The Railsplitter’s Home Town — Oct. 10-17, 2013

We were heading for Davenport, IA next.  But our central propane heating system quit working.  We figured that the subsequent destination – Springfield, IL – would offer more opportunity for mobile repair.  So we made it to Illinois State Fairgrounds seven hours later and met a wonderful couple who were the caretakers every year.  They not only fixed us up with a nice spot but called the local guy who could “fix anything.”  We settled in. Suddenly the heating system was working fine!

There was certainly plenty to see.  And it wasn’t all Lincoln stuff.  That weekend at the fairground featured a Junior Horse Show, which we planned to take in.  Even better, the following weekend included an all-breed dog show.  We contacted our dear friend, Michele Kasten, who lives about 90 miles south, to see if she’d be there.  Not only was she coming to show her Schips, but she was setting up the fund raising booth for her non-profit, Midwest Schipperke Rescue (MSR).  Michele is the Schipperke’s best friend; in addition to being both a champion breeder and rescuer, she is president of MSR, an officeer of the Greater St. Louis Schip Club, and actively on the board of more than a half dozen other clubs, including the Schipperke Club of America.  She’s responsible for two members of our current rescue family, and all of our personal fund raising efforts earn money for MSR.

Our first stop downtown was the Visitors Center.  We learned, to our relief, that most of the exhibits were state or privately funded and open. Only Lincoln’s home was closed by the Federal shutdown.  Another nice thing we discovered was that our handicap sticker entitled us to free parking at all meters.

Just around the corner, we started out at the Lincoln Presidential Museum and the Presidential Library across the street.  Upon entering the Museum, you’re confronted by a circular atrium the Lincoln family standing proudly in the center.  Unfortunately, this is the point at which you had to put your camera away.  Five entrances around the atrium led to a variety of exhibits.  The two main galleries are designated with a replica of Abe’s boyhood home (we’ve been there!) and the façade of the White House.  The third gallery is an outstanding multi-media presentation led by a live host and featuring holographic overlays on backgrounds of many experiences, beginning in the archives and morphing to a Civil War battlefield.  Next is a replication of the Union Theater with another state-of-the-art presentation called Lincoln’s Eyes.  Through them, we visualize key personal and political dramas confronting Lincoln throughout his life – especially slavery.  The Treasures Gallery quickly rounds out one’s visit.

The Old State Capitol building was built between 1837 and 1840.  It was the fifth capitol building in the state, but by the end of the Civil War, it was inadequate.  The current Capitol, inaugurated in 1868, is the last – to date, at least.


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Our favorite interpreter

In its brief tenure, the Old State Capitol building saw Lincoln’s final service in the state legislature.  He tried hundreds of cases in its Supreme Court, made his “House Divided” speech, and laid in state after his death before 75,000 mourners.  We had a tour conducted by a woman who was a professional history interpreter; she rotated among state venues.  She guided us through the governor’s suite, law library, legislative facilities and Supreme Court chambers.  She’s pictured at right describing a grandfather’s clock in the Governor’s office.

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Stephen A. Douglas

In the second floor rotunda, outside the House chamber, stands a statue of Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s opposition both for Senate (Abe lost) and the Presidency (Abe won).  The statue, by Leonard Volk, stands eight foot tall, almost three feet taller than its subject!  Dubbed The Little Giant, Douglas, at 5’ 4”, he made up for lack of stature with brilliance and determination.  It is fun to visualize his series of debates with Lincoln, a foot taller than he.  Their debates in 1858 drew them to every one of the state’s seven Congressional districts, but only one of the locations has been preserved.


old SH (22)Another exhibit of note is a flag that’s identified as the Minnesota Constitutional State Flag. It was captured in 1861 in northern Missouri by by the 16th Illinois Infantry.  It was the first of many such trophies, all of which were displayed in this building.  In 1891, a Missourian clarified the flag’s origin and identified that it featured the palmetto tree and landscape of South Carolina, the first state to secede after Lincoln was elected president.  This flag remains on exhibit in the Old State Capitol, while the others have been relocated to the state Military Museum.  (Sound familiar?  That’s where Iowa holds its own Civil War battle flags!)

I can’t leave the Old Capitol without presenting the rotunda to you.  The staircases are a treasure to behold.

Directly across the street, where one finds the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, there’s a brick esplanade that features a wonderful statue of the Lincoln family and a young passer-by tipping his hat to them.

law office (5)When Lincoln opened his office in this building in 1843, his partner was Stephen Logan, a cousin of Mary Todd.  A year later, they dissolved their partnership and Lincoln took on William Herndon as his junior partner.  The firm of Lincoln-Herndon moved to another location in 1852 and survived until the President’s death in 1865.  The lawyers occupied the third floor, while the state occupied the first and second with a post office and courtroom respectively.  Today, the ground floor is its visitors center,  It’s as far as we got.

Our next stops were two non-Lincoln (and non-governmental) exhibits.  In my college days, I did extensive research and essaying on the era of the Pullman Strike and Illinois Governor John Philip Altgeld.  Altgeld was the Progressive (some say anarchist) governor from 1893-1897.  During his tenure, he pardoned three of the eight alleged leaders of the Haymarket Square Riot of 1888 — of the others, one had committed suicide and four had already been executed.  He later refused to call in federal military support against the Pullman Strikes led by Eugene Debs in 1894.  Debs is remembered for his efforts to revise labor laws, especially those involving child labor.

