200 Years of Illinois: Moses in No Man’s Land

no man's landOn October 4, 1923, Charlton Heston floated down Lake Michigan in a reed basket and bumped ashore at No Man’s Land, Illinois. A proverbial land of milk and honey—well, booze and vice—No Man’s Land existed as an unincorporated sliver of territory between the now-affluent suburb of Wilmette and the unfathomably-affluent Village of Kenilworth, today one of the richest polities in America.

No Man’s Land sat to the west of Sheridan Road, then and now a lakeside traffic artery through the North Shore. Essentially lawless, it was home to illicit activities and matured into, if we may quote the poetic words of one local, “a slot machine and keno sin center where college students were being debauched with beer, hard liquor, and firecrackers.” A massive fire in 1932 struck a blow against the No Man’s Land clubs and other dens of depravity. The disaster was abetted in part by nearby fire departments that refused to assist. Wilmette took ownership of No Man’s Land in the 1940s. Stands still sold fireworks as late as the 1960s, before developers finally transformed the prime lakeside real estate into a mall and condos buildings for retirees. Charlton Heston, meanwhile, went on to Northwestern University, directed Lawrence Olivier on Broadway, and achieved celluloid immortality as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.