A drive into history

When we started our “See Part of America” tour, I envisioned having leisurely afternoons and evenings when we would chat about the day’s adventures and compose summaries. After all, we are only driving four or five hours a day so there should be plenty of time. Clearly it hasn’t worked out that way. As of the time I am typing this I am officially eight days behind and I am now fervently trying to catch up with Paula who is racing ahead and is now only six days behind. So it’s now five o’clock in the morning in Fishkill, New York, as i study my photographs and extract from my shredded memory the events from our not too distant past.

We rejoin our story on Sunday, September 12, 2021, as we depart Glasgow, Missouri, on our way to Springfield, Illinois, by way of Hannibal, MO. Hannibal is not the home of Shoeless Joe. Shoeless Joe Jackson was an actual baseball player who was implicated in the Black Socks scandal, but he was born in South Carolina, not Missouri. “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal MO” was a fictional character in the musical Damn Yankees.

Hannibal is the home of the real Mark Twain, a pseudonym for Samuel Clemens, Molly Brown of the unsinkable fame and Marie Ruoff Byrum. The first two are people most of us know, but not until being in Hannibal did I hear of Marie Ruoff Byrum. She was the first woman to vote in the United States after 19th amendment to the constitution was enacted.

It seems to me that our current fascination with national political figures and international celebrities helps obscure the importance of rural areas and small towns in writing the American story.

Speaking of creating stories, Mark Twain was one of my favorite story tellers . The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn captured my imagination as a youth, and later in life I appreciated some of his other novels and stories including The Innocents Abroad, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, Letters from the Earth, Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and many of his essays on political and social issues. I can’t credit Clemens with my innate cynicism, but I attribute to him the burnishing of the edges.

At some time when I was older father gave me a copy of his short story The War Prayer. His family thought the story to be so inflammatory that it was only published after his death. I think it should be required reading and is available here.

Hannibal has done a very good job capitalizing on the legacy of its more notable favorite sons and daughters. Our time in Hannibal was somewhat limited, so we confined ourselves to touring the exhibits regarding Mark Twain and his legacy namesakes, the Mark Twain Lighthouse, Mark Twain Brewing Company and the Mark Twain Museum Properties.

The exhibit “Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home” contains what purports to be the one of the Clemens’ family homes; the home of Laurie Hawkins, who showed up in Tom Sawyer as Becky Thatcher; a replica of Tom Blankenship’s (Huckleberry Finn)home; the apothecary above which the Clemens family lived at one time; and a wooden fence with a bucket of whitewash. The exhibit contained lots of curiosities and memorabilia from the time and a detailed time line of Mark Twains early life, later career, and “whatever happened to” stories about his supporting cast.

There museum curators have put a lot of work into making the exhibit relevant to children and teenagers. In his later life Samuel Clemens was an vocal opponent of slavery and, to some degree, economic stratification but his earlier years were part of the era and a family in which slavery was accepted as a natural economic arrangement. The exhibits do not shy away from discussions of slavery and class distinction and do not attempt to justify it.

Mark Twain’s boyhood home with the original whitewashed fence and the original bucket of whitewash that was left behind while Tom Sawyer was up to his namesakefoolery. Whitewash, it is well known, is the most effective wood preservative known to man, which accounts for the world’s oldest fictional whitewashed fence still standing.
The Becky Thatcher House may or may not have been the home of Laurie Hawkins, the apple of young Samuel’s eye.
A replica of the Huckleberry Finn home, which bears slight resemblance to the house identified in the photograph below.

The Mark Twain Museum Gallery and interpretive center, located a few blocks from the Boyhood Home contains original illustrations for a number of his works, including a very nice collection of works by Norman Rockwell.

Original illustrations by Norman Rockwell
An image from Eve’s Diary.
A replica of a Mississippi riverboat. This one has not been converted to a casino yet. We chose to save our time and money to visit the brewery instead.
I just added this photo to prove that we actually did go to the brewery. You can tell that drinking beer on a Sunday afternoon is a popular pastime in Hannibal.
Statue of Tom and Huck situated just below the stairs to the Memorial Lighthouse.
The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse. After an incredibly long series of stairs (244 according to the sign) I found the doors closed and locked, so was unable to get any of the great river views I was promised. Who do I sue?

We did not tarry long in Hannibal since we had hotel reservations in Springfield, Illinois. This portion of our trip was not to be on “blue highways” but on Interstate highway, through fields of corn and construction projects, ultimately to Clarion, Pennsylvania. The first stop was Springfield, Illinois, to get a taste of the Abraham Lincoln legacy.