Lindsay was memorialized with a poem called The Eagle That is Forgotten, written by Vachel Lindsay.  I was taken by the poem and could quote it for a long time.  And I thought I knew a lot about its author . . . until Dot and I visited his home in Springfield, where our favorite interpreter — the young woman from the Old State House — led us through the history of Lindsay, his home and the considerably larger body of his work.

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was well known for his artwork as well as his prodigious poetry.  Born in 1879, he did well in high school and moved on to Hillman College to follow in his father’s medical footsteps.  For three years, he excelled in literature and philosophy and failed pre-med and foreign languages.  He moved on — first to the Chicago Art Institute and then to the New York School of Art, where his mentor advised him to concentrate more on his poetry than his art.  The die was cast.

Lindsay’s dominant calling for his entire life was as a traveling poet.  From New York, he hopped a tramp steamer to Florida and then worked his way back to Illinois by bartering his poetry for meals.  He set off on other sojourns and returned to Springfield on the eve of the Race Riots of 1908.  Aghast that such a thing would happen not only in Lincoln’s home town but on the 100th anniversary of his birth, Lindsay gave a series of lectures on race, encouraging his fellow citizens to make the city a model of civility and decorum.

By 1913, having received recognition on both sides of the Atlantic and having several published volumes, his tramping days were over.  He was the first American poet to be invited to speak at Oxford University.  He courted Sara Teasdale, but she rejected him for a shoe manufacturer. Ten years later, he married a much younger Elizabeth Conner, and she bore two children.  While he accepted numerous assignments, he always adopted the performance mode; he became known for actually singing, rather than reciting, some of his works.

Sickly from his youth, his health began a downward spiral in the late 1920s.   While he still traveled to performances, he yearned for his beloved family and city.  In desperation, he committed suicide in 1931.  Today, the state is supplemented by the Vachel Lindsay Association, dedicated to preserving his heritage and furthering it by holding readings and exhibits in his home.

Again, no photos were allowed.  I believe there are two dominant reasons:  the fact that there is a great deal of copyrighted materials at these exhibits, and photos could be used by unsavory sorts to “case the joint.”  For the pictures above of Lindsay and his home, I am indebted to Job Conger, creator of The Vachel Pages, who allows copying from his site.

Wow.  Maybe I can be briefer from here on.  We moved next to the Dana Thomas House, one of the premier examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie period.  Designed in 1902, the 12,000 square foot dwelling was Wright’s first spare-no-expense commission.  It was built for Susan Lawrence Dana (1862-1942), heiress to her father’s estate in 1901.  Susan hired Wright to “remodel” the family’s Italianate homestead, but by the time it was finished, only one room of the original remained.  The remodeled house was built on three levels, with an additional 13 interim levels.  The architect worked diligently to keep eyes traveling outside, as was his wont.  To help accomplish this, he developed the largest collection of furniture, art glass and accessories in any FLW property including the chandelier below.

Susan was a tragic figure who compensated by sharing her wealth with others.  Her first husband died less than two decades after their marriage, and she suffered two miscarriages.  Her second husband died within a year after their marriage, and her third union ended in divorce.  She took on responsibility for her mother and her cousin Flora.  Mother died suddenly while they were on an adventurous trip in 1905, and when Flora, who shared the house with her, died in 1928, Flora, Susan was left entirely alone.

Nonetheless, she continued in a whirlwind of social and political activities.  But her finances suffered.  Overextended, her wealth was tied up in nonconvertible assets, and she was forced to move from the house. By 1942, she became incompetent, and as soon as she was institutionalized, the gavel fell on her properties.  Fortunately, the house was purchased by Charles C. Thomas, founder of the Thomas Register, who personally assured Wright that the house, while becoming the firm’s office, would be preserved.  In 1981, the company sold the house to the state, and a second stroke of luck occurred.  Jim Thompson, governor at the time and a strong advocate for Wright, filed a preservation bill that brought the house back to its original 1910 grandeur.

Not very brief, I know.  But pictures were again verboten, as they have been in all the FLW properties we’ve toured.  Trust us – it was exquisite, as were the anecdotes about its occupants.

Our visit to the current State Capitol was right on the heels of our visit to the Iowa version in Des Moines, Here, I’ll spare you a lot of words.  But there are a couple of things of unique interest.

capitol (32)You may note that the newels at the foot of the Grand Stairway are a pair of female statues that might look familiar.  Here’s the story.  Iowa first commissioned them.  They were considered too racy, so they were sold to Illinois.  Later, uncomfortable with that decision, Des Moines commissioned replicas.   The art is beautiful and an appropriate reproduction in bronze of a statue that was featured at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  It is titled Illinois Welcomes The World.





A giant painting, measuring 40 x 20 feet, depicts George Rogers Clark, leader of the Kentucky Long Knives, negotiating with Native Americans at Fort Kaskaskia.  Therein lies another story (of course!).  The Illinois Territory was inaugurated at Kaskaskia.  On July 4, 1778, Clark and his band captured Kaskaskia from the British.  Illinois became a western county of . . . Virginia!  Clark was instrumental in securing the entire Northwest Territories during the American Revolution.

