cairo doesn't have much of that left. It's known for being a modern-day ghost town with a very sad history. Essentially, racism and discrimination killed the place; in the 1960s, businesses closed rather than integrate, and the decline spiraled downward from there.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    I would visit Land Between the Lakes area and Paducah floodwall murals first then drive through Cairo to Fort Defiance Park (confluence of the great Ohio River and the mighty Mississippi River)
    or
    along I-64 at the Ohio River you could visit a certain Cyburbian Mod on a workday, then 2 hrs later by car but 1 hr later by the clock you could visit another certain Cyburbian.
    Last edited by JNA; 21 Oct 2008 at 11:59 PM.
    Oddball
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    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    I'd stop by if I was in the area. Really, how often would you find yourself anywhere near there again? Cairo (I think its pronounced Kay-ro) is about as far away from Chicago as you can get in Illinois. I don't know if you've read Bill Bryson's books, but the one on the U.S. mentions Cairo, not that it gives a ringing endorsement.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I would not hesitate to stop and walk around, but then again I've been known to walk around Downtown Gary too. I never get hassled but it may have something to do with me being 6'5" and keeping my 'grew up next to the projects' street smarts.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    The Wikipedia page shows some interesting images. Heck, I'd stop.

    If memory serves, it's near the "throwed rolls" restaurant place.

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    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    My father went to SIU for his undergrad there. It was the big city for southern Illinois. Excellent NPR station with great folk music all the time.
    Perhaps that was Carbondale. Cairo, to my knowledge, doesn't have a branch of SIU.

    I think that for urban decay/planning history considerations visiting is completely worth it.

    @HarryFossettsHat True! But the City did have an important role before the decline. I guess I was referring to the establishment of the town, its heyday, and then the subsequent decline as a history that planners are geeks about.
    Last edited by boiker; 22 Oct 2008 at 11:55 AM.
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    Perhaps that was Carbondale. Cairo, to my knowledge, doesn't have a branch of SIU.

    I think that for urban decay/planning history considerations visiting is completely worth it.
    Based on my limited knowledge and background reading about Cairo (er...wikipedia), is this an example of urban decline that was out of the control of town planning?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Thanks all! I think I'm going to make a stop there, but since I'll be arriving after sundown, it'll probably go something like this:

    1) Stay in Charleston, MO for the night
    2) Early in the morning, check out Cairo for a couple of hours.
    3) Drive back to the hotel and check out.
    4) Throwed rolls at Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO.
    5) Back on the road.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    I've got a 1940s travel guide to southern Illinois which includes Cairo. When my scanner decides to work again I'll post it here. You do want to know about its many attractions don't you?

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    The throwed rolls are known nation wide. Worthy of the stop in my book.

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    They are talking about Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, Missouri http://www.throwedrolls.com/
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    If you find yourself in Royalton while you're in the area (and if you do, you will be LOST!), that's the town my father grew up in. I think Cairo was a major city where we stayed or went through while visiting the G'rents.

    Also in the vicinity is a gignormous cross along the highway. Google sez it's in Effingham. http://www.thecross-photo.com/The_Cr...m_Illinois.htm Needs some wireless antennas, IMHO.

    St Louis? Ted Drewe's custard? The Mother Road? The Arch? (Gotta do that, too.)

    Or Memphis? The shrine is on Route 51 south of town. A gas station attendant, circa 1978, told my sister and me, "if you miss it, you deserve to." I liked Mud Island, the pyramid, and Beale Street.

    You want bad planning, check out West Memphis.

    Little Rock is sortof pretty. I know of a corporate campus you can flip off as you go by, on my behalf.

    Hope is a nice place to pick up a postcard. Hot Springs hosted Prairie Home Companion one time.

    Texarkana is interesting. It's a state law that you have to stop at the rest area and do a timer portrait by the WELCOME TO sign. (In fact, that may be a federal law.)

    Swing by a HEB and I'll tell ya a joke when you get back.

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Thanks all! I think I'm going to make a stop there, but since I'll be arriving after sundown, it'll probably go something like this:

    1) Stay in Charlkeston, MO for the night
    2) Early in the morning, check out Cairo for a couple of hours.
    3) Drive back to the hotel and check out.
    4) Throwed rolls at Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, MO.
    5) Back on the road.
    My wife is from East Praire Mo. (Same county as Charleston). So I have been there several times over the past 10 years.

    First, Cairo = DONT stop, and if you go through keep your doors locked. My gosh, this shell of a town is scary! But the island in the river (Fort Defiance State Park), between the bridges is sorta cool - the Ohio and Mississippi run together there.

    Charleston, only has hotels on the interstate, the downtown hotel is closed. I sugest staying in Sikeston. MUCH cleaner establishments.

    Lambert's is basically an expensive Cracker Barrel. Yes, they throw the rolls, but my wifes family wont even go there any more, and laughed at me the time I suggested we eat there. But, it is famous, so you should still eat there.

    New Madrid Mo. is neat. The Hunter Dawson House is an historic home there you can tour, and it is worth it. Also, downtown New Madrid has a cool river museum by the levy. And while you are there, hop on the levy and take a scenic drive.

