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Former dentist details what might have been in Peoria

LINDBERGH SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS
ASSOCIATED PRESS
/
Charles Lindbergh flies "The Spirit of St. Louis" out of an undetermined location in May, 1927, prior to his flight from New York to Paris, the first to complete a solo non-stop transcontinental flight. (AP Photo)

What if Charles Lindbergh had completed the first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 in a plane labeled the Spirit of Peoria instead of the Spirit of St. Louis?

That’s one of the questions Greg Wahl raised in the book he co-wrote with Charles Bobbitt entitled “It Didn’t Play in Peoria: Missed Chances of a Middle American Town” in 2009.

Wahl retired after more than 40 years as a dentist in Peoria but said he got the writing bug back in 1999 after frequent talks with Bobbitt, a patient of his at the time.

Bobbitt and wife Ladonna had published two books on Peoria postcards through Arcadia Publishing and the publisher was interested in another book involving Peoria, said Wahl.

“The phrase—'Will it play it play in Peoria?’--had almost become redundant so I suggested what about things that didn’t play here, detailing some of the missed opportunities that every city has,” said Wahl.

“The chapter publishers liked best was on Charles Lindbergh,” he said.

In his book, Wahl recounted that Lindbergh sought financial support for his Atlantic crossing first from monied interests in Peoria before finally finding that backing in St. Louis.

Wahl admits that the account is more conjecture than verifiable fact but said that a Lindbergh scholar who reviewed his chapter said it was conceivable that Lindbergh would have made such an appeal for funding in a town like Peoria, a town that not only had money, thanks to past successes in the distillery industry, but supported air travel, fast gaining popularity in the 1920s, said Wahl.

Lindbergh was a 24-year-old barnstormer and flight instructor living in St. Louis in 1926 when hired to fly the mail between Chicago and St. Louis, making stops in Springfield and Peoria.

Wahl and Bobbitt outlined other missed opportunities for Peoria such as losing out to Normal on hosting the school that would become Illinois State University. The city lost out on another school when plans to build Corrington Institute in northern Peoria around the turn of the 20th century were derailed when the man’s family contested his will, diverting the $750,000 inheritance.

Wahl followed with another book on Peoria history, “Legendary Locals of Peoria,” in 2015. A novella, “ A Time of Islands,” stories about World War II, was published in 2021.

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