Ben Franklin statue

This sculpture shows, in miniature, what a statue of Benjamin Franklin will look like when it is placed in Arcola. Franklin is credited with bringing broomcorn to the colonies.

ARCOLA — Forget helping to edit the Declaration of Independence or inventing the lightning rod or bifocals. In Arcola, Benjamin Franklin will be known for bringing broomcorn seeds to the colonies.

A statue by renowned sculptor Jerry McKenna will be placed in Arcola this spring to highlight Franklin’s contribution to a community that at one time was known as “The Broomcorn Capital of the World.”

“I think the case is pretty solid,” said Pat Monahan, part of a committee to make the statue a reality, of Franklin’s contribution to the broomcorn industry.

“The story is he brought a whisk broom from France that had some seeds on it. He was a pretty curious guy. He planted the seeds.”

While there is no definitive provenance that Franklin was the person who brought the broomcorn seeds to the new world, Monahan said there are so many sources who tell the story that he believes it is true.

“I think it’s a fairly accurate story,” Monahan said. “Broomcorn seeds started on the East Coast and moved to the Midwest.”

Arcola has quite the diverse array of art pieces, including the Hippie Memorial; 16 Walldog murals; the sweeping beauties collection of 13 oversized, brightly painted fiberglass brooms; and the Raggedy Ann and Andy statute, also crafted by McKenna.

Franklin’s life-size statue will be just the latest article near the community’s preserved train depot and information center.

The statue will feature a decidedly slimmed-down version of Franklin leaning on a broom handle, perhaps thinking of what the future of the “magic seeds” might entail.

It is being paid for through private donations.

Monahan said the story is that Franklin encouraged farmers to plant broomcorn.

The crop became an important part of Arcola. It annually holds a broomcorn festival, which in turn sprouted the Lawn Rangers precision drill team.

Broomcorn was the primary crop grown in the Arcola area by the end of the 19th century after Col. John Cofer planted the first field of it in 1859.

The crop spawned some of the largest brokers involved with the broomcorn trade.

Thomas Monahan Co. brokers continue to do business there, as does The Libman Co., producers of numerous household products, including brooms and mops.

“I think Arcola’s real proud of its broomcorn heritage and its public art and wants people to come visit us,” Monahan said.

Not quite a “Grandpa Moses,” the 84-year-old McKenna, who lives in Boeren, Texas, did take up art later in life — after retiring from the Air Force at 52. He is one of the most sought-after realist sculptors.

His work is displayed throughout the world, from numerous works at Notre Dame University, where he attended college, to 17 portrait busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to portrayals of military figures and three sculptures in Ireland.

Our County Editor

Dave Hinton is editor of The News-Gazette's Our County section and former editor of the Rantoul Press. He can be reached at dhinton@news-gazette.com.

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