SPRINGFIELD, Mo. There are a lot of activities planned over the course of Friday and Saturday at the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in downtown Springfield. A parade, car shows, motorcycle rallies, live music, good food.
But one place you should definitely stop by, if for no other reason than to cool off, is the Old Glass Place located at 501 East St. Louis St., where memorabilia and information about Route 66 is on display and on sale.
Just one example of the many books available is "Secret Route 66" written by Jim Ross and Shelle Graham of Arcadia, Oklahoma. Promoted as a guide to the weird, wonderful and obscure, Ross and Graham have spent over a half-century collecting these 90 stories. As they point out, the road has produced ghost towns, scandals, myths, and a lot of notorious characters. And their book gives you a glimpse of the lesser-known people, places, oddities and legends who played an important role in the highway's history.
Here are some teasers for just a few of the stories in the book.
"Did you know there was once a plan to use atomic weapons to blast a new pathway for Route 66 in California," Ross said of the very real discussion at one time of using nuclear bombs to get through hard rock.
"Have you ever heard the shriek of the Ozark Howler who lurks in the backwoods and old roads of Missouri, Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma?" says Graham, speaking of, we think, a mythical monster.
"One of the most bizarre attractions was in Amarillo," Ross explains about another story found in the book. "It was a collection of signs put up all around town by an eccentric millionaire and they were oddball signs. He called 'em art. Critics didn't quite agree. There were literally hundreds of these signs around town. Things like, 'I don't suppose anyone has a tomato', 'the roaches in my kitchen tremble', 'they didn't have on any underpants at all', 'it begins with a hanging', and maybe the one that best described his thinking, 'art is what you can get away with'."
There are stories about the spook light near Joplin, a trading post in Arizona named "Toonerville" after a cartoon yet full of tragic happenings, bordellos where the madam allegedly had customers robbed and tossed into a mine shaft, and a restaurant with trap doors so the gamblers could escape if there was a raid.
And for folks in Springfield, there's the infamous story of how Route 66 got it's name.
On some of the original maps back in 1926, the highway is listed as Route 60.
"When it came time for the new numbering system for U.S. highways the numbering committee assigned the number 60 to the highway between Chicago and Los Angeles," Ross recalls about Route 66's original designation. "There was a struggle of wills over that number between the numbering committee and the Governor of Kentucky who wanted that number for the road through his state.
The controversy raged for about a year. Finally, in desperation, the numbering committee, led by Cyrus Stevens Avery of Oklahoma, called for a meeting to be held in Springfield, Missouri in April of 1926. And it was during that meeting at the Colonial Hotel that alternate sets of numbers were reviewed and considered.
They finally settled on the number 66 even though it was not a prestigious number. The zero numbers were the prestigious numbers for the highway system. But they decided that was acceptable and they sent a telegram to Washington, D.C. to notify the Bureau of Public roads that they would accept the number 66 and yield the number 60 to the road in Kentucky.
And that is why Springfield is known as the birthplace of Route 66."