Springfield was the city where the Young Abraham Lincoln settled to practice law and politics. It was in Springfield that he met, courted, and married Mary Todd. It is where he was elected to Congress and subsequently where he was living when elected President. He is also buried there, though we did not visit his tomb.

We decided to visit the sites in the morning and limited our touring to the Lincoln home and the state Capitol building. We tried to make it to the originals state capitol building but it was closed for construction.

The tour of Lincoln’s home was lead by a National Park Service ranger who pointed out what parts of the home and furnishings were original, what were replicas, and what were simply typical for the time. It was an interesting tour, and the ranger insisted we come away with two critical facts. First: Abraham Lincoln loved cats and took in countless strays, and Second: Abraham Lincoln was a formidable wrestler and is included in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. I encourage you to read Paula’s post on Springfield for more information on the Lincoln home.

Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield home.

Later in this trip we plan to visit Lincoln’s birthplace, which happens to be in the same Kentucky county where Jefferson Davis was born. Some thirty-odd years ago I stopped by the Jefferson Davis Shrine while driving through Kentucky. That monument is now known as the Jefferson Davis Historical Site. I guess we can no longer worship our heroes with religious fervor.

Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois. Currently closed for construction.
Rotunda, Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, IL
Illinois State Capitol main stairwell.
Illinois State Capitol with monument to fire fighters in foreground.

The rest of the day consisted of highway driving, through corn fields and construction projects, viewing Indianapolis from the interstate, and stopping for the night in Springfield, Ohio. We chose Springfield for two reasons: We were able to get gas at Costco, saving about twenty cents per gallon, and we would be able to brag that we were in three different Springfields on three consecutive days (we stopped for lunch in Springfield, MO, on the way to Glasgow). That is something people brag about, isn’t it?

We had made he decision that this part of the Midwest is basically worth getting through for the outbound trip. We may make a foray or two into southern Illinois and Indiana on the return trip since we will be going through the northern edge of Kentucky on the way home. At 9:00 PM on a Monday night our dinner options amounted to vending machines or peanut butter and crackers. We settled for wine.

I will skip over the next day’s journey to Clarion, PA. It was more freeway driving, more construction, and more delays. But Clarion was a good stopping point before heading into New York through the Allegheny Mountains.

I have now sufficiently postponed publishing this post and can wait no longer. I envy those who write quickly and easily. As for me, I must write, then edit to the standard of a basic business memorandum, then edit again. It has taken nine days since I started this post, and we begin our return trip in two days. Much to cover in those days.


By the Bay

Oh how I love Jamestown! The bay is a short walk from Debbie’s house. Baby waves lap the shore. Sun on my back warms while a cool breeze keeps me cooly comfortable. Crickets chirp. Bees buzz. A plane soars overheard. A boat motors by.

Last night we joined my brother Peter and his partner Debbie at dinner with their long time friends. It was a wild raucous affair with big laughter. They are are supremely welcoming group.

Pete is in the blue t-shirt. Debbie is behind the guy, John in the red t-shirt. Neil, in yellow, I’ve also known since high school. Ruth, Neil’s wife, peeking between Pete and Kyle, who is John’s wife. A great evening!

After a rainy morning on Friday I took Ed to Fort Wetherill, a former coast artillery fort that occupies the southern portion of the eastern tip of Conanicut Island in Jamestown, Rhode Island. It sits atop high granite cliffs, overlooking the entrance to Narragansett Bay. Fort Dumpling from the American Revolutionary War occupied the site until it was built over by Fort Wetherill. Wetherill was deactivated and turned over to the State of Rhode Island after World War II and is now operated as Fort Wetherill State Park, a 51-acre (210,000 m2) reservation managed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. Here’s what it looks like now.

There are also lots of creepy underground bunkers. There is relatively little trash given the state of the graffiti. When I mentioned it to Pete and Deb they said that a local keeps it clean – and “whines about it on Facebook.”

Today we went out on Pete’s boat! Smooth cruising across the bay to Newport, meandering among some opulent sailboats and yachts. There is a lot of money sitting in the water here! The ships are beautiful to see, bobbing in the water of Adriatic hue, under clear blue sky. We docked and went ashore for lunch, sitting by the pier. A more gorgeous day couldn’t be had. Ran into headwind on the way back, some bounce and spray initially, but Pete maneuvered a course that mitigated that considerably.