At the other end of the Capitol grounds was the State Museum.  It held many fine exhibits.  The feature of the week was geology, and I was met by an educator who would have spent an hour teaching me about fossils until I begged to move on.  There were very comprehensive exhibits portraying Illinois through the ages — and prior to being Illinois. Other large exhibits explored industry and Native Americans.  Another highlighted “contemporary” living.  Snippets of several are displayed below.

A temporary exhibit was a six-month presentation entitled Figurism.  It’s not only an exhibit featuring 2D and 3D artwork but a series of lectures about the subject of figure art.  I think the thing that most drew me to it is the fact that one of the artists is Mike Ferris, and Eleanor Speiss-Ferris is one of the lecturers!  Wonder where they are on the family tree!

Our last city visit was to the Oak Ridge Cemetery, final resting place of The Lincoln Family.  There was a holding facility in the cemetery for deceased whose graves were not ready.  A Monument Association grew out of the Memorial Committee that planned his return to Springfield.  Recognizing how long it would take to construct the President’s mausoleum, a separate building was erected to contain both Lincoln and the two sons who predeceased him. The family selected the site, and the Monument Committee raised the funds to erect the shrine.  Ground was broken in 1869, and dedication ceremonies were held in 1874.  At that time, three Lincoln sons and the president were interred.  The Monument was subsequently rebuilt twice, in 1899-01 and the 1930s.  The first added 15 feet to the spire and lowered the remains to an underground crypt. The second rebuilt the interior out of granite and marble, added the red marble memorial stone, and installed the interior statuary that depicts the multiple roles played by the Great Emancipator during his lifetime.  Outside, there is a bust of Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mt. Rushmore, its nose polished to a bright gold from the hands of visitors seeking good luck.  Around the base are statues of the four key military forces: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Navy.  The statues below are two of a dozen, about two-thirds life size, that rim the crypt.

 Oak Ridge contains the remains of many other important citizens, from early settlers to politicians to war heroes.

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Horse Fair at the Fairgrounds

Our on-campus adventures were fun.  The 30th Annual Youth Charity Horse Show offered a hundred or so events, all ranged by age from the littlest (who rode hobby horses!) to the seniors, who were mid-teens.  It was polished and professional and brings in mid-five figure reward for its efforts.

Dot went over on Wednesday evening to the Exhibitor Building to help Michele unload the mountain of stuff she had for sale at the Prairieland Classic, a cluster of eight separate all-breed specialty dog shows over a four day period.  We both arrived early on Thursday to help the setup and cover for her when she was scheduled to be in the show rings.

We headed out on Friday morning, even though the heating system quit again.  We were now heading south and hoped it didn’t matter!

Des Moines, Iowa’s Capitol — Oct. 7-9, 2013

We spend a couple of weeks in Iowa during The Journey, but we never made it to the Capitol.  Our friends, Martha and Jim Rowland, live in Alden, about sixty miles north of the city.  Alden was founded in 1855 by a Massachusetts cousin of mine, Henry Alden.  We’ve been there, and we sat in the graveyard next to old Henry’s stone while the Town Historian told us the “rest of the story.”

We had a really cheap site reserved at a National Park between Des Moines and Alden  – only to have the Federal shutdown cancel it.  Si instead, settled for a nice site in the Des Moines Fairgrounds and made a date to meet Martha and Jim at a locally famous eatery, The Hickory Park Restaurant in Ames — which is also the home of the University of Iowa.

We set out to see as much of the City’s sights as we could in the remaining time. The list was a dozen items long, and we did less than half of it.  So there’s good reason to come back.

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The neoclassical Capitol Building

Our first stop was The Capitol.  You’ll not be surprised to learn that it has a dome, a rotunda, a grand staircase, governor’s suite, law library, old Supreme Court quarters, and both Senate and House chambers!  The dome is covered with gold leaf and was re-gilded in 1998-99.  The leaf is so thin that 250,000 sheets would measure only one inch thick.  Construction was started in 1871, but it wasn’t completed until 1886.  Unlike most Capitols we’ve visited, no additions have been required, and except for the ceiling of the House Chamber, redone after a fire in 1904, everything is original.

We had an excellent tour guide and a large contingent, most of which was a high-school class from Russia.  Nice kids.  After visiting the Governor’s Reception Room, we were introduced to a doll collection that consists of all the State’s first ladies in their inauguration gowns.  Above it is a reproduction photograph showing a division returning home from W.W. I.  At 26 feet x 6 feet, it’s one of the largest in the world.  Additional artifacts on this level are an 18 foot long, scale model of the U.S.S. Iowa and the original of Iowa’s Constitution, restored and preserved in 1988.  Not present was a collection of 140 Civil War battle flags, currently offsite and being stabilized by the State Historical Museum.

