My wife came home after walking the dog on Sunday and told me that one of her favorite neighborhood dogs had died. She said his owners now have another dog whose name is Logan. I replied, "Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois." She had no clue. Didn't they teach you the Illinois state song in school? Nope. I tried the opening lines, because surely everyone knows those: "By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois/O'er thy prairies verdant growing, Illinois Illinois." Not ringing a bell. I was stunned. I learned that song when I learned such trivia as the state bird (cardinal), state tree (white oak), state flower (violet), etc. It was all in a free book, although the lyrics of the song may have been a separate handout. Here is the Illinois Handbook of Government 2003-2004 online. You can download just the official state symbols or the whole thing (3.2 MB).
Okay, but who the heck was Logan anyway? They never taught me that.
John A. Logan was born in Murphysboro, IL. A U.S. Representative prior to the Civil War, he resigned from Congress to serve as a general in the Union Army. A speech he gave in Marion is credited with keeping southernmost Illinois in the Union when there had been talk of secession. Indeed, Logan was to southern Illinois what Ulysses S. Grant was to northern Illinois. After the war, Logan was elected again to two terms in the House. Then he became a Senator.
His most lasting legacy is Memorial Day. While scattered communities honored Civil War dead earlier, it was the 1868 General Order by Logan, then Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (a powerful Union veteran's organization), that designated a national day. It was known as Decoration Day because the graves of soldiers were to be strewn with flowers or otherwise decorated. He poignantly wrote
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.Logan has been largely forgotten, even here in Illinois. Most Chicagoans don't even know him, although many have seen his statue in Grant Park, and some might guess correctly that Logan Boulevard and Logan Square were named for him. In southern Illinois, John A. Logan College is located halfway between Marion and Carbondale, and General John A. Logan Museum is in Murphysboro.