Thursday, April 7, 2011

“E” Is for Little Egypt

Southern Illinois is known locally as “Little Egypt.” Towns bearing Egyptian or Greek names sprang up in the region. No one is entirely sure of the reason for this moniker but there are several interesting suppositions.

One idea is that the name arose when poor crops in the north during the 1830s caused people to come south to buy grains, not unlike the famine that struck and forced people to travel to Egypt for food in the Biblical tale. Another says the name arose when the land, which is bordered on three sides by The Ohio, the Wabash, and the Mississippi Rivers, was compared to the land in Egypt and its Nile delta. True enough, much of the region still experiences annual flooding in the spring. The third most commonly floated story pertains to the development of the peninsula that sits at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This land mass was purchased by the Cairo City and Canal Company in 1837 and the city of Cairo (pronounced Kay-ro) was founded. Some say that started the trend of naming places and things after Egyptian places.

Other towns and villages bearing Egyptian names include: Thebes, Dongola, New Athens, Karnak, Sparta and Lebanon. Even the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale follows the tradition, naming its school teams after one of the oldest known breeds of domesticated dog, the Egyptian Saluki.

There are many businesses and such that use variations of the word Egypt in their names. Others use obvious related terms Like King Tut’s Food and Fuel in Marion or the Egyptian Day Spa, also in Marion. Other than that, here is really nothing significant That I have yet found that ties southern Illinois to Egypt, ancient or otherwise. I have seen road signs indicating there is a Historic Egyptian Trail and I am researching that. As soon as I learn more about it, I will definitely be sharing.