A Publication of WTVP

‘100 Things to Do in Peoria Before You Die’

A Q&A with author Molly Crusen Bishop
by Laurie Pillman |
Molly Crusen Bishop book

Molly Crusen Bishop is an author, speaker, storyteller and lifelong Peorian. Her passion for her hometown has been at the core of everything she’s done, whether that be writing articles for local publications, speaking to schoolchildren about the impact of native Peorians, or promoting the growth of small businesses. With the release of her newest book, 100 Things to Do in Peoria Before You Die through publisher Reedy Press, Peoria Magazine sat down with Bishop to find out what Peoria landmarks made the cut.

Peoria Magazine (PM): Tell me a little about your path to this book.

Molly Crusen Bishop (MCB): I’ve been writing and researching about Peoria history for almost a decade. I’ve written for, I think, nine magazines now, locally, Some online. Some print. I had a column called Prism of Peoria and it was about women of importance to history from Peoria. In 2019, I co-wrote a historic non-fiction (book) with Lisa Gavin called Footprints of Our Forefathers. (It’s) a coffee table book about both of our families, our ancestors’ treks from Europe to the eastern United States, and how they ended up in Peoria. In the 1800s, the working class was building up Peoria. So, you could pick any random chapter and just learn something about Peoria history. 

PM: I understand your family has deep roots in Peoria.

MCB: I was the fourth generation born and raised in the house that my great grandparents, Patrick and Ellen Needham from County Lee, Ireland, built in 1885 on Barker near Bradley and Moss Avenue. It was a very humble house, just a two-story basic, working-class home. I’m the youngest of nine children who were raised there. My mother was the youngest of nine children and she was raised there. I would say I’m a lifelong Peoria area resident.  

‘As a young girl, I never imagined living my entire life in Peoria but as love and family often do…I was firmly planted in Peoria’

— An excerpt from ‘100 Things to Do in Peoria Before You Die’

PM: Your book has 100 things to do in Peoria. How did you come up with your list? 

MCB: When I was brainstorming, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anything so I did a few vague crowdsourcing questions on Facebook, like  “What’s your favorite date night?” The easy part was coming up with a list of 300 plus. It was very difficult narrowing it down to what I thought absolutely represented the best of the Peoria area. 

There’s honorable mentions and tips throughout the book too — unique places that I wanted to highlight but couldn’t fit in their own vignette. That enabled me to get so many more things in the book. It was really hard figuring out who got those 100 vignettes. I picked one, wrote about it. The side pages have seven or eight mentions of my other favorites with their websites or their phone numbers. So, it’s not just a hundred things. 

PM: What categories did you use to sort the book?

MCB: Food and drink. Music and entertainment. Sports and recreation. Culture and history. Shopping and fashion. And it’s not an exact even number in each one. Some have a little bit more than a different section. I mean, the … cultural fests in the area could fill up the whole book. 

I get the luxury of listing anything that’s within an hour day trip of Peoria. So, let’s say somebody’s coming to stay for a week. There are several things in there that might not be in Peoria, but they have huge value for central Illinois. One example is The Wizard of Oz Fest. That is really unique. It’s one of the biggest Wizard of Oz events in the Midwest. And the Festival of Lights. I mean, they’re a nationwide, award-winning thing. I tried to list many small and local shops, as well. 

PM: What challenges did you run into writing this book?

MCB: One thing that was the most challenging was trying to get enough diversity in there. I wanted to encapsulate a little taste of many different backgrounds in Peoria. I have the Soul Fest, and something with the Hispanic community, the German community, and the Irish community. So, I was able to get some, but I really would’ve loved to really get even more diverse culture in there.  

Also, when I was writing the book there were places that didn’t make it. They’re working hard, they have some big plans, and I believe it’s gonna happen, but at the time it wasn’t anything I could tell people to go visit. And then when the manuscript was due … a couple things that were one of the features closed forever. One was The Nuthouse. It had been here for 100 years…

PM: What surprised you that made it on the list?

MCB: I would say Springdale Cemetery
 … People enjoy it for many different reasons. I personally love Springdale Cemetery because that’s where I get things to research. It’s got hiking trails and wildlife. I think they’ve done a really good job in the last five or so years of doing those cemetery tours. But that one was like, wow. I didn’t know that many other people thought cemeteries were cool.

PM: What are your hopes for this book? 

MCB: My hopes and dreams for this book are that it showcases 100 plus of the best and wonderful things that make Peoria unique, special, and worthy of more than a day trip. People who live here that have kind of forgotten about some of these special things might get reminded and take a chance at going to that restaurant. I just think there’s a million things to love about Peoria, and I hope that many people start to really fall in love with our city. And that’s what I’m hoping to bring to people with this book. 

PM: What’s next for you?

MCB: I’m working on a … fiction book based on Peoria history. I’ve gotten to a level where I can write this book that has been in my head for 20 years.

This interview was conducted by Laurie Pillman, a Peoria-based author in her own right