Getting high in Illinois

The tallest things hereabouts

click to enlarge Getting high in Illinois
Photo courtesy of the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau
A life-size statue of Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest person, stands in a park in Alton, his hometown. At 8’11”, the “Gentle Giant” suffered from an anomaly of his pituitary gland, causing his abnormal growth. He died of an infection at age 22.

Visitors from mountainous regions often marvel at the flat

ness of our prairie state, but they need to look up. Illinois is full of things that soar into the sky, and a trip around the state will yield plenty of sore necks, from tall buildings to natural wonders to quirky structures.

Here are some examples worthy of lifting eyes off the endless horizon.


Most Illinoisans know the Willis Tower in Chicago, built as the Sears Tower in 1973, is king among skyscrapers at 1,450 feet and 110 stories. It is the tallest building in Illinois and the second tallest in the Western Hemisphere behind the new One World Trade Center in New York City.

Willis' sky deck attracts more than 1.7 million visitors a year, with many eager to view the city from the Ledge, a glass-bottomed extension 103 stories up. On a clear day, visitors supposedly can see 50 miles and into parts of Wisconsin and Michigan.

The view isn't good enough, however, to check out likely the tallest outhouse in Illinois, in downstate Gays, a tiny community in Moultrie County. The outhouse has two stories – yes, two stories – and stems from its connection to a store on the first floor and rental rooms on the second of an 1869 building that no longer stands. The village decided to keep the double decker privy as a tourist attraction but you cannot "go" inside. Signage assures visitors that a false wall protected a downstairs sitter from an upstairs one.

A more cultural experience may be visiting a carillon. In 2000 Naperville dedicated the 160-foot Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon, surpassing Springfield's 132-foot Rees Memorial Carillon. The Naperville tower houses 72 bells, claims to be the world's fourth largest and offers a climb of 253 steps for glimpses of downtown Chicago. If you want to eat among the clouds, you can do so at Illinois' highest restaurant on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building in Chicago. The Signature Room, opened in 1993, commands a view across the state's largest city.

To feed your spirit you can gaze up at Illinois' tallest church and what some claim to be the tallest in the world, the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple Building, 77 West Washington Street. The building is 568 feet high, based on the distance from the street-level entrance to the top of the steeple. The church rents some floors for commercial use but houses three sanctuaries, including the small "Sky Chapel" at the base of the steeple. A 530-foot Lutheran church in Ulm, Germany, also claims to be the world's tallest because its building is used solely for religious purposes.

click to enlarge Getting high in Illinois
Photo courtesy of the Skydeck at Willis Tower
The view from Willis Tower, the state’s tallest building, takes in Chicago, Lake Michigan and surrounding areas. The 110-story tower stands 1,450 feet.

Natural wonders

Most of Illinois was leveled by glaciers but the northwestern corner and parts of southern Illinois escaped the onslaught. Charles Mound on private property in northern Jo Daviess County stands 1,236 feet above sea level to rank as the state's highest natural point, according to the Prairie Research Institute, part of the Illinois Water Survey.

Southern Illinois' highest point is Williams Hill in Pope County at 1,065 feet, the fifth highest in the state. The region also boasts the better-known Bald Knob near Alto Pass, which stands 1,020 feet in the air and has an 111-foot cross on top.

Sangamon County's highest spot is the Bettis Benchmark, southeast of Waverly, a lowly 716 feet above sea level.

The state's tallest tree is likely a yellow poplar that soars 140 feet at Beall Woods State Park in Wabash County, according to Jay Hayek, an extension forest specialist at the University of Illinois. He says the tree with the largest girth and one of the oldest in Illinois is a state champion bald cypress in the swamps of southern Illinois. It has a circumference of 34.5 feet and may be more than 1,000 years old.

Unusual structures

Joining Bald Knob in the religious category is the Cross at the Crossroads, looming 198 feet next to I-57 at Effingham. Not far away is Casey with its plethora of world's largest oddities, including a golf tee, mailbox, wind chimes and rocking chair, all requiring a look up.

click to enlarge Getting high in Illinois
Photo by Brent Bohlen
Illinois’ tallest outhouse, a two-story structure, is in Gays, a Moultrie County village. The privy has a false wall to protect the downstairs user from an upstairs one.

Collinsville sports a 70-foot Brooks Catsup bottle atop a 100-foot base that once served as the plant's water tower, making it undoubtedly the state's highest catsup bottle. Nearby Alton celebrates the world's tallest man, Robert Wadlow, with an imposing life-size 8-feet-11-inches statue.

The honor of the state's official tallest (and accessible) statue falls to "The Eternal Indian," a 48-foot likeness of Black Hawk, sculpted by Lorado Taft in 1911. Located near Oregon, Illinois, the statue is the 22nd tallest in the United States, just behind the Jolly Green Giant in Minnesota and Paul Bunyan in California.

All of them tower over Superman in Metropolis, a 15-foot statue completed in 1993, but they can't compete with the "world's largest Lincoln statue" at an abandoned park near Charleston. The 72-foot rendition also earned recognition as the "world's ugliest Lincoln statue" because of its out-of-proportion head and skinny body, according to Atlas Obscura. Dedicated in 1969, the statue can't be seen up close but area visitors may spot a glimpse of Abe peeking over a nearby hill, according to the Charleston Chamber of Commerce.

A more accessible Lincoln is "The Rail Splitter" near the Main Gate at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The 1967 structure stands a proud 30 feet tall and might yield a sore neck if you gaze at it too long.

If you want to find the highest natural spot in your county, go to

Mary Bohlen, a Springfield travel writer and retired journalism professor, urges readers stuck close to home during the pandemic to aim high.

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