ILLINOIS STATE MILITARY MUSEUM
Recoil|November - December 2020
Home of Santa Anna's Leg and Much,Much More
Peter Suciu

The British Museum in London is home to the Rosetta Stone, while the Mona Lisa hangs on the walls of the Louvre in Paris, but on the outskirts of Springfi eld, Illinois, is an object that might almost seem at home in TV’s The Simpsons’ hometown of Springfi eld, State Unknown. It’s an object that was actually fictionalized in another animated TV series, King of the Hill.

It’s the prosthetic cork leg worn by Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón — more commonly known as Santa Anna, the Mexican politician, and general who fought to defend royalists in New Spain and later for Mexican independence, before fighting against Texas Revolutionaries and then the French and finally the United States.

During the brief Pastry War with France in 1838, Santa Anna was hit in the left leg by cannon fire, and this required the amputation of much of his leg — which he ordered to be buried with full military honors. He recovered from the wounds and used the prosthetic cork leg during the Mexican-American War when it was “captured” by members of the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Santa Anna was eating lunch during a battle and members of the unit raided his camp and absconded with the leg. Another leg, which was only a peg, was also captured by the unit — and both returned to Illinois after the war. The peg leg is on display at the home of Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby, as he had served in the regiment; while the cork leg, which had been exhibited at state fairs, is now in the collection of the Illinois State Military Museum.

However, the leg is part of a collection of items that are rotated regularly and may or may not be on display at a given time. The reason is much like the Rosetta Stone or Mona Lisa that many tourists come to see just the most notable item and overlook so much more of what each museum has to offer.

“We do get a lot of people who ask about the leg, but our museum has so many other great treasures that we like to highlight those other items,” explains Colonel Paul Fanning, Illinois National Guard (Retired), who serves as the curator for the Illinois State Military Museum.

A CASTLE IN ILLINOIS

“Treasures” is an apt way to describe the collection, especially as the museum is now housed on the second floor of a building fittingly known as the Castle. It was constructed in 1903 as a commissary building, but for nearly the past two decades has served as the home for this impressive museum, which covers the sacrifice and service of those early settlers in the Illinois Territory who volunteered in the American Revolution to those sons and daughters of the Land of Lincoln who are engaged in the ongoing Global War on Terror. The Castle is the oldest building remaining at Camp Lincoln, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 13, 1984.

However, the museum actually dates back to 1878 when it was established as Memorial Hall and was located in the Illinois State Capitol Building with a collection that consisted of military weapons, flags, photographs, and trophies of war brought home by veterans of the Mexican War and the Civil War.

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