Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Touring: Batavia, IL

My sister is the Keeper of our family's haute culture, and the Keeper of our Family History.  So when she visited, it was a foregone conclusion that we would "do" the Art Institute, and gravesites.  To be fair, it doesn't take much persuading to get me to visit the Art Institute repeatedly.  Especially the new Modern Wing.  And of course we took my Mustang, top down, to the gravesites.  It's an excellent way to visit long-dead ancestors.  ;-)

It turns out that our family has a long, but mostly incidental, connection with Chicago.  We seem to circle it like a Sioux war party.  We have approached it from St. Louis, New York State, Michigan, and Ohio.  Sometimes we stay for as long as a generation, but then we leave again.

My father and his sisters were raised here.  That's because my grandfather, who was raised in Michigan, got a job and married and settled in Chicago around 1920.  My grandfather and grandmother are buried in Chicagoland, but they retired to Chapel Hill, NC, and came back only to visit.  My father and his sisters left when they went to college.  One aunt and her husband lived here for a few years after World War Two, but he moved the family to the Atlanta area in the early 1950's to start his own business.  My extended family is now scattered across the U.S.  I'm the only one in Chicago, and am here only because my employer sent me 25 years ago.

But Amelia Ann and her daughter, Helen, four and five generations removed from me, are buried in a Batavia, IL, cemetery.  Why?  Because Helen had some kind of mental illness and was sent to the Bellevue Sanitarium by her husband from their home in St. Louis.  Amelia, widowed early in New York State, later moved to Batavia to be near Helen.  Her move may have had as much to do with being lonely as with caregiving.  We don't know.  They lived out their lives in Batavia.

We found the graves of Helen and Amelia in a Batavia cemetery without difficulty.  The layout of the cemetery and
locations of graves are clearly marked at a Visitors' Center kiosk.

Bellevue Sanitarium in Batavia, IL.  It was one of the foremost facilities for the mentally ill in the U.S. in the last half
of the 19th Century.  This was where Robert Lincoln had his mother, Mary Lincoln, involuntarily confined after a
trial that fell far short of modern procedural safeguards.  She was eventually released and spent her final years
with a Todd sister in Springfield.  My sister has been unable to learn more about our distant aunt's time here
because all of Bellevue's records were purchased by a private collector to get Mary Lincoln's file.  My sister
advises that Bellevue was more a "rest home for women with any kind of affliction" than a mental hospital.
Its current, local, reputation has been the latter.  Which may have a lot to do with Mary Lincoln being,
so to speak, its Star Patient.  Today Bellevue is part of an upscale apartment/condo complex.

Amelia Ann in middle age.  My own daughter has the same name, not because of family
tradition, but simply because my ex-wife and I both liked the name.  Anne as a middle
name has family tradition behind it--on the other side of my family.  Six generations
separate the Amelias, with no namesakes in between.  What are the odds?

There is no shortage of good Mexican restaurants in Chicagoland.  Including, of course, Chef Rick Bayless's nationally-known Frontera Grill downtown.  You can get an indifferent Mexican meal here, but it's pretty hard to get a bad one.  My sister and I took a chance on a small storefront in a strip mall in downtown Batavia, and hit the jackpot:

El Sazon in downtown Batavia.  It's short on ambience (formica tables, for example) but the food is outstanding.
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, "I'll be back."

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