Laetitia and her group left Marion and drove over to Cave-in-Rock State Park. The cave is shallow, with a large opening, facing the Ohio River. During the nineteenth century, it was a haven for river pirates, who preyed on river traffic, often using women to beckon the river boaters to the cave so they could be robbed and often murdered.
Next the group went to Junction, Illinois, which is a small town of about 140 people near the Saline River. The river was named for a salt marsh located near its mouth. Salt was essential for preserving food, and this area supplied the mineral to much of the Northwest Territory. Junction’s most famous landmark is the Crenshaw Mansion, built in 1842 by John Crenshaw, who owned slaves who harvested salt from nearby saline wells. In addition to owning slaves himself, Crenshaw captured free blacks and sold them back into slavery.
Afterward the group moved on to Old Shawneetown. It claims to be the oldest town in Illinois, rivaled only by Prairie du Rocher over on the Mississippi River. It was an important Northwest Territory government center following the Revolutionary War. The first Illinois bank was chartered in Shawneetown in 1812. There is a local legend that the founders of Chicago sought investment from the bank to build their new city and were turned down because the site was not on a major navigable river.
Old Shawneetown was a wild place in the 1950s and 1960s, close enough to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to attract “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division to cross the river for a wild weekend. Laetitia’s Uncle Ralph had been there a few times when he was a young man. He had a story about going into the men’s restroom at Bishop’s Tavern and finding the stool ripped out and everyone using the hole in the floor as a urinal.
Laetitia went to happy hour at one of the Old Shawneetown bars, where she heard some gossip about a local lothario named Brad. It became the limerick of the day.
With cloying words oozing with unction
And sadly bereft of compunction
Brad sought to beguile
With his winning smile
The ladies from over in Junction.