Prairie Center: Peoria and the “Fat Beasts”

I’ve never spent time in the “Midwest” before and it’s been unusual approaching a city and landscape that I feel no personal or historical connections to. As a lover and studier of place, that makes my 10-week stay here in Peoria a little like a tabula rasa and I’m all for it. When else do I get to discover, whole cloth, a place I have no associations about? No stereotypes, no particular personal memories that sway my opinion, no political grudges or past wrongs. Just: the Midwest. This big part of the country I’ve never really thought about much before.

To get a few things straight, I had to figure out the origin of the name “Peoria,” and leave it to the local public library for that information. Here’s an excerpt from what I found:
Name for the Peoria, one of the tribes of the Illinois Confederacy. In the 17th and 18th Centuries the tribal name appears in more than fifty different spellings…Over the years there have been at least seven meanings proposed: “runaways or seceders,” “carriers or packers,” “he comes carrying a pack on his back,” “a place where there are fat beasts,” “prairie fire,” “turkey,” and the personal name of a Native American leader…After a comprehensive account of the interpretations of the name, [it was] concluded, “The meaning of Peoria is an unsolved, and perhaps unsolvable, mystery.”
While I found this entertaining (especially the thought of those “fat beasts”), I didn’t come away from my research feeling like I understood much more about what it means to actually be shaped by Midwestern culture, or to identify as “Midwestern.” For that, I informally interviewed dear friend and ceramic artist Lisa Gluckin, who lives in North Carolina but grew up in Peoria, Illinois–not far from the very streets I’m overlooking right now. If at all possible, I’ll publish her responses on Sunday night.

  • Annette Bridges

    Being from Saint Louis, makes me from the middle of the midwest. It is a dististinction which inspires mixed emotion. As a youth, I rebeled against the blandness, the sameness of midwestern culture. By the time anything hip, or happening reached the center from the coasts, it was already passe. Though compared to Peoria, St. Louis, is a major metropolis, it retains a small time, small town mediocracy. As an adult, I have been able to releive the plainess of the plains by traveling to other elevations.

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