The beauty of photography lies in its ability to freeze a single moment in time. Photographs force you to pay attention. The camera captures that which is always there, but may have gone unnoticed.

Our mission was simple: to tell the story of 24 hours in Peoria, Illinois, a day in the life of the quintessential Midwestern town. To go from place to place and document those people who are working, playing and living in Peoria, and hopefully catch a slice of life that you don’t see everyday.

While the purist in me had hoped to take on this entire project in one 24-hour period, that was simply asking too much of our aging bodies. And thus, we present the first eight hours in our three-part series: 24 Hours in Peoria, 12am – 8am.

On March 3, 2007, at the stroke of midnight, Dr. Clarke and I embarked on a tour of our city which would end with more than 1,400 photographs taken. We hope you enjoy these photos as much as we enjoyed staying out all night taking them!

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Emergency Communications Center

Our first stop was the ECC, the central dispatch location for the Peoria Police Department and other city and county agencies. Tonight, in this cozy room, eight women anchor the communications network, answering and routing phone calls and monitoring video feeds and GPS coordinates, a wealth of information at their fingertips. Maps of the city line the walls; computer monitors and hightech equipment are everywhere. This job requires constant multitasking and the ability to remain calm and ask relevant questions in high-pressure situations when lives may be on the line. Listening to the chatter in the room is almost like being introduced to a secret code.

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Crittenton Centers

Next we headed over to the Crittenton Centers on John Gwynn Jr. Avenue, a wonderful organization focused on protecting and nurturing families and children in need. We visited their Crisis Nursery, open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and met with Nursery Supervisor Dan Oliver and Crisis Care Specialist Barbara Patterson— who is my candidate for “Nicest Lady in the World!” There were four adorable children in the nursery this night—three sleeping soundly, and the fourth cared for by Patterson. The Nursery provides a calm and soothing environment for the children, keeping them safe and happy, away from the stress and turmoil of the outside world.

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La Bamba

Home of “Burritos as Big as Your Head” and open until 3:30am, La Bamba in Campustown is a favorite of the late-night, post-bar crowd and a godsend for those Bradley students who require nourishment at irregular times. Manager Israel Mendoza and staff were on hand to give us a hearty welcome. We learned something else, too—that it’s not always easy obtaining permission to take someone’s photograph at this time of the night!

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Sully’s Pub and Cafe

We hit Sully’s on Adams St. just after 2am, with the night still young! Because the bars in Peoria stay open until four, there’s still a good-sized crowd at this hour, many of them college kids, drinking, dancing and enjoying the colorful atmosphere. The walls at Sully’s are plastered with unique memorabilia documenting Peoria’s sports history and making for an eye-catching backdrop for a night on the town. The Irish pub has been an institution in Peoria for many years, appealing to a wide range of diners and clubgoers.

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Hotel Pere Marquette & Downtown Peoria

We dropped by the historic Hotel Pere Marquette a little before 3am. As you might expect, at this point in the early morning, most of the night’s action has died down. It’s calm and serene, save for the vacuum of the lobby houseman and the filing of paperwork by the clerk at the front desk. The quiet really allows us time to admire the hotel’s exquisite architecture.

Outside the Pere, the night begins to wind down. As “last call” is announced, folks begin to stumble out into the night, making their journeys home.

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Methodist Medical Center

Next on our journey: the Department of Emergency Medicine at Methodist, where our very own photographer, Dr. Elsburgh Clarke, moonlights during the day as Department Chairman. At one point, seamlessly transitioning into his medical persona, Dr. Clarke set down his camera equipment to help a nurse extract a bug out of some poor gentleman’s ear (see 3:56 a.m.) I watched from the doorway with my jaw dropped. A unique experience, to be sure. Aside from that excitement, it was a relatively quiet night in the ER.

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Apple’s Bakery

A quick dash up Knoxville to Apple’s Bakery, “where smiles are made from scratch.” We met with owner Mary Ardapple, who was in her office bright and early on a Saturday morning. By this point, Dr. Clarke and I were starting to wear down, but the sweet aroma of freshly baked goods was enough to keep us awake…and stir our appetites! In Apple’s “glorified home kitchen,” Margaret Esken and Mavis MacKinnon carefully prepare the day’s fresh batch of savory treats.

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Gebby’s Family Restaurant

After snoozing in the car for a few moments, we hit Gebby’s on War Memorial just as the sun was coming up. There were already several cars of early birds waiting for the restaurant to open at 6am. The breakfast crowd is a fascinating mix of folks getting an early jump on their day and others winding down a long night. One online reviewer explained, “It doesn’t get any better than this. Down-home and homemade cooking at its finest. The coffee is always on and there’s always enough gravy to cover your biscuit.” By the time we left, the place was packed.

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The RiverPlex

Our final destination. I’d never been inside before, and was mightily impressed, both by the state-of-the-art facility and the number of health-conscious folks with the discipline to make it to the gym this early in the morning. In addition to the Fitness Center, dozens of people take part in early-morning classes at the RiverPlex. Just before we left, we met the nice people with the Student Nurses’ Association of Illinois, who were on hand for their First Annual 3K Winter Walk, a benefit for The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois.

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