Don’t Forget These Famous People From “Forgottonia”

Published on May 9, 2024

Today, May 9, 2024, Macomb, Ill., debuts Macombopoly, the world’s largest Monopoly game, in its Courthouse Square that can be played through eATLAS. The date was chosen because it’s the 158th birthday of Macomb native Lizzie Magie, who invented the precursor to the game and modeled the board on her hometown. After playing Macombopoly, check out our other Adventures, which are dedicated to Abraham Lincoln’s history in Macomb and the city’s many murals.

By Dave Lifton (@daveeatschicago)

Monopoly may be the most famous thing to come from Macomb, but Lizzie Magie’s creation isn’t the only one. Despite its small size, it, and the entire ‘Forgottonia’ region, has produced its share of people who went on to achieve greatness during their lives. Among them:

C.T. Vivian became part of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s close circle in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He organized and led marches, sit-ins, boycotts, and voter registration drives. President Obama awarded Vivian the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. His boyhood home on E. Adams St. was declared an Illinois State Historical Site shortly after his death in 2020.

In 1917, bacteriologist Dr. Ruth May Tunnicliff created the first serum to prevent measles, and worked towards eradicating other infectious diseases. Her name and accomplishments are among the women on the ‘Facing the Storm’ statue dedicated to women activists from Macomb in Chandler Park.  

“Big” Al Sears cut his teeth in the ‘30s and ‘40s playing saxophone with Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, and other bandleaders. His tenor solo on Johnny Hodges’ “Castle Rock” helped jump blues morph into R&B, and he played in the house band at Alan Freed’s rock ‘n roll shows. Later, he became one of the first African Americans to become a music industry executive.

Macomb native Robert “Red” Miller spent 16 years as an offensive line coach for five AFL and NFL teams before being given the chance to helm the Denver Broncos in 1977. In his first season, the “Orange Crush” went 12-2 and reached Super Bowl XII, but lost to the Dallas Cowboys.

The baseball field at Macomb High School is named after Phil Bradley, who played left field for the Seattle Mariners from 1983-87, and also spent time with four other teams before retiring in 1991. In his career, he compiled a .286 average, with 78 home runs and 155 stolen bases, and was an All-Star in 1985.

During Prohibition, Thomas Henry “Kelly” Wagle of nearby Colchester supplied McDonough County with liquor directly from Al Capone. He was killed on the streets of his hometown in 1929, and the murder remains unsolved. His life is the subject of local historian John Hallwas’ book The Bootlegger: A Story of Small-Town America and a 2016 documentary by Macomb’s Ryan Walker.

In Bushnell, 15 miles from Macomb, John and Henry Nagel figured out a process for removing an oat grain from its hull by rolling it rather than steaming it. After patenting their invention in 1901, they sold it to the Quaker Oats Company, who turned It into an iconic American brand.

Bushnell is also responsible for Earl Sheely, a first baseman for the White Sox from 1921-27, who also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Braves before retiring in 1931. A lifetime .300 hitter, he finished sixth in the American League MVP voting after a season where he batted .315 with 189 hits and 111 RBIs.

For 13 years, journalist Todd S. Purdum was the White House correspondent for the New York Times. From there, he went on to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and Politico, and is the author of several books. He is considered to be the inspiration for Danny Concannon, a recurring character played by Timothy Busfield on “The West Wing”.

While still a teenager, violinist Benny Kim made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Since graduating from the Julliard School, he’s played some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world with his 1732 Stradivarius, which he purchased with help from residents of Macomb. He’s currently a member of the Miami String Quartet and an associate professor of violin at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Olan Soule, a native of La Harpe, might not have been a household name, but he racked up credits in roughly 7,250 radio shows, commercials, television shows and films in a 58-year career. His versatility allowed him to play roles ranging from the choir director on The Andy Griffith Show to a lab technician on Dragnet to an animated version of Batman.

In addition, many notable people spent their formative years in Macomb while attending WIU. This list includes actors such as John Mahoney, Burl Ives, and Michael Boatman; football players Rodney Harrison and Mike Wagner; baseball players Rick and Paul Reuschel; and political pundit Mary Matalin. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Adventure starts when you say it does.

All eATLAS Adventures are designed and built by experienced eATLAS Whoa!Guides. They're always on. Always entertaining. And always ready to go.

Check out our Adventures!