Climbing the Grand Stairway, art abounds.  A wall sized painting, Westward, depicts the arrival of pioneers in Iowa.  Above it, on the balcony, are a set of six mosaics, designed by Frederick Dielman of New York and made in Venice of small colored stones.  They depict the functions of government:  Defense, Charities, Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and Education.  Opposite the stairway is the Law Library, with unique iron spiral stairways to access its multiple levels with matching balconies.  The south wing belongs to the 50 state senators.  Both they and the 100 representatives are citizen legislators, spending just over three months in session and pursuing other occupations for the rest of the year.  Both chambers are elegantly fitted but less decorative than some we’ve seen.

Below the dome, a series of 8 half-moon paintings and 12 statues represent the values and tools of civilization:  herding, agriculture, the forge, commerce, education, science, art, history, law, literature, fame, industry, peace, victory, truth and progress.  At the top of the dome is the Grand Army of the Republic symbol, heralding the efforts of Iowa to preserve the Union during the Civil War.  We were invited to hike the additional dozens of narrow steps up into the dome; while the kids were eager to do so, we passed.

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The Women of Achievement Bridge

With the Des Moines River bisecting the city, there are dozens of bridges that cross it.  Of special significance is the Principal Riverwalk, a 1.2 mile section in the heart of the city sponsored by the Principal Finance Group on its 125 anniversary of its tenure in the city.  The Riverwalk consists of six riverside attractions and two pedestrian/bicycle bridges.  There are two promenades with trails, a skating rink, a garden and a sculpture park.  The Hub Spot, still underway, will be a place to meet, stroll and eat.  The bridge at the south end is a renovation of the old Union Railroad Bridge — now known as the “Red Bridge” because of its caboose-toned paint job — with separate lanes for walkers and bike riders.  The bridge at the north end honors The Women of Achievement in Iowa and, likewise, splits into separate lanes for walkers and riders..  Four women are currently named, and several will be added each year via citizen recommendations.

The State Historical Museum was worth a full day.  Exhibits include Native Americans, Prehistoric heritage, wildlife, industry, military, natural resources,  and  the environment  Specific exhibits include quilts (a study of restoration methods by type of material), the art of model making, and the custom silver service aboard the original U.S.S. Iowa.  Iowa takes great pride in its contribution to Sherman’s March through Vicksburg and across the south, as well as the regiment of African Americans from the state who served the Union.

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The Governor’s Mansion

The Governor’s Mansion is open for three tours a day, 5 days a week except in December.  The third floor, part of the second and the basement are used by the incumbent governor and his family.  Our tour began with a talk in – what else – the former Carriage House!  Pictures weren’t allowed anywhere inside, but our guide was passionate about the place and held our interest with his thorough knowledge of its structure, its contents and its residents.

The home was originally built by Iowa’s first millionaire, Benjamin Franklin Allen, in 1869.  It was purchased from the bankrupt Allen in 1884 by Frederick Marion Hubbell, who named it Terrace Hill.  Hubbell came to Des Moines with his father in 1855.  His father went back to Connecticut several years later, but Frederick decided to stay.  In the ensuing years, he became the richest man in Iowa, and others in his family prospered as well.

From 1846 until 1947, only one governor spent his four years in supplied housing.  In 1947, Iowa bought a colonial-style home for its governors.  The Hubbells donated Terrace Hill to the state in 1970. and in 1977, the first “First Family” took up residence there.

The most exceptional exhibit in town was the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.  No, there’s no connection to the pizza giant!  John traveled from Greece to America at the age of 6 months, lost his father at age 16, and, along with his brothers, had to alternate school with working to support the family.  After graduating from U-Iowa, he opened an insurance agency and climbed the entrepreneurial ladder up to Pappajohn Capital Resources.  He and his wife Mary have donated over $100 million, mostly to education and artistic endeavors.  One of those endowments is the delightful park that occupies 4.4 acres from 13th to 15th Street on the west side.  The Pappajohns donated 27 sculptures, valued at over $40 million, and the city built the environment and maintains the exhibit.  A comprehensive brochure is available on site, detailing each work and even providing activities for children.  Many of the artists are American or British, but there’s also an international representation.  Some artists are as famous as Willem de Kooning.  I will let the statuary speak for itself.

Our reunion with Martha and Jim was wonderful.  The Hickory Park Restaurant is a kitschy place that specializes in barbecue and ice cream, serving giant sized portions of everything.  We made an afternoon of it, knowing it might be a long time before we saw each other again.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s Capitol — Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2013

We made a pit stop half way across SD and arrived in Sioux Falls on Tuesday.  This was one of two metropolises (metropoli ?) in South Dakota that we’d missed on The Journey — the other being Pierre, the Capitol.  So a third trip is in the offing in the future.

The campground was strange but decent.  It was off a city street, but a barrier of buildings kept it quiet and it was nicely wooded.  The clientele was overwhelmingly a caravan of transient workers — more than 30 families, from Alabama and Mississippi, traveling in a group with identical “park model” trailers that looked more like mobile homes.  One morning, about half way through our week’s stay, they all disappeared in a convoy, leaving behind toys and bikes and outdoor furniture and piles of trash that imposed a massive cleanup project on management.

