I recently finished reading Stu Fliege's, Tales & Trails of Illinois, which is a collection of often little-known historical events and personages. The stories are concise and well-written, and cover the full range of the state.
Two stories caught my attention. One was, "James Buchanan Eads and His Wonderful Bridge," and the other was, "Quincy's Pioneer in the Sky."
James Eads was born in 1820, and by the age of eighteen he had acquired what "formal" education he was going to have - an education that came from being allowed to read an employer's voluminous library. And with that knowledge in his head he went out to work on the Mississippi River where he became fascinated with salvage. Despite being told it couldn't be done he designed diving bells - successfully. For the Civil War he designed steam-powered, armoured warships to patrol the river. Then, this man, who had no engineering training, except for what he had taught himself, and what the Mississippi itself had taught him, decided to span that river so that St. Louis could have a bridge. He did it, using techniques then never truly heard of, and the Eads Bridge still stands today.
The other tale was about Thomas Scott Baldwin. He was an orphaned boy, who started gaining his fame when in his teens by doing high dives into the sawdust piled near the Mississippi River. He was agile and daring, and soon won a place for himself in a traveling circus. He moved on to balloons, then the first parachutes, trained the military in balloon use, flew dirigibles, and then airplanes. And passed at the age of 63 safely on the ground.
What caught my imagination with these two stories is that these were two individuals who had only the conviction of their skills and their creative ability to attain their goals.
Stories of individuals dreaming the "impossible" and then achieving it are necessary - they teach the children and remind the adults - that the creative spark, combined with determination, are vital elements in achieving just about anything. These individuals might be said to be creativity in its purest, most potent, form.
While I don't know who the current educational favorites are I know that after a while the same names and the same tales start to become tuned out. They are no longer really heard.
There are many forgotten pioneers who could offer potent tales. So I thought I would do my part in calling two, Mr. Eads and Mr. Baldwin, back into the limelight.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.