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Moreno will sign copies of his latest book, "Illinois Curiosities," at New Copperfield's Book Service on Saturday, Feb. 12.
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Squirrels, Superman and Strange Historic Sites: WIU's Moreno Now an Expert on 'Illinois Curiosities'

February 7, 2011

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MACOMB, IL - - Rich Moreno, director of student publications at Western Illinois University, has authored a new book that examines the Land of Lincoln's most unusual and offbeat places and things.

Published by Globe Pequot Press, "Illinois Curiosities" highlights more than 175 of the state's most unusual or bizarre places, ranging from the world's largest laundromat, in Berwyn, to a tree that some believe resembles Jesus holding a lamb, the so-called "Jesus Tree" in Quincy. The 304-page paperback is available now in bookstores. Moreno will sign copies of the book on Saturday, Feb. 12 from 10 a.m.-12 noon, and from 1 p.m.- 2 p.m. at New Copperfield's Book Service, 120 N. Side Square, Macomb.

Starting with a list of "anything that sounded remotely interesting," Moreno began his research in 2009, taking several road trips across the state, including one weeklong journey through central and northern Illinois with his daughter during a break from school. Logging more than 1,500 miles over the course of his research, Moreno studied oddities and interesting sites ranging from Superman's "hometown" of Metropolis in southern Illinois to the private collection housing the Batmobile (from "Batman Returns") in the northern Illinois town of Roscoe.

It was a challenge to cover the wealth of material, Moreno noted, considering the size of the Chicago area alone, and Moreno's full-time commitment of advising production of the Western Courier, Western Illinois Magazine and teaching journalism.

Moreno came to WIU in 2006 from Nevada, where he had an established career in journalism and in writing about Nevada history, including "Nevada Curiosities" and "The Roadside History of Nevada."

"Illinois was a whole different place to explore, and it was fun to write coming at this from really knowing very little," he said. "I learned a lot about the state. And that has given me a lot of ideas for being adviser for the student magazine; when students are looking for interesting stories to cover, I can kind of point them in the right direction."

Moreno took all of the photos for the book. One of the challenges in putting the book together was waiting to capture a photo of the legendary white squirrel in Olney.

"I had to wait under a tree for about two hours, not moving, so I just sat and read," he said. "Finally he came down. Their population is declining, so I was fortunate to see one."

Moreno, who was honored in 2007 with the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award, will continue with his new subject and home base while at work on the upcoming "It Happened in Illinois," to be published in August.

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