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After set pieces stolen, the show will go on for Harrisburg theater students

HARRISBURG — Harrisburg High School music teacher Hannah Drake was at a holiday tournament when she received a call from Principal Scott Dewar saying Harrisburg Police Chief David Morris wanted to talk to her about the high school's band trailer, which had been stolen. The police had found the trailer, and Morris wanted to know what was in it.

“My immediate reaction was everything for Theatre Fest was in that trailer,” Drake said.

Illinois High School Theatre Festival is a gathering of Illinois high school students, teachers and sponsors, who get together to experience different types of theater, share common goals with other students, and showcase their creative efforts.

Harrisburg High School was chosen to perform this year’s musical, “Seussical the Musical,” during the festival, which runs from Jan. 11 through 13 at Illinois State University.

The set, which includes large backdrop pieces resembling several Dr. Seuss books and the pages from a Seuss book, were in the band trailer, along with other props, like fish and large clovers. Morris said previously the trailer contained about $10,000 to $15,000 in handmade props. The trailer was found empty in Pope County near the intersection of Eddyville Blacktop and Illinois 146.

Provided by Harrisburg Police Chief David Morris 

The Harrisburg High School band trailer was found days after it was stolen in Pope County near the intersection of the Eddyville Blacktop and Illinois 146. It was empty of the $10,000 to $15,000 worth of handmade theater props it had contained.

“I didn’t know it was stolen until it was found,” Drake said.

Drake began calling parents of students in the production, and trying to figure out what to do. At first, the task of recreating the set seemed monumental — almost too much to accomplish in time for Theatre Fest. But, how could they not let the kids perform?

“They were awarded or invited to perform,” Superintendent Michael Gauch said. “Most schools only are asked to do a piece of their play. We were asked to do our entire play.”

“It’s really a big honor. Not everyone is chosen to perform. While we are up there, we get to take classes on theater,” Harrisburg High School senior Chloe Thomas said.

“It’s also a big honor because not everyone gets to go,” senior Carter Reed said.

This is the third time Drake has taken students to Theatre Fest to perform. It is the school’s first time to take a full production of a musical.

“We were the only school south of Normal doing any kind of show,” Drake said.

Considering those accolades, Gauch said they could not just let this go.

As quickly as word spread about the missing props, people began to volunteer to help rebuild the set. One of Drake’s first calls was to Allan Kimball at Southeastern Illinois College, who offered to do “whatever was needed” to help recreate the set.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Harrisburg High School music teacher Hannah Drake (right) talks with volunteers painting sets for the school's play on Thursday afternoon at Southeastern Illinois College.

People donated money at Barnes Lumber in Harrisburg. Ladies dropped off cookies for the workers and students.

Help came not only from Harrisburg, but also from other schools and towns. Another school bringing a piece to Theatre Fest offered to help transport the set or build a piece and bring it. Carterville High School had a piece that could be used.

“It’s just another example of what is great about Southern Illinois. While we have our differences from time to time, we all come together in times like these. Nobody in this community was going to let our kids not participate in this event,” Gauch said.

Jan. 2 was set as a work day at the SIC theater. By 6 or 6:30 p.m., 80 percent of the set was rebuilt and being painted.

“I was surprised how quickly the set was rebuilt,” Reed said.

“I think we have a renewed sense of energy. We have to prove this is not going to set us back at all,” Drake said.

Most of the students in this show are also band students, so they felt the loss twice. The band trailer is damaged, and Drake said it will not make the trip to Normal.

“It was a double hit,” Thomas said.

She added that it must have taken a bunch of people to remove the set from trailer.

“One of things I picture is the night we were moving the book around the school,” Thomas said. “It was heavy.”

On Thursday evening, Drake and the cast worked on blocking with the new set.

To thank everyone for working and donating, the school will give a free performance of “Seussical” at 6:30 p.m. today in the SIC Theater. Thomas plays JoJo and Reed is the Cat in the Hat.

“We’re looking forward to sharing with everybody here and there,” Drake said.

Provided by Harrisburg Police Chief David Morris 

The Harrisburg High School band trailer was found days after it was stolen in Pope County near the intersection of the Eddyville Blacktop and Illinois 146. It was empty of the $10,000 to $15,000 worth of handmade theater props it had contained.

Flu season appears to be peaking early in Illinois

CHICAGO — State records show that the flu season in Illinois appears to be peaking early this year.

There are more than 100 more influenza outbreaks across the state this season compared with last season at this time, the Chicago Tribune reported, and the Illinois Department of Public Health said the most common flu strain this season is associated with more severe symptoms.

Flu activity increases in Southern Illinois

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health, influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is widespread in Illinois.

Current levels are higher than most flu seasons since 2009-2010, according to state records. There were 344 flu-related intensive care unit admissions across Illinois and 135 outbreaks from the start of 2017 through Dec. 31. That's compared with 40 admissions and 11 outbreaks in 2016 and 56 admissions and two outbreaks in 2015.

"Last year we saw the peak in February," State health department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. "It might just be starting earlier."

State health officials on Dec. 27 were prompted by the high number of cases to recommend that hospitals limit visitors and take precautions to prevent and control the spread of the flu. Those included restricting hospital visits for those under age 18, limiting visitors to two per patient, promoting hand washing and assessing visitors for respiratory illness symptoms and asking them to leave or wear a mask. Officials are recommending those who haven't received flu vaccines to do so.

Emergency rooms in Chicago dealing with the flu have led to a backup in admission of ambulance patients, forcing ambulances to hold patients longer. This slows Chicago Fire Department responses to new emergencies, department spokesman Larry Langford said. The department has brought five ambulances out of reserve to keep responding to calls, he said.

"We're seeing a high level of stress right now, where at any given time hospitals are on complete bypass saying don't bring anybody here," Langford said.

Murphysboro City Council to discuss ordinance change on "fighting by agreement"

MURPHYSBORO — Just because you and an adversary, or a buddy, agree to duke it out doesn't mean you won't both find yourselves charged with a violation of city ordinance.

The Murphysboro City Council plans to revisit an item on its agenda calling for an amendment to the city ordinance of "fighting by agreement." The council will hear and vote on a revision to the ordinance that seeks to ban fighting in public, period.

"We're clarifying one issue that one of the judges had with the language" of the ordinance, Police Chief Chad Roberts explained.

That item and others will be discussed at the Murphysboro City Council meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall Council Chambers, 202 N. 11th St.

The change is proposed for city ordinance Section 27-2-28, "Fighting by Agreement."

That ordinance currently reads: "No person or persons in the City shall fight by any type of agreement (written or verbal). Any or all who participate in such fighting shall be in violation of this provision regardless of circumstances. (Excluded from this provision are organized athletic type events.)"

The council also expects to hear an update on its disagreement with Union Pacific Railroad and the transportation giant's claims to property on North 23rd Street that Murphysboro officials claims the city owns and has maintained for decades.

In the fall, railroad company representatives contacted several residents on North 23rd Street, telling them that they were trespassing when they used part of the road to access their homes without the company's permission.

Seeking to protect the city's rights to city streets, or what it calls city streets, the mayor and city attorney have contacted railroad company representatives to discuss the matter and see what documentation they have, if any, on their ownership and maintenance of the roadway over the years.

See a copy of the meeting agenda at the City's website at