Back on the island we directed ourselves to the Narragansett Cafe for a drink and more great live music. I have been dancing with some ease! I say more great live music because we were there Friday night as well. There’s always good music at the Gansette!

Neil Vitello in the spot light. Neil and the Vipers have been playing in the area for 40 years; they still play with a youthful passion that is wondrous to behold!

The Gansette has been going strong for seemingly ever. It was a hot spot I frequented back in my RI days. May the run continue.

Okay! Gotta get this day going!

At this rate…

No excuses, I’m just going to take the plunge. I last wrote of Springfield IL. From there we drove through Indiana to get to Springfield OH without any touring of Indiana, though my friend Betty said we should visit her hometown of Connorsville. Since she wasn’t there we decided to bypass. However I did snap a photo of a highway sign to send her.

Next stop was Clarion PA. It boasts Clarion University, lots of trails, wineries and breweries in the surrounding areas, and the Clarion River running through it. Lovely small city. After a day of driving it felt good to walk in the forest, even if just a short time as it was already early evening. And in a densely treed environment, it felt pretty dark. Yet the green shows up so vividly!

We walked a short distance on the 1.6 mile Clarion Loop Trail on land owned by the university. It runs through second growth forests of white pine and hemlock and is part of the 4,600 mile North Country Trail.

Clarion County is the gateway to the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors and Pennsylvania Wild Regions. This is a beautiful region we would revisit when the plan is to simply spend time in this area.

Catch up

I’m looking forward to Charlie’s post! What a way to start mine. That’s the space I’m in.

How many days ago were we in Springfield OH? Sheesh. It was just this past Monday the 13th. We toured Lincoln’s home which is pretty much as it was left when the family left for DC. He expected to return and continue his law practice with his partner.

There wasn’t much info regarding his younger days, living in a log cabin, though it was referenced. He didn’t have much in the way of formal education. Those were the days when you could enter a profession if you did right by your book learnin’. Think of the discipline required to teach yourself how to be a lawyer. Think of the reading, writing, and the ability to be clear speaking and eloquent. He gained his reputation through diligence and competence. I’m now inclined to read a biography. There must be one.

The house was initially a one story cottage. As the family and his popularity grew, so did the house, to the two story home given to the city of Springfield to be kept as a museum. Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln (the only child to reach adulthood) donated the family home to the State of Illinois in 1887 under the condition that it would forever be well maintained and open to the public at no charge. State forest rangers now provide the guided tour. Ours was most enthusiastic and provided scintillating detail which you’ll have to acquire by attending your own guided tour.

Beautiful wood stoves in each room.
Detail of the one wallpaper known to be a replica of actual, based on a scrap.
Lincoln’s actual desk, not a replica. Rug is based on what would have been in vogue at the time.
Kitchen stove. What a piece of work! Must have taken some know-how to manage heat stove top and in the oven.
Water captured fin rain runoff goes to underground cistern. Pumped for use in washing dishes, clothes… A well was used for drinking water and cooking. Shouldn’t all homes be capturing rain water like this?
3 seater. I wonder if there was at least a curtain to separate? A sign to signify occupation? Business? You know what I mean.

We quite liked this area which included act block radius of other local homes and the inhabitants therein.

In addition, that neighborhood hosts beautiful old buildings that now house restaurants and coffee houses, which would have been delightful to visit, but time marches on.

On the way to the statehouse we walked through a bicentennial park which paid homage to a variety of local black personages who made good for themselves while also elevating the local population. For example, one man, a builder constructed hones for black families at a reasonable rate. At the time local white devils would charge inordinate amounts in rent to black folk. This man, and I apologize for not knowing his name, helped many a family by providing quality homes at affordable prices.

The state house was a worthwhile visit. Beautiful, stately building. Photos follow

Looking up at the dome while lying on the floor.

From Springfield IL we headed to Springfield OH. A long and arduous journey and part of the reason these posts are delayed. Such is life on the road.

Into the Missouri Heartland

The next phase of our journey took us from Eureka Springs, Arkansas to Glasgow, Missouri, a town of 1000 residents, more or less, situated on the shore of the Missouri River. Glasgow is about an hour northwest of the Columbia, and was on the route taken by Lewis and Clark. This is not a great photo, but the text is informative. Including it may make one would if we visited Glasgow due to an arcane interest in trailing the exploits of Lewis and Clark. I can assure you the find was completely incidental.