It took several trips downtown to see everything we wanted to.  The first took us to Falls Park, a giant oasis on the North side that’s dressed up for the tourist crowd.  The Visitors Center has a fifty foot high observation tower that provides a birds-eye view of the Falls — Lower, Middle and Upper.  From the Center,’s tower, we strolled down for a closer look and to take in some of the neighboring sites.  Monarch of the Plains was carved from a 12 ton piece of mahogany granite that came from Milbank, SD, 125 miles due north.  It was carved in 1999 by Darold Bailey.  The Sioux Falls Light and Power Company, in service from 1908-1974 is now the Overlook Café, with indoor and outdoor dining.  Below the power plant were the ruins of the Queen Bee Mill, a brainchild of Richard Pettigrew, one of SD’s first US Senators.  It was built so local farmers could process their wheat locally, rather than sending it east to Minnesota or Wisconsin.  It went bankrupt after just two years of operation (1881-83), but it then changed hands and continued to process until the mid 1910’s.  A Millrace and Dam supplied water power to both the mill and the power plant.  Looming over all from across the Lower Falls is St Joseph’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral lends its name to the Historic District, a collection of about forty buildings in a 20 square block area.  As is our usual habit, we drove through it, reading a syllabus as we passed each home.  The tour was interesting but not particularly memorable!  We did visit one building – the Richard Pettigrew Home and Museum.   Senator Pettigrew built a home for his new bride in 1880 just two doors away.  He sold it in 1912 to buy this 1889 Queen Anne from attorney Thomas McMartin and expanded it extensively prior to his death in 1926.  When it accrued to the city, they expanded it even further to house more artifacts.

Another downtown trip was a self-guided tour of Sculpture Walk.  We first saw such an attraction in Salina, Kansas, but this one was far more expansive.  Fifty five sculptures are placed on the sidewalks throughout uptown and downtown.  Each is labeled with its title and artist name, as well as the sponsor’s name.  The brochure/ballot also notes the location and the selling price.  This is the tenth year, and the city buys the winner of the People’s Choice voting.  All past winners, along with two dozen other works either owned or leased by the city, are displayed as well.  We didn’t get to visit all of this treasure trove, but relative samples are below to show you the diversity of the collection.  The photos are worth enlarging!

And I went for a little extra culture.  The Sioux Falls Symphony Orchestra performed Mahler’s Ninth Symphony on the Saturday before we left, and their performance was excellent.  Only one downside:  the maestro came out and spent about ten minutes talking about the work.  I could do without this.  This also happened at a symphonic performance I went to in Moab.  Just music, please.  I can read the program notes!

We were now in the home stretch, with Iowa our next stop.

Custer State Park and the Bison Roundup — Sept. 25-28, 2013

The impetus for this entire trip was finally reached.  We rolled into Custer State Park and took up residence in one of their campgrounds, attractive and airy and overlooking Sylvan Lake.   We’d made these reservations back in February, and it wasn’t too much longer before they were completely booked.  First order of business was to make contact with friends Keith and Cheri Begley.  They were our next door neighbors in Tucson in 2011-12.  We visited them in Missouri at their home and toured Kansas City with them.  We had independently decided to take in the Bison Roundup, so they were 6 miles down the road at the main facility.

History surrounded us, including Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument.  But we’d been-there-done-that quite thoroughly in 2010.  So during the few days before the big event, we communed with the Park and friends — both two legged and four legged.  The bison shown below was in our campground before we arrived, and we met him up close and personal about a mile down the road.  As usual, I didn’t trust their docile appearance and stood near an open car door while chatting with him and  snapping his picture.  The antelopes were also in the campground, and the donkeys on the Loop Road nuzzled us, begging for the carrots Dot brought.

We didn’t believe the rangers at first when they said we should be in line at one of the venues by 5:30 AM on Friday.  The viewing areas and corrals were at the bottom of the Loop Road, but you had to choose one side or the other because the road was blockaded at the herd’s crossing.  The parking lots opened at 6:15 and closed at 9.  By the time we got to the north gate, there were about fifty cars ahead of us.   I brought my laptop and alternatively did crossword puzzles and dozed.  It took us until about 7:00 to get settled at a parking spot, and it was way up top.  We were to regret that later!

Summer weather was nowhere to be found.  At that hour, the temperature was in the high 30’s.  We dressed for it; this was to be the only day in 2013 that I wore socks.  And it never really warmed up.  We staked out a place with our chairs, and others crowded in with the morning light.  Then came an interminable waiting period; it was not until 11:00 that the drive was due and it actually came later than that.

But it was well worth the wait.  The first action came high on the hills above the crowd at the south viewing site.   First it was one, then a couple, then a small cluster, then a cowboy on horseback and another in a four wheel drive vehicle.  On they down the hills, widely spread out and then later gelling into a huge mass that at times was amoeba-like as the drovers worked to funnel them toward the corral.  The herd of over 1,000 circled around past us, heading toward the narrow entrance to the corral

.The purpose of the Roundup is to check on the health of the stock, vaccinate and tag the new herd members, and cull out a portion of the herd for sale to other grazing locations and to food processors.  The State Park must constantly keep the size of the herd in check so that ample food is available to support them.  The cull is typically about 200 beasts.  We thought about claiming one as a pet, but our RV life stopped us.  Getting out of the parking lot was a 90 minute proposition.  Fortunately, most of the time put us close to the corral where we could watch the bison graze.

