This spring marks the 25th anniversary of a home made, home spun rap video which became a sensation, with one refrain: “Is we is or is we isn`t gonna get ourselves a prison?”
In 1987, the central Illinois town of Flora was competing, for the third time, to win a new state prison.
“When they awarded the second one, Governor Thompson said he did it because that town had gone all out and painted their football field so we thought if that`s what it takes to get his attention we`ll see if we can`t top that,” said Jack Thatcher, who was the newspaper editor at the time, and played a rapping member of the press in the video.
The video became an overnight sensation, featured on most network evening newscasts, Good Morning America, and the Joan Rivers Show.
A light footed flat foot was played by police chief Willie Thompson, who is no longer busting criminals but he can still bust a move.
“I dreamed up that move up myself,” said Thompson, who is seen the the video dancing down the streer while twirling a giant night stick. He retired, and now lives in nearby Kinmundy, Illinois. “(The director) said just go out and something and we`ll do a retake if we need to, and fortunately I did the right thing I guess.”
The video became so popular, the so called “Barbed Wire Choir,” also cut a record, sold t-shirts, and even held a televised “is we is or is we isn`t'” parade.
But despite all the hoopla, and maybe because of it, the answer to the question “is we is”, turned out to be no you isn`t.
“There was some disappointment of course because of our unemployment but overall we recouped and moved on,” Thompson said.
In the end, the publicity helped Flora attract businesses to an industrial park on the land that would have been the prison. The town’s unemployment rate was at 18% when is was bidding for the prison, because it had recently lost its two largest employers.
But now, 25 years later, the video is resurfacing on DVD, this time not as a pitch to build a prison but rather as a way to raise money to rebuild the city`s historic train depot, which has been under restoration for 18 years.
“We have been working on restoring this depot which is a three story brick building that is the largest depot between St. Louis and Cincinnati. The railroad is the reason Flora is here,” said Thatcher.
After 25 years, most of those in the video have either moved on or passed on, but the legacy lives on, thanks to 15 minutes of fame that has lasted a quarter of a century.
If you’d like to purchase the DVD, the price is $25. Send a check to FCDC, 223 West Railroad St., Flora, Illinois, 62839. For more about the depot, visit www.Floradepot.com.