Description of the Lewis and Clark Expedition events in the Glasgow area

We were in Glasgow to visit Steve, a friend from high school, and his wife Ruth. We had planned to meet at our 50 year reunion a few years ago but nature conspired to keep me home, focusing on the repairs to our hail damaged house. It made sense to travel through Glasgow on this trip since we needed to head north at some point and Glasgow would be on the way to Hannibal, home of the master writer whose cynicism I have long admired.

Steve told us that Glasgow had three claims to fame, though he did not state the Lewis and Clark expedition as one of them. I will tell you of those in a bit, using those nuggets in a feeble effort to inject a bit of dramatic suspense. At this time, however, I must return to the beginning of the day’s journey.

We left Eureka Springs on a warm, sunlit morning, heading east through the Ozark Plateau and then north into Missouri, leaving the mountains behind and entering the flatland of Missouri. Well it wasn’t completely flat. We were still in hills when we crossed into Missouri, and our search for a cup of coffee and a view of a lake led us to Camp Long Creek. I was really taken with these tiny cabins.

There were also many hills around Branson, the entertainment center of the western world, which was our intended first stop for the day. We were planning to check out the world’s largest roll of toilet paper, a photo of which would likely be the most priceless souvenir we could gather on this entire trip. Unfortunately we were unable to get that far since there were too many distractions long the way.

There was the world’s largest octopus devouring a building.

There was the world’s largest Oscar statuette ignoring the world’s largest statue of King Hong destroying a building.

And there was the country western Mount Rushmore

But mostly there were the top three of the world’s longest red traffic lights and the longest line of cars waiting for them to change. So we said, in our most gentile manner of expression, “F*** this S***, we’re outta here” We didn’t leave our car in Branson, even for a photograph. We agree that Branson is probably a great place for a family vacation. There are lots of water parks, theme parks, miniature golf, museums, and all sorts of entertainment venues. It’s like Las Vegas without the gambling, and possibly the class.

We bypassed our second planned stop as well. A friend had told us of the monument to Old Drum in Warrensburg, Missouri. Old Drum was a dog whose death by shooting was the subject of litigation. During the closing argument the attorney pursuing the case coined the phrase Man’s Best Friend . Unfortunately I found that I had actually plotted a route that took us far from Warrensburg. I blame the fact that our map had a crease in the wrong place, but Paula insists I was not paying attention. I’m sure I’m right.

The road eventually flattened out and we coasted along at a rather good clip on US 65, passing farmlands of corn and soy all the way to Glasgow. After checking in at the Orchard House Inn, where we were the only guests, we met Steve and Ruth for wine and dinner at Beckett’s, which was a surprisingly good restaurant for a town as small as Glasgow.

Orchard House Inn

With a population of about 1000 people, Glasgow is able to support at least five churches, including Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist, African Methodist, and Presbyterian congregations. They also support a public school (elementary and high school) and a Catholic school (elementary).

It seems that the tax base is fairly small given the size of the population, and I understand that the industrial base, mostly agricultural is a significant funder of public infrastructure. There is also a high degree of volunteerism in the community. The night we were in Glasgow, a concert and fundraiser for St. Mary’s school was held downtown and a fairly large crown, including a surprising number of young folks, attended.

This brings us to the exciting moment when I can reveal Glasgow’s three claims to fame.

First: Lewis Library of Glasgow is the oldest public library building west of the Mississippi and has been serving patrons since before the Civil War.

Second: The railroad bridge across the Missouri River was the first all-iron bridge constructed in the world.

Third, Henderson Drug Store is the oldest pharmacy west of the Mississippi, serving customers since 1841.

Henderson Drug Store, Photo by Ashley T. August 22, 2014, posted on Yelp.

There is also a senior center located near downtown.

As I start to wrap up this post, I hear the voice of Chief Inspector Gamache: “What are you not telling us?”

The main reason we came to Glasgow, was not to revel in its history, but to catch up with an old friend. We spent and evening and part of a morning together and enjoyed reminiscing about the past, and recounting how each of us has come to be in the present. It was a good visit, though too short, and I came to realize how much is lost when we fail to maintain relationships with those who matter to us. It is possible that one arrives at a time of life when it is too late to have lifelong friends. I regret that I have waited as long as I have.

Oh, the Midwest!

Green rolling hills. Miles of corn and soy beans. Plump tree canopies. Signs along the side of the highway like Burma shave ads: I have a gun\it’s pretty and pink\it makes the bad guy\stop and think\gunssavelives.com. Lone homes and barns nestled among trees and surrounded by land.

