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.


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