Summer road travelers in the Midwest who prefer exploring offbeat attractions along the way rather than simply driving from point A to point B can find some treats in the following books.
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Haunted Route 66: Ghosts of America's Legendary Highway by Richard Southall, Llewellyn, 240 pages, $15.99
Southall, a paranormal investigator and co-creator of a haunted walking tour of Parkersburg, W.V., scares up ghost stories associated with locations along legendary Route 66. Chicago is well represented. The next time you visit the Water Tower, one of the few structures that survived the Great Chicago Fire, look for the ghost of a firefighter who, despairing that he would not be able to stop the conflagration, hung himself near the top of the tower.
Before taking his tale west to California, Southall writes of such Chicago haunts as the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was gunned down in 1934; and the site on Clark Street where the famous 1929 gangland killings called the St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in the long-gone SMC Cartage Co. garage. One of the intriguing detours along the way westward is in Columbus, Kan., where legend has it that the spirits of a Native American couple from different tribes who reportedly killed themselves rather than be separated flicker as "spook lights."
Missouri's Wicked Route 66: Gangsters and Outlaws on the Mother Road, by Lisa Livingston-Martin, The History Press, 128 pages, $19.99
Livingston-Martin follows some of America's most notorious criminals, including Bonnie and Clyde, across Missouri stretches of Route 66. One intriguing personality is Dr. Francis J. Tumblety, a quack doctor and con artist with a collection of women's uteruses and a distinct hatred of prostitutes. He lived in St. Louis for a time, but was in London's Whitechapel area at the time that Jack the Ripper was terrifying the city, and was considered a strong suspect by Scotland Yard (the Ripper's suspected victims included prostitutes, and he sometimes removed their reproductive organs). Intriguingly, Livingston-Martin writes, a letter left behind by Tumblety gave "From Hell" as a return address — just as a letter thought to have been mailed by Jack the Ripper did.
Livingston-Martin also ventures into Galena, Kan., the site of the Murder Bordello. It was operated by the Steffleback clan, who lured miners to their house of ill repute and then robbed and killed them. Abandoned, it is being refurbished and will open soon to the public as the Galena Haunted Bordello. It is across the street from Cars on the Route, a roadside diner and souvenir shop graced by the presence of the 1951 tow truck that inspired the character Mater in "Cars." (That's for folks who like their Route 66 excursions to be more family-friendly.)
Traveling Through Illinois: Stories of I-55 Landmarks and Landscapes Between Chicago & and St. Louis by LuAnn Cadden and Ted Cable, The History Press, 192 pages, $19.99
Steven Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in this revelatory mile-by-mile St. Louis-to-Chicago guide to the hidden treasures and small-town charms along Interstate Highway 55. The authors aim to "provide commuters a refreshing new perspective of the highway you travel each day." For example, at mile 147, follow the sign for "Pure Maple Sirup" (the original spelling) that will take you to Funks Grove, which has been selling the sticky sweet stuff since 1824. At Mile 123 is Lincoln, Ill., the only town named for Abraham Lincoln before he was elected president.
Roadside Baseball: The Locations of America's Baseball Landmarks, Second Edition, by Chris Epting, Santa Monica Press, 312 pages, $16.95
Here's the pitch: Epting looks beyond Cooperstown and America's major and minor league ballparks to preserve baseball's storied past in "out-of-the-way spots and near-forgotten sandlots." The lineup includes Postville Park in Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln played a form of ball game; the site of the former Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., where Lou Gehrig played his last game; and League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., where scenes for "A League of Their Own" were filmed. Chicago's ballparks are included, of course, but so is the Cook County Criminal Court Building at 54 W. Hubbard St., where eight Chicago White Sox baseball players infamously went on trial in 1921 for intentionally losing games in the 1919 World Series.
Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways, by Terri Peterson Smith, Chicago Review Press, 304 pages, $16.95
This is a book on road trips inspired by literary works, with reading lists and itineraries for three-day "lit trips" to 15 U.S. destinations. Chicago's contribution is the Jackson Park site of the 1893 Chicago world's fair, chronicled in Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City."
Donald Liebenson writes features with an emphasis on culture, community and entertainment.