Visitors to the Shawnee National Forest near Alto Pass may notice a large cross standing at the top of a hill. The Bald Knob Cross of Peace has been standing in southern Illinois for over a half a century. In 1937, Makanda, Illinois postman and Reverend W. H. Lirely wanted to hold an Easter Sunrise Service. They chose the top of nearby Bald Knob Mountain and invited people of all denominations to celebrate Easter with them. The first service attracted 250 people but over the next few years thousands came to the top of the mountain to celebrate on Easter morning.
Presley organized local citizens and raised enough money to purchase the land at the top of the mounting. During Easter a large wooden cross was placed at the top of the mountain but Presley had a grand vision for a more permanent monument. He had the idea to erect a large metal cross that could be seen for miles around. Presley began a large fundraising campaign and even convinced farmers along his sixty mile long mail route to raise pigs for his cause. The sale of the pigs raised $30,000 and started the construction of the foundation in 1953. Wayman Presley was featured on the television show This Is Your Life and shortly after the Bald Knob Foundation received thousands of donations in the mail. In 1959, the 100 foot tall steel framework was completed. The white sheet metal was added in 1963 completing the cross.
By the 2000s the cross had fallen into a state of disrepair with some of the panels falling off and the framework rusting and in need of renovation. Disagreements among the board members lead to lawsuits and the ground of the cross closed by order of a judge. A new group called Friends of the Cross was formed after the resignation of the old board. The new organization oversaw the restoration of the cross and a new welcome center and now the large white cross invites visitors from all around the world.
The Bald Knob cross is not the only large cross to stand in the Land of Lincoln. A 198 foot tall cross stands near Effingham near the interchange of Interstates 57 and 70.
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