More and more traffic as we head north and east. More and more roadway construction.

We left one week ago Tuesday and entered our eighth state, PA, after going through TX, OK, AR, MO, IL, IN, OH. Since I’m so delayed in submitting posts, we are in the ninth state, arriving in Ithaca, NY yesterday the 16th.

It’s been a challenge to write. In Glasgow, MO we were up too late with Ed’s high school buddy and his wife. We all got on so well – like no time had passed since Ed and Steve had seen one another, and all of us like old chums. So enjoyed Ruth and Steve and the small town atmosphere. There’s a bar overlooking the Missouri River where we had wine and appetizer before dinner. A restaurant across the street. A bakery, unfortunately closed on Sunday. A breakfast and lunch place and a pizza parlor. For a town with a population of about 1,000, it feels vibrant.

There was a fund raiser for the Catholic school with live music outside. Maybe 150 people there, young and old. Older, I mean. Great band from Booneville playing rock classics. Ruth and I singing along. 

The Orchard House, our inn in Glasgow. It’s across from the Catholic church. Used to be the nuns’ home. During the civil war a battle was fought right in front of this place.

Glasgow has the world’s first all steel bridge ever built.

I love this architecture. Sadly, many of the buildings are vacant and in disrepair, the beautiful tin ceilings falling in.

After breakfast together we bid adieu and hit the road for Hannibal, another town on the Missouri River.

Tom Sawyer’s fence

We toured the Mark Twain museum and home and Becky Thatcher’s home. It was all entertaining and induced in me the desire to read more of Twain’s work or reread his classics. Maybe they are all classics now.

I hadn’t realized, or had forgotten, that Tom, Huck, Becky, Aunt Polly, Injun Joe, and Jim were all based on people in Twain’s life. The museum illustrated this with brief biographical bits, easily digested. A short film provided background. Many Twain quotes rounded out and brought to life the fulsome nature of the man and his time.

With all the censoring going on in our time, the over-the-top PC environment, the negative take on US history, and too easily offended, I appreciated this quote:

It was a difficult day for me leg and foot wise. Walking was a challenge, which it hasn’t been. I was pretty low and exhausted that night, thus failing to write again. The third night not posting was due to a longer day’s drive than expected through too much construction and stop and go traffic. And now I’ll stop excusing myself as it’s clear there’s always something and two more days have passed already!

Such a difference between walking the Caminho and driving. Obvious, I know. On the Caminho we walked with our thoughts. In the car, we listen to audio books, podcasts, music. We are not meeting fellow travelers. While I love visiting the sights, I love the small towns we travel through, I miss foreign exchanges.

I’ll close for now with a few photos from Eureka Springs – a week ago already!

Music in the park
The surface of this bridge is wood slats. They make a satisfying rumble as wheels roll over. This is outside of Eureka Springs in Beaver.

Until next time…

Eureka Springless

The drive through the western end of the Ozarks to Eureka Springs took winding mountain roads with enough hairpin curves to make a bald man nervous.  I’m not sure what that means, but I couldn’t pass up referring to hairpins and baldness in the same sentence.  I’m always tempted to drive fast enough to scare myself on that type of road, but avoided doing so since Paula was driving and we ended up behind a tractor-trailer rig most of the way, two factors that enforced a reasonable pace. We had plenty of time to enjoy the views.

We drove right to the massage center for Paula’s scheduled ninety-minute massage.  I took the time to walk around the area, upsetting myself by taking the most heavily travelled road and completely missing the turnoff to the historic center.  I had a good view of motels and storefronts, and had no difficulty convincing myself that it has been a colossal mistake to schedule two nights in this place.  By the time Paula was done with her massage I’d worked up a good case of ‘hanger’ which was fairly well dispatched by a good dinner and craft draft at an outdoor patio downtown.

Downtown is definitely down, except where it is up.  No, I’m not stoned, I’m just meaniging to to say there is not a level five-foot length of street anywhere in the area. I find it amazing that so many stone buildings could be built on such steep hills.  I was told there is a seven-story building in the city where each floor has an entrance from the street.   We did not see it and can’t recall seeing any seven story buildings. I would not be surprised if it were true, since we definitely were either headed uphill or downhill for the entire visit.

