That awesome new Cross at Crossroads
by Bill Wundram /Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa
There it loomed in the Illinois prairie
sky, like a skyscraper heading for the gray-cloud heavens.
It was peek-a-boo for a moment, a gentle curve and it was
gone from sight one afternoon this week. Then, it was back
again, the biggest cross you ever may see in America.
I first saw it when driving to Florida
through the snows of January; vowed to stop and look-close
when driving home in the alleged springtime of this April.
It is 198 feet high, which makes it about 20 stories tall,
with a cross-arm stretch of 113 feet, which is about 10 stories
Citizens of Effingham, Ill., built it
at the edge of a bean field for no other reason than to bring
hope and assurance to the 50,000 travelers who drive by it
every day at the crossroads of Interstates 57 and 70, giving
it the straight-forward name of the Cross at the Crossroads.
In one day, 35,000 vehicles will pass by the cross; in a
year, 18 million travelers.
Traveling Quad-Citizens are starkly aware
of the new cross on the prairie. It is on a main route to
and from the southland, about 250 miles south of the Q-C.
Snowbirds returning home at this season may likely cut off
at Exit 159 to look, to stretch their necks high toward the
sky in awe at this exceptional monument to hope, thanks,
decency and honesty.
Since the cross was raised last summer,
scores of cards, letters and e-mails have been received by
“This story is typical,” says
Tom Wright, who owns a furniture store in Effingham and is
one of the lay men and women on the non-profit Cross Foundation,
which administers the cross and raises funds. “A couple
wrote of traveling to the southland, at the crossroads of
marriage because of personal problems. They saw the cross
and overcame differences.”
Others write how the cross is a beacon
offering safety to their driving on the chancy interstates;
some claim a calming influence after seeing this immense
cross in the middle of nowhere.
It was a non-denominational cause, with
churches, civic groups and citizens dipping deep into pockets
to raise the nearly $1 million, which it cost. The cross
went up last summer after four years of planning and fund-raising.
Last autumn it was illuminated, visible for a dozen miles
in the flatland around Effingham.
It’s a nice town
of about 12,000, noted for its friendliness. Its only note
of fame, the reference librarian in the town, told me, “was
that terrible hospital fire in 1949 when 50 people died,
some of them newborns and their mothers.” It is not
to say that the cross is any sort of memorial to that terrible
tragedy, but the thought may linger.
“The real inspiration for the cross
was John Schultz, a retired seed company owner from Effingham,” says
the furniture store owner. “He was driving through
Groom, Texas, and spotted a gigantic cross. He thought, ‘Why
not one like it for Effingham?’ It was his idea; he
was one of the founders, and the cross plan was launched.
Statistics are mostly meaningless, easily
forgotten ... the 180 tons of steel used for the cross; the
33 tons of steel footings. What counts are the cars and people
who may receive some comfort from the cross. One group of
travelers, who missed the flight from Boston that struck
one of the World Trade Center twin towers, was driving south
and stopped at the cross to touch it and give thanks for
their escape from death.
The Cross Foundation,
which administers the project, has a Web site (http://www.crossusa.org)
and an enthusiastic group of supporters, Protestant and
Catholic clergy, teachers and business people. The foundation — staffed
by volunteers —has ambitious plans.
Stations of the
Cross, with audio narration, are next, followed by a small
chapel and an amphitheater. A volunteer says, “The cross is new, but already is
getting much attention.” A group of Corvette owners
held services there last year, appropriate for all those
wheels because it is so close to the interstates.