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April 25, 2006

Searching for Cairo

By Carla Thornquist

People often write to Cairo requesting links to information about Cairo. Below is a list of links to a diverse range of sites which mention Cairo.

When searching for a category as broad as a town, it helps to skip the sponsored links and nationwide directories. They tend to have little useful information. Also, you will get different results if you search for "Cairo, IL" versus "Cairo, Illinois."

Try using keywords such as "Cairo," plus "rv" or "bicyclist" or "musician" in your search. If you use such broad terms as "Cairo, IL," the result will be dozens of pages filled with national directories and websites unrelated to Cairo.

A sample of my search results:

--  Relics from the Cairo, IL, U.S. Weather Bureau regional office were on display at NOAA's Preserve America exhibit.

--  A photographer used a deteriorating building in downtown Cairo as the subject in "Many Windows."

--  I did not find moving to Cairo gut-wrenching, but this person assumes it must be, "The transition from suburb to a town like Celebration is not as gut-wrenching for these people as would be moving to say, Cairo, Ill." Read more of his assumptions. (Includes a large photo of downtown Cairo, of course.)

--   Actor Rex Ingram was born in Cairo on October 20, 1895

--   This guy couldn't wait to get out of Cairo. "I was hoping to grab a bite to eat here - it was about 7:30 - but honestly I didn't feel like sticking around long enough to eat. Sorry, Cairo Chamber of Commerce." Too bad for him, he would have discovered that Cairo has some exceptional restaurants.

--  Famous Beat poet, Ted Joans, was born in Cairo on July 4, 1928. "He studied trumpet, sang bebop, and earned a B.A. in Fine Arts from Indiana University before moving to Greenwich Village in 1951 and becoming a true bohemian. He was one of the original Beat poets, though you wouldn’t know it from most Beat anthologies. He was the author of over 30 books of poetry, prose, and collage, including Black Pow-Wow, Beat Funky Jazz Poems, Afrodisia, Jazz is Our Religion, Double Trouble, Wow, and Teducation. Joans was the granddaddy of bringing jazz and "spoken word" together on the bandstand. When his former roommate, the great saxophonist Charlie Parker, passed away in 1955, it was Joans who began scrawling "Bird Lives!" all over Lower Manhattan." -

--  The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary, later SNCC Chairman, now Congressman John Lewis, and others prayed during a demonstration in Cairo, 1962. See photo of John Lewis in Cairo by Danny Lyon.

--  View the Confluence of Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in 360 degrees at

--  Fletcher Farrar's essay about Cairo is very popular in the search engines. Mr. Farrar is president of Illinois Times Online website. Here is an excerpt: "Cairo has hosted presidents and hidden runaway slaves. It has been home to barbecue and the blues. The town is rich in African-American history. Its architecture is as pleasing as it is endangered. The citizens of Cairo aren't looking for a return to the glory days, but they do need a grant to demolish the old asbestos-plagued hospital. With some help and some luck, Cairo could become a nice bedroom community for the surrounding larger towns. And with some imagination and creativity, who knows? It might become much more." Read Mr. Farrar's essay, "Cairo Deserves Better"

--  Photographer Michael Eastman has a photo of downtown Cairo in the Bentley Gallery.

--  Photo of Barack Obama and some in attendance when he visited Cairo. Visit:

--  For those of you who, like myself, never had a chance to see the clock in downtown Cairo, there's a large photo of it at

--  Dave Kyle interviewed Ray Butts who moved to Cairo very young and grew up with the nickname “Genius”, for his interest in electronics. Mr. Butts is famous for his custom built EchoSonic amplifier and custom pickups. He owned Ray Butts Music for years in Cairo. Read interview at

--  The Library of Congress features a photo of a segregated swimming pool in Cairo, included in part of a limited edition portfolio that Danny Lyon produced to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the civil rights struggle. See

--  Traveler Sam West had good things to say about Fort Defiance. "There goes Illinois disappearing into both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers at the same time. This is a really cool state park!" I like his outlook. He camped along the river, amidst the barges. View Sam West's photolog.

--  "It is a ghost town as well, with scores of businesses boarded up, others still open but sitting closed on weekends, no residents sticking around to offer their patronage and certainly no out-of-towners bothering to wade through such a worthless hamlet."

And a reply on that blog, from someone who wasn't too afraid to meet the residents!

"I spent an entire week in Cairo photographing Commercial Street and other locations. It is not by any means a dangerous town. People there are very welcoming and helpful. By the way, Dickens and Trollope visited Cairo. I think it was the latter who called the place 'a dismal swamp' "

Posted by: David Hay Jones at November 20, 2005 03:33 PM

--  Illinois Issues Summer Book Section, "A tale of two towns," By CHERYL FRANK. Review of Ron Powers' "Far From Home: Life and Loss in Two American Towns."

"Cairo, Ill., and Kent, Conn.: two small towns caught on either end of a post-modern twilight zone and portrayed by peripatetic reporter-writer Ron Powers. Far From Home is an example of reportage noir, a morality play about the dark underside of small town life — the influence of its power elites and the struggles of its people to overcome and endure." And,

"Here, also, are the tycoons and toadies of Cairo, and, yes, transcendental heroes like Richard 'Doc' Poston, who in his 70s came out of retirement as a former professor at Southern Illinois University and community organizer to save the town. Opposing Poston are the forces of evil — personified by magnate-millionaire Bill Wolter, overlord of this confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Wolter has purchased wharfage rights from the city and made out like a bandit, to the everlasting applause of his business ally, Mayor Al Moss."

Visit: to read the review and to purchase it

--  "I met Fenton Robinson in Cairo, Illinois around that time. He was about eighteen years old then. I left the little group I was in to go on this tour, and Fenton came in to take my place. I used to show him different stuff, techniques when he was getting started. He played in my place until I got back off the road. (Editor's note: Tom McFarland confirmed this story with Fenton Robinson, who spoke highly of L.V. as a mentor.)" From:

--  Charles A. Hayes grew up in Cairo:

22 mourn, along with his family and friends, the death of former
23 United States Representative Charles A. Hayes of Chicago,
24 Illinois; and be it further
25 RESOLVED, That a suitable copy of this resolution be
26 presented to the family of Charles A. Hayes.

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