We were actually able to find parking spaces in our two ventures to the historic district.  Traffic, particularly in the daytime, is dense if not congested.  Eureka Springs appears to be a popular spot for motorcyclists.  Designated motorcycle parking is everywhere.  It is important, though, to recognize that only Harley’s are really motorcycles, the rest are motorbikes, rice burners or crotch rockets.  Drivers of BMW’s, Motoguzzis, and Indians are not necessarily forgiven their sins, but at least receive a dispensation.

Eureka springs has been known for the healing properties of the spring water since before the Civil War.  Of course all sorts of patent medicines were popular in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries so we take the health testimonials with a grain of salt.  The health benefits of salt have also been overstated, we hear.  Now, however, public access to springs is difficult, if not impossible. We thought we’d check out the hot springs for relaxation.  There are no hot springs.  Are there cold springs?  Yes.  Where can we find them?  You can’t since they are closed to the public.  What about the reputation as a health resort? There are plenty of spas and massage parlors. Any more questions?

We actually found a cold spring and were warned away by signs saying the water is unsafe to drink or to contact.  Paula found a copy of a sign from a century ago pointing out that fainting, chills, diarrhea, and other effects from the water should be seen as a sign the cure is working.  Sort of like what we hear from the CDC about adverse effects from the COVID vaccine.

In reality it seems that the purpose of historic downtown area in exclusively to sell stuff to tourists and to offer accommodations in once luxurious hotels.  i don’t think I’ve ever found something I need at a tourist shop. The historic center does have its charms, though, mostly in the quaintness of the buildings and in the friendliness of the residents.

The Flatiron building is actually a recent incarnation of two previous buildings that had been destroyed by fire. This is the second on this site and was elected on the late twentieth century.

A relatively calm period of traffic

  The locals we spoke with universally directed us to the surrounding countryside rather than anywhere in the city for enjoyment.  Except for food.  If barbeque is your thing, there are many establishments that can fill sate your appetite.  Paula and I shared a Cubano sandwich at the Rockin Pig for lunch and weren’t hungry again until the following morning. A young man we encountered at the visitor information center suggested we drive to a wooden bridge at Beaver Lake.  It was a really beautiful mountain road with many vistas and overlooks.  We stopped several times to appreciate the quietness and watch hawks circling above the river.  The bridge is a steel bridge with a deck made of wood planks that rattled like hell when we drove over.  I was struck by a memory from childhood of crossing a bridge like that and being terrified, thinking the bridge must certainly collapse from the weight of the car.  I was not surprised to later find that RoadsideAmerica.com identified that bridge as the “Terrifying Beaver Bridge.”  The attendant at the park told me the bridge will be closed starting in two days for maintenance.  Seems that our timing was spot on.

Note the editorial comment

We also walked around Black Bass Lake that afternoon, a hike of not more than a mile.  It was very quiet.  We had been told it was a place few tourists would find.  We only saw one person though there were two cars in the parking lot.

Altogether, I think the visit to Eureka Springs was worthwhile and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or architecture.

It is essential, while in Eureka Springs to pay homage to the goddess of feminine cosmic energy found overlooking the Basin Springs Park.

A not so hidden agenda

The truth is we did not head out on our See Part of America Tour without a purpose. We have both a primary and a secondary aim. The first is to visit family and friends in Rhode Island. Second, are taking paintings that our friends have stored at our home to them in Ithaca, NY. For the last few years we have been considering selling our home and moving into a place that would be easier to manage in our golden (or in my case, rust filled) years. It’s unlikely we’ll actually get around to doing so, particularly since we have so much stuff to sort out. Moving these paintings from under the bed in our guest room will be a small start.

There are a lot of miles between Albuquerque and Jamestown, Rhode Island, and we chose to limit our daily dose of sitting and drive between 4 to 5 hours per day. We also thought we should increase our total sitting time by adding a hundreds of miles by not taking a direct route. We also want to keep to what William Leastheat Moon calls the “Blue Highways” when feasible. Blue highways are the roads that show up on maps in muted colors, frequently blue, as opposed to the major highways and interstates. The Blue Highways passthrough the smaller cities and towns and provide a view of the America that is not always visible from the main roads or the main stream media.

Leaving is our first opportunity to take some of those slower and more scenic roads. We added Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to our itinerary with an intermediate stop in Bentonville, home of Walmart.

A few miles east of Tulsa we stopped to visit one of the roadside attractions: the 50 foot high Buddhist deity (so described on the Roadside America web site) at the Vietnamese Chua Tam-Bao temple. The temple is peacefully situated along a quiet country road some distance from highways, though not so far as Hellen Gawn’s. Although we would have liked to tarry there we only took a few photographs to capture the quietude and contentment so we could have it available on our phones if we ever had need of it.

