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 horizontally.

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 the city.

“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.

Why 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.


© 2005 The Effingham Cross Foundation