Saturday brought on a festival in the Park with food and vendors galore near the headquarters.  We explored it, though Dot and I, at least, would not partake of bison burgers.  That evening, we treated Keith and Cherie and four pals of theirs to a spaghetti feast at our trailer.  And before leaving, we got a bonus: Keith and Cheri told us they’d be trying out our campground in Florida for the 2014-2015 winter season, instead of going back again to Tucson.

Sunday morning brought a brief stop at the “dump station” and travel eastward across South Dakota, aiming for Sioux Falls with a one-night “meaningless” stop in between!


Renewing our Lewis and Clark Connection

By this time, we realized that a stop in Williston proper would amount to nothing but chaos.  The entire area had been consumed by the Oil Boom and its attendant problems.  Not only would we have never found a site to stay in, there were already huge buildings that collectively held the RVs of hundreds of workers who’ve flocked to the area.

But the city wasn’t our real goal anyway.  Twenty-two miles to the southwest, just before crossing into Montana, lies the Confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.  The Missouri continues west from there — the route Lewis & Clark took on their way to the Pacific.  On the return route, however, the two captains split up the party at Lolo, Montana.  Lewis and a few others headed north to explore the Marias River and learn more about the Blackfoot tribe.  Clark, Sacacawea and the others followed the course of the Yellowstone.  They planned to meet a month later at this Confluence.

Lewis and his party had the most trouble, including an unfriendly encounter in which the Expedition took he lives to two thieving Blackfoot braves — the only fatal encounter on the entire trek.  Clark and company were also hassled by the Crows, who stole 28 of their horses, but no bloodshed occurred.  The groups finally reunited as planned, but not without many anxious moments.

We expected the Confluence to be more of an L&C shrine than it was.  While the Interpretative Center certainly acknowledges the visit of the Corps, considerable other events of historic proportions occurred there as well, such as the building and manning of trading posts and military forts in the region.

We stayed for an hour, crossed it off our bucket list, and moved onward to Glendive, Montana for the next few nights.

Duluth — July 11-17, 2013

Train tour


It was our hope, this time as well as the last UP visit, to travel northwest into the rich copper country. But we decided, instead, to maintain our course, and the next stop was Duluth.

But that was a mistake — we spent a week in Duluth and never really connected with the city.  Why we longed to go there, we can’t really recall!  We visited the waterfront, the sight of another freighter-museum.  And we took a tour along the waterfront on a local railroad spur turned into a tourist attraction. The train ride was to and fro for about ten picturesque miles. We rode one way in an open (chilly) car, and we went upstairs into the dome of one of the closed cars for a birds-eye view on the way back.

And we toured Glensheen, a standout attraction.
Chester Arthur Congdon (1853-1916) was a Rochester, NY born lawyer and financier. He graduated from Syracuse U. in 1875 and married a classmate, Clara, six years later. By 1892, he and Clara were in Duluth, where Chester amassed a fortune, primarily in copper and iron mining. He was a sensitive man of quiet philanthropy, but he also splurged over $850K on an estate overlooking the city. It was built between 1905 and 1908, and it has been identified as a “melding of late Victorian, Arts and Crafts and Art Noveau.” The 39 room mansion sits on 7.6 acres of Lakefront property.
One of our very favorite mansion visits is Copshaholm, the South Bend mansion of the Joseph Oliver family. Built in 1896, it remained in family hands until it became a museum with original family content. Glensheen shares the same honor; it served the family for its entire life until donated to the University of Minnesota in 1968. It even includes Chester’s top hat and some of Clara’s handwritten letters among its artifacts. Clara outlived her husband by 34 years; she was still a resident when she died in 1950 at 94.
Elisabeth Congdon, sixth of Charles and Clara’s seven progeny and last surviving member of her generation, retained residency in the home until 1977, when she and her nurse were murdered by Roger Caldwell, the second husband of her adopted daughter, Marjorie. Roger’s double-life sentence was overturned, but he confessed soon thereafter and committed suicide. Marjorie was found innocent of co-conspiracy, but she went on to a life of crime.

First contact with the estate is the Gardener’s Cottage (below left), occupied by the same family for 83 years. It’s the only building on the estate that was ever modified. It housed George Wyness, hired in 1921 to be the family gardener, and the cottage was later enlarged for his growing family. His son, Bob, took over the clippers for his dad and was the last person to live on the property, departing in 2004 with his wife Elsie for a retirement home.

Next, the Carriage House, which now serves as tour-central. One first passes through the stables, then moves on to the vehicle room with numerous carriages and a motor car, perched on an elevator that took it to its upper-floor storage. The yellow-topped is a Studebaker Mountain Wagon, purchased in 1907, a South Bend product that preceded their auto manufacture.

Our trip through the mansion allowed very limited photo opportunities. On the other hand, it treated our eyes to the exquisite trappings that money can bring. Clara had a strong hand in the selection of interior treatments and both Congdons had a fondness for landscaping. It was truly worth the stop.

Fulfilling our UP Promise: July 6-10, 2013

We visited Marquette in 2010, near the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which is like a “roof” over the state. We loved the city and conveyed many stories of its beauty and history in our e-book, The Journey.  And we heard so much about the UP that we vowed to visit more of it, especially the eastern end.

