Along the Mississippi River, across from St. Louis, Missouri, lies Madison County, Illinois. Part of the Metro-East region comprising various counties on both sides of the Mississippi River, Madison County is home to a number of cities, villages, and townships that speak to the larger history of the state of Illinois and the land on which it stands. Established on September 14, 1812, the county was named for President James Madison and initially included the modern state of Illinois north of St. Louis as well as all of Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Over time, this enormous jurisdiction would be reduced to its present size of 741 square miles. An industrial region since the late 1800s, the area was first populated by the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Native American Mississippian culture – Cahokia. Containing about 80 humanmade earthen mounds near Collinsville, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is now a National Historic Landmark and one of the 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.
In the last 250 years, Madison County’s advantageous position next to the Mississippi River has allowed it to bear witness to a variety of notable people and events in United States history. Camp Dubois, the winter camp and launch-point for the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, lies within the county, as did the original City Hall in Alton, which hosted the last of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates on October 15, 1858. The Madison County Historical Society seeks to preserve the wonderful history of the county through their mission of “Opening Doors to Madison County History.” The digital collections shared with the IDHH certainly fulfill this mission, as they provide insight into the lives of 19th-century women through a series of private letters (Private and Real), the experiences of an American nurse serving in France during World War I (In Her Own Words), and the ways in which Madison County has changed over the years (Picturing the History of Madison County).
Join us in offering a warm welcome to the Madison County Historical Society, and enjoy a few of our favorite items from their collections below:
As the weather and humidity in central Illinois make it feel more and more like the temperature is over 100°F outside, the IDHH is highlighting the proverbial “dog days” of summer. While the phrase “dog days” or “dog days of summer” might be somewhat familiar, just what are these days and how did this expression enter our cultural lexicon? From an astronomical point of view, the phrase refers to the annual phenomenon in which the bright star Sirius rises into the sky at the same time as the Sun. This heliacal rising allows viewers to see both the Sun and the Sirius star simultaneously, leading to the belief that Sirius intensified or added to the Sun’s heat. In the Northern Hemisphere, this simultaneous rising may be seen during the hottest months of the year, in July and August.
Hellenistic astrologers in the Mediterranean were aware of the star Sirius, calling it the “Dog Star” due to the way it followed the constellation Orion into the night sky. The sweltering and humid weather in the Mediterranean during these months would often cause people to fall ill, and so the connection was made between Sirius’ heliacal rising and its effect on the populations below. A variety of detrimental effects to human activities were attributed with Sirius’ rising such as lethargy, fever, and bad luck, as well as the belief that this hot period brought out madness in dogs, further reinforcing the notion of the “dog days”. While we may no longer blame a summer fever on the “dog days of summer”, there is no denying the potent influence of a heat wave in July to inspire lazy dreams of a nice afternoon spent on the water. Between numerous lakes and ponds, miles of river, and spots like Navy Pier on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinoisians have plenty of ways to cool down during the hot summer.
Below are a few of our favorite items highlighting ways to enjoy the “dog days of summer” and beat the heat: