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Articles & Local History > Tampico & Lyndon

RELATED LINKS: Be sure to check out Christine Walters articles on this infamous character, "Handsome Jack" on ILgenealogytrails. Click here


Posted Online: June 5, 2006

TRAVEL REVIEW: Where the Gipper first went 'Goo-Goo'
DAN CHURNEY, danc@mywebtimes.com, (815) 431-4050

TAMPICO -- I enjoy stumbling upon historic attractions -- it's more fun that way, a surprise -- rather than deliberately planning a trip.
Last week, I drove to Lyndon, in northwestern Illinois. My mission? To snap a photo of the grave of a Capone-era gunman, John "Handsome Jack" Klutas, to send to an Iowa author as a favor.

On my way to visit Handsome Jack, who, by the way died from a bad case of police bullets in 1934 -- a common affliction for men of Jack's calling in those days -- I drove Route 92 through gently rolling fields, until I came to Route 172 and a sign reading "Tampico: Birthplace of Ronald Reagan."

Handsome Jack would have to wait -- he wasn't going anywhere anyway. The Gipper was going to come first.

Tampico boasts about 833 residents, a few hundred shy of the number living there when its most important resident ever was there -- Ronald Wilson Reagan, Hollywood thespian and 40th U.S. president.

In 1911, Reagan's parents were living in a second-story apartment above a bakery in downtown Tampico when their second son, Ronald, was born in the apartment. The family lived there only another three months, before moving a few blocks to a two-story house. The Reagans lived in Tampico off and on for the next nine years, before moving to Dixon.

The apartment and house are worth a look, but for different reasons.

First the house.

The house, which is covered with old-style aluminum siding, is privately owned and not open to the public, but a sign is posted in the front yard saying it is Reagan's boyhood home. On the day I drove by, several toys and other items were strewn about the lawn -- not a particularly dignified image for a home where a president grew up. The house is interesting to see for that reason.

The apartment is better.

To get to the apartment, I first entered a visitors center, which is crammed with Reagan memorabilia -- postcards, photographs, movie posters. During my visit, the center was staffed by a lady by the name of Joan Johnson, who took joy in her job. She took me through the upstairs apartment, which is filled with furniture from the same period as when the Reagans lived there.

A small bedroom at the front of the apartment is where the 10-pound future president came into the world. At the rear of the residence, is a window that opens onto another apartment. Johnson said Reagan's mother and the neighbor woman exchanged their babies through the opening as they took turns baby-sitting.

Johnson said the center has drawn as many as 20 visitors per day, but usually less, which means you'll likely get Johnson's entire attention. Many of those who stop are Reagan fans, according to Johnson, with quite a few traveling from Washington, D.C.

Reagan himself visited Tampico several times after he attained fame, with the last occasion occurring in 1992, three years after he left the Oval Office. A shag rug door mat, on which Reagan ceremoniously stepped that time, is on the floor of the visitors center.

As Reagan recedes further into history and his stature -- at least among his admirers grows -- I believe Tampico's popularity will also grow.

Tampico was a nice stop. I signed the guest register and left, just as an Asian family arrived, and drove on to pay my delayed respects to Handsome Jack.

If you go...

Tampico is the second stop, coming from the north, on the Ronald Reagan Trail, which links Reagan-related sites from Dixon to Eureka.

The most direct route to Tampico is to go west on Interstate 80 to Route 40, then turn north and go to Route 92. Then turn north at Route 172. Tampico is a few miles north.

The village is about 70 miles northwest of Ottawa.

The visitors center and Reagan's birthplace are open 10-4, M-Sat. and 1-4 Sunday between April and November. Tours are also available by appointment by phoning (815) 438-2130

There is no charge, but donations are gladly accepted -- in fact, the center runs solely on donations.



TAMPICO AREA HISTORICAL SOCIETY - MUSEUM - FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY/RESEARCH CENTER  119 Main St., P. O. Box 154,  Tampico, IL  61283   www.tampicohistoricalsociety.com   tampicoareahistory@gmail.com  We are an all-volunteer organization so your donations are always appreciated!  Sign up to receive our e-newsletter. Thank you!  Visit us on FACEBOOK.