Ask MRN: Did Mr. Cub ever receive a key from the city? What happened to RiverFest?

Ernie Banks key to city

Heritage Auctions offered an item labeled as a “Circa 1960s Quincy, Illinois Key to the City Presented to Ernie Banks from The Ernie Banks Collection" during an auction Aug. 19-20. | Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Dear MRN, 

Did Ernie Banks ever receive a key from the city of Quincy?

It appears the former Chicago Cubs great and Hall of Famer did, but it’s uncertain when.

Heritage Auctions, an American multi-national auction house based in Dallas, auctioned several items from Banks’ estate on Aug. 19-20. 

Included was the first professional baseball contract ever signed by Banks — an agreement to play for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League in 1950. Fans could also have bid on his Army discharge papers and his Hall of Fame ring. There were other items from his personal life and his own sports collectibles, such as signed bats that he acquired through his career and a Tiger Woods signed U.S. Open flag.

One item was labeled as a “Circa 1960s Quincy, Illinois Key to the City Presented to Ernie Banks from The Ernie Banks Collection.” It was described as one of many keys to the city that “Mr. Cub” received during his storied major league career. It was measured at 7 inches. The die cast piece was described as exhibiting moderate wear throughout, while “Quincy, Illinois” is stamped on one side.

The key also came with a letter of provenance from the Banks estate. As well as endorsing the authenticity of an artwork, a letter of provenance describes its history of ownership. As the work passes through credible dealers and owners, collectors can comfortably be assured of authenticity.

The winning bid for the key was $276.

But when did Banks get his key? Research through archives of The Herald-Whig reveals Banks made at least two appearances in Quincy. 

He was 37 when he was in Quincy on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 1968, for the Rotary Club’s second annual sports banquet at the Starlight Terrace. Banks told the crowd of 450 people that the Cubs would make it to the 1969 World Series. The Cubs won 35 of their first 50 games, and on Aug. 16, 1969, they led the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals by 9 games. But the Mets proceeded to win 37 of their last 48 games while the Cubs went 20–28 in the same period. The Mets won the division by 8 games and went on to win their first World Series.

Banks also appeared on Ernie Banks Night on Monday, Aug. 20, 1973, at Q Stadium to watch the Wisconsin Rapids Twins beat the Quincy Cubs 10-6 for Cubs’ fourth straight defeat. Banks hit three balls out of the park in a pregame home run competition with Quincy manager Walt Dixon, then met with Quincy fans and sign autographs afterward.

However, neither account of Banks’ visits — both written by Chuck Brady, a longtime sports writer for The Herald-Whig — mentioned a meeting with Quincy mayors Wes Olson or Don Nicholson to receive a key.

What happened with Quincy RiverFest? It was supposed to be every year, and we had the first one, then nothing. There hasn’t been any news for this year’s event. I’m assuming at this point it’s not going to happen. Did we lose funding? Was it not successful in the first year? It was a great time the first year.

Well, RiverFest isn’t coming back to Quincy for 2023. Its future is in doubt.

Organizer Charlie Craft announced in April 2022 that the three-day music festival was moving from Fort Madison, Iowa, to Quincy and would be held Aug. 4-6, 2022, in Lincoln Park along the riverfront. The Quincy City Council soon afterward approved a $25,000 grant from the BET on Q Committee to Riverfest.

However, Quincy Park District Executive Director Rome Frericks said Craft is “taking a break” from the 2023 event. As for 2024, Frericks said, “I can’t answer that question.”

Riverfest was a staple of the Fort Madison community for 30 years. However, the Fort Madison riverfront was under construction last summer. Craft, the event’s director for six years, chose to move the event down the Mississippi River.

The temperatures were around 100 degrees or more for each day of RiverFest, leading to diminished crowds. Craft said last year he was committed to bringing the event back to Quincy but might consider a different weekend.

As if he thought the 2022 RiverFest was successful, Frericks said, “Uh, I think I’ll let (Craft) answer that.”

Attempts to reach Craft by phone have been unsuccessful.

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