Route 66 in the News

Route 66 Legend Ernie Edwards Dies

2012-04-13 08:22:25

LINCOLN, Ill. - Route 66, often dubbed America’s Mother Road, has lost one of its favorite sons.

Ernie Edwards, founder of the Pig Hip restaurant, which later became the Pig Hip Restaurant Museum along Route 66 in Broadwell, died Tuesday night at St. Clara’s Manor in Lincoln. He was 94.

Edwards, who oversaw his small, nondescript diner from under his tall white chef’s hat, earned a reputation with travelers as a jokester and teller of tall tales. Few who knew him would argue Edwards had the art of schmoozing with strangers mastered to a well-honed science.

In 1990, Edwards was among the first to be inducted into the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame. After he closed his restaurant and converted it into a museum, tourists from around the globe sought him out to hear his stories about the years he spent feeding travelers along the famous highway.

His Hall of Fame induction plaque is on display at the Information Station office in Lincoln.

Visionary

“Ernie was a friend, a neighbor, a mentor and a visionary,” said Geoff Ladd, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County and president of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway. “It was Ernie who insisted that I step up to the plate to save The Mill (an iconic Route 66 restaurant in Lincoln). What I learned is you don’t say ‘no’ to Ernie — and he was right about saving The Mill.”

Born Aug. 5, 1917, in southern Illinois, Edwards came to Lincoln in 1934 with his family. His early years included military service before he became a restaurant owner at the age of 24.

“His life was full of adventures, with the changes of Route 66 and the addition of Interstate 55 all playing a role,” Ladd said.

The Pig Hip Restaurant Museum, where Edwards had once served up his famous ham sandwiches, was lost to a fire in 2007. With his wife, Frances, by his side, he continued the museum out of their nearby home.

A sign and marker have been erected as a tribute to the restaurant and its colorful owner.

Lincoln resident Nancy Saul, retired LifeStyles editor for The Courier in Lincoln, interviewed Edwards on several occasions through the years.

“Ernie Edwards was a man who knew how to bloom where he was planted,” Saul said Thursday. “Not everyone would have considered running a restaurant in Broadwell, Illinois, an exciting career, but Ernie made the most of it. He was a purveyor not only of food, but in the style of P.T. Barnum, also the high jester of roadside humor and tall tales.”

Ham and showmanship

Saul said Edwards’ banter with customers, especially those who had stopped by the restaurant for the first time, was indicative of his showmanship style.

“From his secret sauce that ‘made its way by the way it's made,’ to his Pighip sandwiches, ‘made only from the left ham of the pig,’ Route 66 travelers could always look forward to entertainment along with their food,” she said.

Saul remembers Edwards telling folks that the pig’s left ham “was always the most tender because pigs scratch themselves with their right hind legs.”

“Ernie's famous sandwich got its name when a farmer came in for lunch one day,” Saul said. “Asked what he wanted, he said, ‘Just cut me off a piece of that pig hip.’ Ernie thought the phrase had a nice ring to it, so it stuck.”

Ladd said efforts are under way to revitalize the Pig Hip sign in Broadwell and, along with the existing marker, the site will become a memorial to Edwards.

Pig Hip artifacts eventually will be on display at The Mill when it opens as a museum, Ladd said.

Edwards also will be remembered at this year’s Route 66 Association Hall of Fame Banquet, to be held in Lincoln June 9, Ladd said.

Among Edwards’ survivors is his wife, Frances.

~Dan Tackett, SJ-R.com

 

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