MATTOON (AP) – A family picture next to a water tower might not be what first comes to mind when thinking about vacation mementos.
It makes more sense for an Ohio family that toured Mattoon the first weekend of August, though.
“Not many people have their names on a water tower,” one of them said.
The family that lives near the town of Rawson in northwest Ohio shares its last name with that of the city’s founder. Joe Mattoon – who made the trip along with his wife, Lynette, son, Josh and daughter, Kristin – said his family has known about the connection for some time.
Joe is a descendant of the man who gave the city its name and has a book about the name’s history that his grandmother obtained from a genealogical organization.
The book includes the reasonably well-known story of how the Illinois city was named for William B. Mattoon, a railroad company partner whose firm built the rail lines through the city. There’s also a note in the section that says Mattoon won a poker game to get the honor of having the city named for him.
Joe’s parents, Albert and Carol Mattoon, visited here in 1983. He still has a key to the city that then-Mayor Roger Dettro presented them, along with copies of newspaper stories that told of the visit, but he’d never been here himself before.
Now, a warning to natives and longtime residents who might cringe when they read what’s next. The family pronounces the name “muh-TOON,” something many locals will quickly correct by telling the uninitiated that it’s “MAT-toon.”
“Maybe I’m pronouncing it wrong,” Joe said with a laugh when told about the local pronunciation.
The book also lists the towns in the United States with the name Mattoon. There’s not only the one in Illinois but also in New York, Mississippi, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Kansas.
The idea of the trip was actually more Josh’s, who said he recently started looking into his family’s background.
“It’s interesting going to a place that shares your name,” he said.
“I told a co-worker where I was going, and he looked at me and said, ‘Really?’” Joe added. He said his family is the only one they know with the last name.
On Aug. 2, the family had already visited City Hall and the fire station there, where firefighters took their picture next to a fire truck. Joe said he liked that because he used to be a volunteer firefighter.
“That stuff interests me,” he said.
Josh is a criminal justice major in college, so the family also stopped by the city police station, and went to Mattoon High School and looked over the football field. That was another interest for Josh, who plays for the college he attends, Bluffington University.
“We’ve wandered all over town and not been in a place I wouldn’t want to be,” Joe said.
They also went to Douglas County Amish country and were planning a visit to the Coles County Fair before returning home Aug. 3. Joe said the family would certainly try to return if possible.
“It’s something you don’t get to do often,” he said. “You can’t really not experience it.”