Capone and Clark draw a crowd to the Mill Museum on Route 66

Al Capone and David Clark attracted a crowd of approximately 66 people to the Mill Museum in Lincoln, Illinois, on Saturday, July 13, for a day of events billed as "Capone and Cannoli." Al Capone, the famous mob boss, was the topic of an excellent and entertaining program presented by David Clark. Clark, aka the Windy City Road Warrior, is an expert on Route 66 + Chicago, the city he calls home. And the cannoli? A great Italian-style meal, with cannoli, of course, completed the day's events.

L to R David Clark, Geoff Ladd. All photos by
Cheryl Eichar Jett.
Geoff Ladd, Assistant Director of Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway and the driving force behind saving and then reopening the Mill, has been increasingly creative at holding events to support the former restaurant. This one has to top the list, at least so far. Drawing on Clark's expertise and popular programs on Capone, Ladd created an afternoon and evening of events related to the intersection of Capone, Route 66, and the City of Lincoln.

David Clark shows a photo of the Mill during his engaging
presentation on Al Capone and Route 66.
The first event of the day was the entertaining program that kept the crowd engaged. Clark used slides and video, pinpointing locations of Capone's activities along Illinois Route 66. The Mill was packed, reminding more than one of us of the wall-to-wall crowd of Route 66 enthusiasts and dignitaries at the Mill's official Grand Reopening on April 29, 2017. The Mill's gift shop did brisk business with souvenir t-shirts and other items, and the suggested donation of $6.60 per person helped to support the Mill's expenses.

Up next on the day's agenda was a caravan guided tour of historic sites, also with a suggested donation of $6.60. The tour began just south of Lincoln on a short stretch of original brick Route 66 paving near the "ghost bridge" - the early bridge that once carried Route 66 across Salt Creek. The decking is long gone, but the pillars remain. 

Also adjacent to the brick section is Holy Cross Cemetery, where "Coonhound" Johnny Schwenoa is buried. "Coonhound" was a colorful local character who, clearly, was a fan of hunting with coonhounds, but was also known as a local bootlegger and colleague of Al Capone, tying this tour stop in with the day's theme. By the way, two of the Mill's more famous customers during its early years was Schwenoa and Al Capone.

Geoff Ladd leads the tour group to Coonhound Johnny's
The grave of "Coonhound" Johnny Schwenoha.
The next stop was at the restored Tropics restaurant sign, which now stands at McDonald's, where the Tropics restaurant used to be. Another local connection is the fact that "Coonhound" Johnny Schwenoa's son Vincent was the original owner of the Tropics.

The beautifully restored Tropics sign.
Additional tour stops included the World's Largest Covered Wagon, just down the street from the Tropics sign and also on the Lincoln bypass alignment of Route 66; the historic Postville Courthouse; the Lincoln Chapel; the historic railroad station, now the home of Logan County Tourism; and the courthouse with the phone booth atop it.

Finally, the third event - the cannoli! The day was very hot, and everyone who stuck it out until dinnertime was probably more interested in a tall, cold drink and a cool place to sit down. But the dinner crowd summoned up their appetites appropriately! Sorrento's Pizzeria on the Lincoln downtown square hosted the dinner crowd, offering the "Capone Special" consisting of a two-topping pizza, "Capone Cigars" (pretzel sticks), and two...wait for it...cannoli! 

Sorrento's Pizzeria on the Lincoln square.
The historic venue now known as the Mill Museum opened as the Blue Mill, a local eatery on Route 66, on June 25, 1929. Its Dutch-themed design included continuously turning sails, blue trim on the building, blue-uniformed waitresses, and "Blue Mill" design china. Paul Coddington was the original owner, followed by Raymond and Fern Hickman in 1936, and Blossom and Albert Huffman in 1945. Many years of good business were followed by the addition of a "strange objects museum," a reputation for illegal gambling activity, and steady decline. The Mill closed in 1996 and stood deteriorating until 2006, when the fight to save it began.

For the whole story of the Mill's history, restoration, and reincarnation as a museum, plus ways to support the Mill and updates on events, please visit The Mill Museum on Route 66 Lincoln IL.


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