    And Big Oak State park is ok.
    Last edited by H; 24 Oct 2008 at 12:23 PM.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    Wow even google confirms a lack of existence for the city site of Cay-ro! I wonder is it still a city or more a "colonia" lacking in many services, the median income is 25k!

  17. #17
    Dan, if you decide on the I-64 route, I'd be happy to meet up with you if you have time. We could run down to the Greenway and let Bailey and Guiness stretch their legs for a bit.

    If you don't have time, my building is the Stockholm-style four storey building on your right immediately after you cross the Sherman Minton Bridge. I'll be the one waving from a window on the Third Floor, near the north end of the building

    I would certainly visit Cairo -- when will you ever get a chance like that again?
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I think the route is going to be ...

    I-71: Cleveland OH to Louisville KY
    I-64: Louisville KY to Mt. Vernon IL
    I-57: Mt. Vernon IL to Sikeston MO
    (stop for the night somewhere around here)
    I-55: Sikeston MO to West Memphis AR
    I-40: West Memphis AR to Little Rock AR
    I-30: Little Rock AR to Dallas TX
    I-35: Dallas TX to Austin TX
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    Dan, some information for your trip:



    From a 1946 book, The Illinois Ozarks

  20. #20
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    My dogs exploring downtown Cairo. I wasn't worried about them, because there were no people around, and virtually no vehicular traffic. More photos to come in a new thread.

    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I looked through Dan's pictures. Holy cow, WTF happened?!?! Wiki wasn't much help. That's really depressing.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    I looked through Dan's pictures. Holy cow, WTF happened?!?! Wiki wasn't much help. That's really depressing.
    And I'm uploading more. They're in the gallery under the United States -> Illinois - Other section. I spent maybe an hour and a half there, but there's enough faded glory in the town to fill up a day or two of exploration. It really is a fascinating place, made even more so by the story of its decline and its current state.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  23. #23
    I was in Cairo in 2003. There are pictures in the Gallery

    If you want to read a fascinating book about Cairo, I would highly recommend you read this:



  24. #24
    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    I looked through Dan's pictures. Holy cow, WTF happened?!?! Wiki wasn't much help. That's really depressing.
    Basically from the book I read above it was a combination of a lot of things:

    Racism. Blacks made up almost 45% of the town after the Civil War and should have gotten representation in City government. Indeed in the era of reconstruction, they held several seats in council as a result of a district-based system of government. Socially, they enjoyed more latitude and mobility than their counterparts in other southern cities. But by the early 1900s racist whites eliminated ward-based council districts and made everything "at large". This stopped blacks from retaining any council seats simply because there was no way they could get a majority and eventually resulted in a deeply segregated town.

    Things got really ugly when KKK-like gangs such as the White Hats ran a campaign of terror during the 1960 and 1970s. Most people were afraid to leave their homes and this eventually lead to massive population loss. Snipers and nightly reports of gunfire made national headlines.

    Location: Though seemingly an ideal location due to its location at a major confluence, the town was always susceptible to flooding.

    Civil War. The Civil War did two things. It brought a whole host of undesirable characters - prostitutes, predatory opportunists, gamblers - etc. that catered to the huge influx of soldiers in the town and stayed on long after Appomattox. It is estimated that over 1000 prostitutes lived in the down during by 1930s. Also the blockade of the Mississippi River resulted in the loss of that river's prominence as a major transportation conduit, never to be regained. Railroads well to the north of Cairo took freight traffic away from the Mississippi, spelling doom for Cairo as a major transportation hub.

    Good-Old-Boyism. The dark political forces of Cairo maintained a stranglehold on the town beginning in the early 1900s, running Cairo in their interest and to their political or economic gain, oppressing poor blacks as well as whites. They were deeply ignorant, mostly Republican - good ol' boys, the epitome of the worst southern stereotypes. Figureheads such as the mayor cow-towed to powerful bulllike men who ran Cairo to their sole benefit well into the late 20th Century.

    Illinois. To most of the rest of the Illinois, the southern boundary of the state is Carbondale, not Cairo, and the powers-that-be in Springfield and Chicago relegated resources accordingly.

  25. #25
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    You want bad planning, check out West Memphis.

    [snip]

    Swing by a HEB and I'll tell ya a joke when you get back.
    West Memphis: I've been meaning to start a thread on towns like that, called "Glorified truck stops" - cities that are really just function as ginormious truck stops, such as West Memphis and Mt. Vernon, Illinois. "Wow, a T of A, Flying J, Petro and Pilot at one exit ... who woulda'a thunk ..."

    HEB: Yes, there really are Texas-shaped corn chips there. I literally LOLed when I saw the display, but then I bought a bag.

    I encourage everyone to check out SAC's Cairo photos, too. Like I said, a few hours in town really isn't enough to capture the place. It's amazing: gorgeous churches everywhere, a beautiful neighborhood following brick-paved Washington Avenue, a built environment that seems more like that of an urban neighborhood than a rural Illinois town, all enveloped by a history and character that is tragic and depressing. If any community attempted for years to commit collective suicide, it's Cairo.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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