Tune in to University Television this weekend to celebrate the premier of a locally crafted miniseries.
On Saturday, at both 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., enjoy the first hour of “Macomb’s Historic Places with Dr. John Hallwas.” The second hour premiers on Sunday, Dec. 6; the third hour on Monday, Dec. 7:, both showing at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. All three segments can be seen at various times thereafter.
A Distinguished Professor Emeritus at WIU, Hallwas is a historian who’s dedicated long, passionate hours to the lively study of McDonough County and Macomb. To share the results of that research, he’s authored numerous books, including “Dime Novel Desperados” and the recent “Remembering McDonough County.” You’ve no doubt already seen on University Television at least part of his eight-part interview series with Gordy Taylor entitled “A History of Western Illinois University.”
Hallwas was an undergrad at WIU during the Sixties and taught in the English Department for many years. The warmth and charm of this miniseries springs from his amiable demeanor and his enthusiasm as he reveals Macomb’s secrets that hide in plain sight.
Part 1 brings to life “Macomb’s Historic Downtown.” Watch Hallwas walk the Square as you have – except now you’ll live and breathe with him almost two hundred years of history. Like an eager detective on the trail of notorious murder, Hallwas draws us in as he uncovers a dilapidated bedroom in the old Randolph House -- where Lincoln slept in 1858 during the historic Lincoln/Douglas debates. Another highlight is John’s climb into the Courthouse’s cupola -- where he examines the clock mechanism and bell cast in 1871. At the Western Illinois Museum, the artifacts of our past come to life through John’s inquisitive eyes and fervent voice. Now I’ll make sure to visit this local tourist trap.
Part 2 highlights “Western’s Historic Campus.” Hallwas’ keenness -- to show you the often forgotten outdoor theater in the Ravine, and the neglected auditorium on the third floor of Sherman Hall -- is heart warming. When he climbs into Sherman’s old fashioned bank vault with WIU President Al Goldfarb, John makes you feel like a kid discovering a lost room in the attic. You’ll also learn whom Lake Ruth was really named after. I found particularly involving Hallwas’ tour of Simpkins Hall -- where he taught for many years, and where I was a student and instructor too long ago.
Part 3 memorializes “Historic Oakwood Cemetery.” Could there be a better place for a history buff like Hallwas to prove his intrigue with the past? To illustrate Macomb’s history of racial segregation, he marches into a corner that’s home to our Potter’s Field. Then there are the graves of those who championed the Underground Railroad, and the tombstones dedicated to Macomb’s Civil War heroes. Memorializing other fallen heroes as well, John also highlights the burial place of the cemetery’s founder William Randolph, the victim in a headline grabbing murder. Most intriguing is Hallwas’ tour of Oakwood Abbey: a mausoleum which holds the crypt of Macomb’s most famous 20th century resident.
A theme throughout the three parts is the town/gown alliance that has been so beneficial to Macomb. This miniseries is a testament to that. A big step on the road to having the Square designated as a national historic district, “Macomb’s Historic Places” is also a notable step forward for University Television. Not bound to in-studio interviews, this production takes us on location in the bright sunshine of our home town. Director/producer Roger Kent keeps the action lively and the production values top notch. Kathy Nichols provided archival photographs that bring the past alive.
Thanks to the WIU Foundation and McDonough County Historical Society for their sponsorship, and executive producer Al Goldfarb for his expertise. Tune in this weekend and discover Macomb’s hidden history with a master detective, Dr. John Hallwas.