This was our chance.  Heading north again on Rte. 75 across the Mackinac Bridge dropped us in St. Ignace, and another 50 miles put us in Sault Ste. Marie – as far as you can go without crossing the Canadian border.  (Incidentally, the other end of Rte. 75 is just north of Miami!)

Sault Ste. Marie translates to “Rapids of St. Mary.”  They bridge the gap between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  The “Soo” Locks first tamed the rapids in 1855.  Today, there are four locks available for ships of all sizes maintained by the U.S. Amy Corp of Engineers:   Poe (1896; rebuilt 1968), Davis (1914), Sabin (1919) and MacArthur (1943). Davis and Sabin are supposed to be replaced by a super lock; while ground has been broken, the funding is still not appropriated.  There is also a small lock on the Canadian side, opened in 1998, that is used primarily by pleasure craft.  Fun facts:  the locks handle  over 90 million tons of cargo on 11,000 ship passages annually.  A single 1000 foot “Laker” carries the cargo of 60 – 100  train cars or 2,300 large trucks.  The neighboring hydroelectric plant produces over 150 million kwh of electricity each year.

We had lunch at the appropriately named Lockview Restaurant, and we watched a huge Coast Guard buoy tender maneuver itself into the nearest lock.  As we sat there finishing up our sandwiches, it began to disappear.  We chomped quickly and ran across the street to view the sinking as the water flowed out and lowered it to the outbound level.  Regrettably, I had neither camera nor cell phone!

Tower of History (6)

MV Valley Camp Museum

Sault Ste. Marie also provided an opportunity to explore one of the mighty ore ships stem to stern.  The MV Valley Camp (1917) is berthed on the waterfront as a museum representing the fleet that plies the waters of the lakes to this day.  Inside its vast cargo hold and around its decks are numerous exhibits revealing the challenge to take these behemoths to sea.  One can wander from stem to stern.  If you visit the wheelhouse and look aft, the fantail seems to be in the next county.  An informative exhibit is a series of simple charts that show each lake, its position in the chain and the commercial shipping value it brings.  Please enjoy the gallery below that  pictures many features of this self-guided tour.


On one level of the poop deck is a memorial dedicated to the Edmund Fitzgerald, whose loss with all hands in 1972 is retained for posterity by Gordon Lightfoot’s  mournful ballad.  The complete lyrics are part of the exhibit.  More poignant, however, is the battered lifeboat that may have given brief hope to some of the crew.  As a lifelong sailor, I am reminded, with tears in my eyes, of the Navy Hymn:  Eternal Father, strong to save / Whose arm hath bound the restless wave / Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep / Its own appointed limits keep / Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee / For those in peril on the sea.

Tower of History

Tower of History

A sister exhibit to the MV Valley Camp is the Tower of History.  A 210 foot structure, it was originally built by the Catholic Church to herald the early missionaries in the area.  Today, it provides historical extracts of the region’s religious and secular history.  I found it even more fascinating as the source of a bird’s eye view of the entire downtown and harbor area.  The results are below.  It took me a long time to find out what the long building along the waterfront is:  The Cloverland Cooperative Hydroelectric Plant!

After Sault Ste. Marie, we trekked westward across the UP.  We did stop in Marquette again, to refresh our minds of the  beautiful Lake Superior. In fact we found one new – and one renewed – attraction to visit.

"Nugget" in Presque Isle Park

“Nugget” in Presque Isle Park

Our friend Worsley in Grand Rapids declared that the largest copper nugget in the world was not to be missed.  We drove back to Presque Isle Park, a venue with which we were very familiar, and found it — a slab of “glacial float” copper, discovered in the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1998 and moved to the park two months after our earlier visit.  It measures 15 x 13 feet and weighs 28 tons.  Float copper or drift copper is literally transported by glacial movements.

We were in town in 2010 on the very last days of the existing Marquette Regional History Center.  Our return allowed us a trip through the new facility.  Night vs. day — it was a major wow factor.

Junk Art (1)

The entrance sign.

How we missed Lakenenland last time around, we can’t figure.  It has been open since at least 2007, about 15 miles outside of Marquette.  Tom Lakenen is an ironworker-turned-artist who has created a drive-through park of immense proportions.  He built the 37 acre park and its 80 sculptures to “have something to do during layoffs after I stopped drinking.”   Harassed by the local jurisdiction, a town called Chocolay, he continues to try to provide something for everyone.  In addition to his art, he’s built perch-filled ponds for young anglers, a rest stop on a snow machine trail though his property, and a bandstand for anyone to use and enjoy.  The path through his art  is not a route one can take casually; it’s important to walk it or drive it twice with many stops of contemplation on the second pass.  Like the Hudson car pictures in Shipsewana, I will limit my pictures below – with difficulty.  My artistic readers, I hope, will demand more!

We consider ourselves even more Yoopers than ever.

