Southern Illinois Heritage Expo kicks off Dec. 6

HERRIN – The Southern Illinois Heritage Expo will kick off its inaugural event Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Herrin Civic Center featuring Chris Vallillo, a nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter and folk musician, and Ruthie Shelton, author and heir of the infamous Shelton Brothers.

Vallillo makes the people and places of “unmetropolitan” America come to life in song by weaving songs and narratives into a compelling portrait of the history and lifestyles of the Midwest. He will be performing songs such as “The Death of Carl Shelton” and his own 2013 release, “Bloody Williamson”, a song about the Herrin Massacre from the UMWA miner’s viewpoint.

Shelton, co-authored “Inside the Shelton Gang,” with area historian Jon Musgrave last year, and just published her new novel, “The Untold Story,” inspired by her family’s history of violence and its effects on the family. She only learned of her family heritage 11 years when her father came out of surgery and started talking before he realized what he was saying.

“For Ruthie that discovery forever changed her life,” explained Amy Erickson, event organizer. “She has a great message of optimism and hope in spite of discovering this.”

The visit will be her first to Herrin where her great-uncles, the Shelton Brothers, fought the Ku Klux Klan during Prohibition in the 1920s before eventually fighting it out with Charlie Birger’s gang. By 1930 the gang would control a downstate gambling empire generating $5 million a year.

SI Treasure Tours, a newly-formed non-profit that’s conducted the Herrin Massacre bus tours earlier this year, will be hosting the event. Its mission is to help draw visitors to the area and promote a better understanding of the region’s heritage and culture. Sponsors include the Illinois Arts Council, Williamson County Historical Society, and Five Rings Armory.

Doors open at 4:30 p.m. with vendors and booths from a number of area history partners, museums and small businesses.

“We also hope to have a number of local authors there as well, including Musgrave with all of his books who has been our guide on the massacre tour,” Erickson added. “It will be an excellent place for some unique Christmas shopping.”

An affordable family dinner will start at 5:30 p.m. with the main event kicking off at 7 p.m.

Tickets to the main event are $7 and are available at the Civic Center in Herrin, Bookworm in Carbondale, The Buzz in Benton and the Williamson County Historical Museum in Marion as well as online at Call 618-751-2924 to be a vendor.

“We want to spur a sense of pride, excitement and enthusiasm for the heritage of Southern Illinois and to connect families with a sense of purpose from the past to our world today,” Erickson said.

The material is appropriate for the whole family from grade school to grandparents.

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