Sunday, July 31, 2011

Historic Route 66: Attack of the Gemini Giant!

The small town of Wilmington, IL doesn't have a skyline — but it is home to a towering figure that has been drawing tourists for a half-century: the 30-foot-tall "Gemini Giant" statue that stands in the parking lot of the Launching Pad Drive-In restaurant.

The Launching Pad (and the "Giant") have been a fixture on old Route 66 since 1960. I decided to take my son (who called the "Giant" a "Space Ranger") out to the "Pad" for lunch today, as Wilmington is only a scenic 30-minute ride from our house.

As you can see from some of the photos I shot here, the Launching Pad is a venerable museum to Route 66. In fact, during our short meal (I highly recommend their "Double Whopper" burger) several tourists stopped by to photograph the restaurant and the "Giant" statue. This included a middle-aged couple from German who appeared to be hiking the old Route 66 in today's 90-plus-degree heat.

The town of Wilmington, which sits on the Kankakee River, was founded in 1836 (originally called Winchester) and initially grew up around the Chicago and Alton railroad and, later, Route 66. Today, Wilmington is a town of about 5,000 people and hosts the annual "Catfish Days" Festival (I actually once marched in the festival parade while working for a local political candidate.)

The small downtown area of Wilmington features a number of antique shops, as well as the now-deserted Eagle Hotel, which was constructed in 1836. Here is a photo I snapped of the hotel today.

Wilmington is also home to the Mar Theatre, opened in 1937,which, as you can see from the photo I took today, is still going strong.

Wilmington is yet another little Route 66 gem, and one of the fun, quick day trips that lie just minutes away from our driveways. I'm learning to get out and explore these historic spots — and I highly recommend you do the same.

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