Eastern Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas are quite beautiful, though there are many abandoned and decaying buildings and villages that serve as a reminder of the urbanization of the country. Only a few hours from Tulsa we entered the growing metropolitan area that encompasses Fayetteville and Bentonville. That area contains a thriving network of strip malls, franchise restaurants, and and instantly quaint establishments that illustrate the finest expression of modern life.

So much for my attempt at eschewing cynicism. There are many aspects of the economic development that have upgraded the quality of life for people in the area and we certainly did not explore much beyond the main road in the area. Let it be sufficient to say that the stereotypical view of a backward and poor hill people is not an accurate reflection of the population. If we were to repeat this trip I think I’d schedule a few days to explore the area. There are a large number of outdoor activities, including hiking and bicycle trails and many types of water sport adventures

In the midst of Bentonville is a development that exemplifies one of the best opportunities afforded society by an economic system that fosters inequality. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a good example of private investment in public infrastructure that would be difficult to finance with public money. The linked Wikipedia article shows how donations from private sources make the project possible and simultaneously there is criticism that the project does not generate sufficient tax revenues to satisfy certain elements of the populace.

The structure is too large and complex to adequately capture with photographs, but here are a few.

The museum includes a modular home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that had been disassembled in New Jersey and reassembled on museum grounds. We had been planning to tour Falling Waters in Pennsylvania on the way to Rhode Island but have been unable to get reservations on acceptable dates. Seeing one of Wright’s smaller homes provided a small taste of what we will miss. There are a lot of design features that make the construction interesting and intriguing. However, I cannot envision living in such a unit for more than a short time. I think the starkness and linearity would become tiring.

Photography of the building interior is prohibited, so I only have external views to share.

Our visit to the museum was somewhat truncated since Paula had a massage appointment in Eureka Springs in the afternoon. The collection is probably too large and to truly appreciate in one visit, and since there is no charge for admission making multiple visits over a couple of days would be appropriate.

I will leave off here and continue the saga on the next post.

Rambling while meandering

We have started our “See Part of America” tour.  Our destination is to end up we started with stops along the way.  Armed, as always, with our trusty sidekick, Internet, and his new companion Roadsideamerica.com we set out, with songs in our hearts and an audiobook in our speakers, hoping to visit as many interesting features of the American landscape as feasible in our limited six week journey.

We planned our first day to be the longest, 650 miles from Albuquerque to Tulsa, putting the arid and not so compelling landscape behind us in one leap, and leaving some treasures to be visited on the return trip.  Cadillac Ranch, Big Texan Steakhouse, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum will still be here in October. 

We thought two nights would be enough to appreciate the best of Tulsa, but I must admit we hardly scratched the surface in the one full day available to us.  Tulsa is very comfortable city.  Its history, dominated by the industrial harvesting of liquified organic matter, has left parts of the area with a built environment expressive of luxury and abundance.  We stayed with a friend in an older neighborhood where one can envision that sixty years ago children roller skated in the streets, organized pick-up games in the park and bicycled though farmlands that had not yet been replaced with interstate highways and strip malls. Those homes, modest in comparison to the oil financed estates, are a testament to the economic vitality of the post war years.

We are fully cognizant of the parallel history of racial strife. The scars from that period are present, with reminders and commemorations scattered through the city.  I will leave it to others to make the requisite noises about that period in history and I am sure someone will feel it necessary to express concern that our past did not live up to our expectations.

We planned to visit some of the interesting oddities listed on the Roadside America website, but unfortunately did not have time to fit them in. Perhaps the future will see us fulfilling our desire to see the muffler man, the monument to the runner who died in a car trunk, the sonic center of the universe, the buried car time capsule from 1998, the freedom chainsaw tree, and other features.  We missed these sites due to spending much more time than anticipated the Philbrook Museum of Art and Oral Roberts University.

I had been to both over thirty years ago and wanted Paula to appreciate seeing them.  The intervening years had embezzled the details from my previous experience and left me with only vague random recollections.  I was surprised at the relative newness of seeing them again for the first time.

Here are a few images from the Philbrook.

