Every state it passed through has a Route 66 museum except for Kansas, which reportedly has some tributes to “The Mother Road” along its 13 mile stretch. In the past year Ruth and I have been to 3 of them. The one in Kingman, Arizona, was the best. The Route 66 State Park in Missouri, the site of the Times Beach dioxin scare, was regionally satisfying. We stopped to see the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum in Pontiac, Illinois, in mid-summer and judged it the most comprehensive yet weakest of the 3.
66 wasn’t super either. It started in Illinois, its only state east of the Mississippi, in 1926 and was officially removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985. The original road was 2,448 miles long but only 18 feet wide, barely enough space for 2 cars to pass. The entire route wasn’t paved until 1938. It became four-lanes only after WW II.
The Pontiac Route 66 Museum is in an old firehouse at 110 West Howard Street. The Illinois Route 66 visitor’s guide says, “This facility tells the story of the people and places that have been inducted into the hall of fame.” And perhaps that’s its problem. Screaming clutter the minute I walked in, it suggests that thousands of Route 66 fans generously donated display items and nothing was refused or put away. It’s one of those 10 minute or 10 day kind of places, depending on your interest in the subject and tolerance for lack of simplicity.
Upstairs there’s more breathing room in a state-by-state photo journal display. Michael Campanelli’s artful images made me write in my travel log “nostalgia on speed” and want to go directly home and start remodeling my house.
By the time I found an unrelated-to-66, very stuffed, entire War Museum down some stairs I was zoning out. A display of 1940s period rooms, mannequins sporting era clothing, toys, games, paper dolls, etc., didn’t alter my zombie-like state. Encouraging visitors to “step back into history”, “Life in the 1940s” was like spending time in a forgotten attic full of birdcages, lamps, kitchen gadgets, etc. I suppose if you were highly interested in the subject or a still ambulatory adult of that era, you’d appreciate it.
My favorites in the entire museum were veritable icons of clutter but, at least, glimpses of a genuine Illinois character–Bob Waldmire. Between 1962 and his death in 2009, Bob was surely Route 66’s biggest fan. He literally spent his adult life getting his kicks on 66 in a 1964 Mustang, or a 1966 school bus he bought in 1987, or a 1972 Volkswagen van. That Bob was a bit eccentric became especially obvious when I stepped inside his bus/motor home where he drew and sold painstakingly detailed maps that reminded me of Mad Magazine and Robert Crumb.
For an extreme Route 66 fanatic, The Pontiac Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum might be 5 Compass. For me 3.