Grand Rapids: June 26 – 28, 2013

Ford Museum3

Mr. President

Ford Museum5

The All-Star

We still had four or five days to kill until our due date at the next Rally in Mackinaw.  Grand Rapids was a comfortable midpoint, and we enjoyed the opportunity to visit yet another Presidential museum.  Our 38th President’s heritage is divided.  Grand Rapids, his home town,  is the location of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, while his Library is on the campus of his undergraduate alma mater, UMichigan, in Ann Arbor.  They are jointly administered.  The museum  is housed in a grand architectural concept near downtown, its front lawn guarded by an abstract Ford in football regalia. Captain of his high school football team, outstanding college player elected to the national all-star team, and recipient of contract offers from two NFL teams,  he opted, instead, for boxing and football coaching positions at Yale, hoping to get into their law program.  Completing his LLB in the top quarter of his class in 1941, he returned to Grand Rapids and briefly worked as a lawyer.  But a year later he became an ensign in the Navy Reserve.  He served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterrey and almost lost his life — not in battle but when the ship was caught in a typhoon in the Philippine Sea, caught fire and was severely damaged.  After his discharge in 1946, he returned to Grand Rapids to practice law but was soon inspired by his adoptive father, the state Republican chairman, to run for Congress.  He was elected to 14 terms, each with over 60% of the vote.  While he longed to be Speaker of the House, the best he accomplished was Minority Leader, a post he held for 8 years before being tapped by President Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew as his right-hand man.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The museum does, indeed, chronicle his life with many exhibits.  His three short years as president do not provide much sensationalism, but it was a much-needed national calmness after Watergate.  Thinking back, the strongest memory I have – other than the pardon — was his “WIN” slogan, encouraging us to Whip Inflation Now.  Pundits  would turn it upside down and recast it as No Immediate Miracles!

While in Grand Rapids, we took a day to drive out and see Lake Michigan at Muskegon.  It’s a fascinating town, and since we now seek out history and aesthetics wherever we go, we find that we often allot too little time to cover a destination.  We could have spent three days exploring Muskegon! The area is blessed with Muskegon Lake, fed by the Muskegon River and emptying into its huge sister through a narrow channel.  It’s 4150 acres and has almost 15 miles of coastline.  As such, it was a haven for the logging industry, where timber came down the river and was milled on the banks of the lake before being freighted out to the world.


Hackley and Hume Homes

The names Hackley and Hume pepper the landscape; Charles Hackley and partner Thomas Hume were the prime lumber barons.  Here’s a picture of their adjacent homes.

We spent the most time in the Lakeshore Museum. The museum itself explores the lifecycle of the area over the past half-billion years or so – it’s been under water for much of its life and it once meandered south of the equator.   Several lovely dioramas were created by the Works Project Administration, which apparently put many artists, as well as artisans, to work in the 1930’s  Fauna from the woolly mammoth to the barn owl were displayed.

Hackley Park is less than a block away.  It was created to memorialize the War between the States.  It opened in 1892, the day of the dedication of its centerpiece, a 76 foot soldiers and sailors monument. In its center, a 14-foot bronze “goddess of victory” atop a granite pylon, holding a flag and sword (pictured).  She is surrounded by a sailor, infantryman, cavalryman and artillery man.  At the corners of the city-block sized park are four additional bronze statues:  Pres. Lincoln, Adm. Farragut, Gen. Grant and Gen. Sherman. The Museum has several annexes.

scolnik house

The Scolnick House

Time expired before we could explore the campus of  Hackley/Hume homes.  But we did visit two others. The Scolnik House, named for the real owners of the house, represents the Depression Era, when the market declined 75% and 25% of the nation was unemployed.  The storyline in which the home lives today is that it was owned by a Polish Catholic family who converted it into a two family to make ends meet, leasing the upstairs to a family of Polish Jews escaping the Holocaust.  Our guide put us clearly in the situation as she took us through the humble Queen Anne structure.

Next door is the C.H. Hackley Hose Co. No. 2 , a.k.a. the Fire House Museum.   It is a reconstruction, built as part of the bicentennial celebration.  Its artifacts, however, are authentic.  Upstairs is the bunk room, complete with the requisite fire pole.  On the main floor were two horse stalls which, when opened, put their “engines” within a few feet of their tack, hung and prepared for instant harnessing.  A “modern” motor driven engine stood ready, and a jumping net was displayed over it.  Above the stables was a pompier ladder, a device that allowed the fighters to break a window on the floor above, hook to the sill, and climb to rescue the damsel in distress.

This, and a scenic drive to the harbor and channel where the waters of Muskegon flow into Lake Michigan, was the most we could get to do in one day.  Pity!

As a bonus, I got to visit with one of my former database clients, John Worsley.  John was Director of Marketing at Performance Bicycle in North Carolina, and I loved to go down to Raleigh and visit my favorite good ol’ boy.  John moved out of the Tarheel State almost a decade ago, and I found him in Grand Rapids, thanks to LinkedIn. We hadn’t seen each other for over fifteen years, and we did a lot of catching up – and clue-ing Dot in – over a long lunch downtown.  He’s now  a confirmed Michigander and, as usual, a font of local –and industry — knowledge!  (I was really only interested in the former!)

Grand Rapids and environs was a new and very interesting venue for us.  But now it was time to join our Maryland club at our annual long-distance adventure.  This was the first time in four years that we’d been able to.