It's Kewanee's "Night Before
Christmas"...our own Gettysburg Address.
The impromptu speech by State Rep. Frank P.
Johnson (pictured to the right) rang through the chambers of the 66th Illinois
General Assembly in the spring of 1949 and declared for all to hear and know
that Henry County, and particularly Kewanee, was the Hog Capital of the World.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture had just
determined that the county had produced the most hogs in the nation in the
quadrennial census of agriculture.
There are those over the years who have doubted
that Johnson could have delivered such an eloquent oration "off the
cuff." But the Star Courier columnist had extensive experience on the
speaking circuit and traveled the country entertaining audiences with his
booming voice and masterful way with words.
It's therefore not surprising that he silenced
the knaves from Chicago districts who mocked him from the gallery and put to
rest once and for all those who would scoff at King Hog.
Imagine the tall, white-mane lawmaker from
Kewanee brought out of his seat by the squeals and hog calls that interspersed
the reading of the official resolution:
SPEAKER, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE HOUSE:
I had not intended to speak on this resolution - it speaks for
itself. But I was deeply pained, grieved and humiliated by the raucous
laughter and derisive jeers which greeted its reading.
"I would not be true to my district or to His imperial
Majesty King Hog, if I allowed those insults to go unanswered.
"It should not be necessary to remind you sons and
daughters of Illinois of the significance of this great championship which the
farms of Henry County have brought to our beloved state. The hog is the
very foundation of Illinois prosperity and has played a vital role in the
history, the economy and the development of this great state.
"Our pioneer forefathers who cleared the wilderness and
conquered these prairies were nourished and sustained on a diet of hog and
hominy. The boys in blue from Illinois who ran the batteries at Vicksburg,
scaled the heights of Lookout Mountain and marched with Sherman to the sea were
strengthened for those ordeals by rations of salt pork from the farms back home.
"We of this house take great pride in the ability of our
illustrious speaker, the Honorable Paul Powell. Whence came those sterling
qualities that have molded his granite character? He came from Johnson
County where they weaned their babies on bacon rind and his youthful years were
nurtured by a diet of hog jowls and turnip greens.
"We have praised our Illinois athletes for the great
victories they have brought to our state - and rightly so. May I remind
you that King Hog played an important role in those magnificent victories?
"We have been informed that the pictures of the Rose Bowl
game are to be shown to this assembly. Study these pictures and you will
observe a PIGSKIN in every play.
"And watch carefully for the dramatic climax of that
historic game. That climax came when a blond-haired youth from KEWANEE,
Illinois, the HOG CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, scampered over the California goal line
for the winning touchdown.
"you can appreciate Eddie Tunnicliff's magnificent
achievement when you understand that the tender years of his youth were
strengthened by daily breakfasts of Henry County bacon.
"And you, my colleagues from the Great city of Chicago who
grunted the loudest during the reading of the resolution, you in your innocence
may cherish the delusion that you have little in common with the Illinois
hog. I assure you that you do - PLENTY. Every city must have some
economic justification for its existence. That was true in the ancient
past and it is true today. Ships made Carthage. The wars made
Rome. Beer made Milwaukee. Gold made Nome. Cotton built
Atlanta. The harbor built New York. But good old Chicago was built
"Mr. Speaker, in view of these historic facts and economic
truths, I ask unanimous consent for the suspension of the rules and the
immediate consideration of this resolution."
There was no debate on the motion and the
resolution creating Kewanee as the Hog Capital of the World was immediately
adopted on a unanimous vote!