The Phillbrook Museum of Art is a wonderful building on a lush and verdant estate and has a well curated collection. The Phillips family built the estate in the twenties, and for ten years it was inhabited by Waite and Genevieve, their two children and 22 support staff.  They donated the whole lot to the city o f Tulsa in 1936 and it opened as a museum a few years later.  If I were a resident of the area I would make it a frequent place of refuge. If I were to visit again I would schedule two days, one to appreciate the art and another to enjoy the grounds. The Museum appears to provide considerable opportunities for children to experiment with unstructured play on the grounds. Information about the museum is available at https://philbrook.org.

Composed completely of butterflies

One room contained a multimedia display on the history of the property It described how property that was communally controlled by native population became allocated to individual tribal members and then sold to investors.  It has become popular these days to be outraged by the colonization of indigenous lands. A good measure of the outrage is due to the events being recent and properly documented and recorded. It is the same process, however, that has occurred throughout the world over millennia.  Populations lose their lands to better armed and empowered invaders. The European ancestors of the industrialists and entrepreneurs who acquired the land form the native Americans had once been dispossessed themselves.  European history is the history of invasion and conquest.  The pain of the loss is more pronounced to those who can remember it. History is written by the winners, they say, but perhaps it is better said that history is forgotten by the losers.

Enough of that.

We were at the museum for nearly four hours after which we had a late lunch in the Arts District. One of the quaint things about Tulsa is you will probably get green beans with your meal, whether you order them or not. That is my determination after having 100 percent of our meals in restaurants having those morsels on the plate. I forgot to take a photograph of my meal to post on this site and social media, but I can assure you it had green beans served on the side.

My recollection of my visit to Oral Roberts University thirty years ago was seeing an an eerie, alien and futuristic cityscape shimmering in the light from the setting sun. On this visit I was still impressed by the architecture that seemed to suggest some sort of divine manifestation. The campus is meticulously manicured and has a serene and peaceful ambiance. On this occasion we went to the prayer tower and found it a good environment for meditating on life, consciousness, the universe and everything.

There was a video about the construction and mission of the university playing in the visitor’s center. While I watched I recalled that I always thought of Oral Roberts as something of a crackpot and wondered it that was something I actually thought or simulated thinking since it was so much the conversation among the people I knew at the time. While in that space and at that time I came to marvel at the man who had a vision to create something as big as a university with a special mission, who actually built it. Many years after his death his vision is still alive. What from my cynicism will survive me?

Buddhas and Crystal Bridges

Hi! We got a pretty early start leaving Tulsa. Neither of us knows what time and it doesn’t really matter, yet still I natter on about it. We missed most of the roadside attractions we’d made note of. After looking them up on line, it just didn’t seem worth the time to traipse about Tulsa to find them. They weren’t that interesting. Meh.

We did manage to see the 50 foot tall Buddha on the way out. It’s on a large Vietnamese temple property. Very peaceful and a soft breeze easing us into the day’s journey.

There were lots of Buddhas: the Ascetic, the Warrior, Dancing Buddha…and more. Didn’t wander the entire property to name each one. My favorite is Homie Buddha. Do you think there is a relationship between gang signs and mudras?

As we are traveling blue highways we’re going through some smaller towns. It’s a great way to get a feel for life outside of cities and the rural areas. The lush, rolling hills and treed expanses are easy on the eyes and spirit. Rolling through Locust Grove, Oklahoma I spied an inviting coffee shop. We stepped into a party. It was the 95th birthday of a local veteran, Doogie or Doozie was his name. A young woman was interviewing him for posterity. He seemed shy at first, but then warmed up to the subject.

People were friendly, but no one offered us cake! The coffee was good, as was the atmosphere. The front half was coffee shop and the back half a bookstore. Coffee tins covered the canister lights. A ceramic cat on a shelf mimicked the often present bookstore cat. Part of an ancient windmill blade decorated a wall.

Wonder City in Locust Grove

Next stop – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR founded by Alice Walton. No admission fee. Quite an amazing collection. Too large for us to see it all in the limited time we had. Should have taken friend Liz’s advice to spend more time! But by then I already had an appointment scheduled for a massage in Eureka Springs that afternoon. So, fair warning – don’t make that mistake. A night in Bentonville would absolutely make sense.

Here are a few photos.

Close up from We the People.
Trippy. That’s not the title, just the sensation.

Made it to Eureka Springs in time for my massage – an hour late. Explanation: I thought the appointment was at 5, but it was 4. So thankful she waited for me. It was one of the best I’ve ever had.

That’s all I’ve got for tonight. Maybe tomorrow I’ll catch up so I’m not a day late.

Ciao. A bientôt. Hasta la próxima.