The Gemini Giant: Wilmington, IL

The Gemini Giant is 28 feet tall fiberglass “bit Thing” named after the Gemini space program of the 1960’s, located on Historic Route 66, (it was one of the very first major highways in America, was built in the 1920’s … and is also known as the Will Roger’s Highway, the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road).  This roadside attraction was built during the very beginning of the space race as a way to lure travelers off the road with a photo opportunity, in the hope that they’d stay long enough to buy a hotdog or a drink.

fullsizeoutput_432c.jpeg

The statue stands directly adjacent to Route 66 (yes, really, it’s the nondescript two lane road in the picture)

IMG_3574.JPG

and is in the parking lot of the Launching Pad restaurant (which was once a drive-in)

IMG_3577.JPG

The restaurant was built in 1956 at which point it was a 600 square-foot shack…they actually hired Hopalong Cassidy (well, the actor who in the 1950’s played the character in a series of sixty-six movie serials based on the character, William Boyd) to come and cut the opening ribbon (Boyd is the one in the cowboy hat)

IMG_3579.JPG

(According to the owner of the Launching Pad, who was thrilled to share the places history with me, after the show ended Boyd had gone to the studio and bought the licensing rights to the name Hopalong Cassidy for $450,000, a lot of money in those days… and in a few short years turned it around into $5 million by putting his picture and name on lunch boxes. I will note that Wikipedia disputes some of this but hey…)IMG_2160.JPG The new owner went on to tell me that the same family owned it for the next 50 odd years, passing it through the generations (and it was always wildly successful that whole time, open from around 7am to midnight — at least I think that’s what he said — with a staff of 20, and always doing good business) until 2010 at which point they sold it to somebody outside of the family who ran the business into the ground in the course of two short years (by buying cheaper ingredients, refusing to run the air conditioning, etc, all in an attempt to increase his profit margins I assume). As such, this Route 66 landmark business quickly went broke as its bread and butter local customers abandoned it, and has stood empty until this new owner bought it in 2017. The new owner is financing it solely from his own pocket and with any money he’s made by merchandising the image on T-shirts and bumper stickers and what not.

IMG_2163.JPG

He tole me he has licensed the image of the giant (something the previous owners never bothered to do), so that nobody else can replicate it and he has tracked down all the old recipes for their dishes and intends to have the kitchen up and running in about two months. Till then, he’s filled the restaurant with a random collection of memorabilia intended to keep visitors happy. IMG_2164.JPG

IMG_3575.jpg

Even without the restaurant up and running, he told me that nn a slow day he says an average of about 200 people showing up in the store/resturant, while on a fast day it’s 500 to 800 people coming in from all over the world because they’ve heard about this place. Just during the time I was there, for about half an hour at about 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, I saw a Chinese guy and a French couple stop in to check the place out, all of whom were folks that were road-tripping Route 66 on motorcycles.

IMG_3560

A Big Man on a Bike, called “Will B. Rolling”: Port Byron, Illinois

Not much to say about this, it’s a very big (30 foot) fiberglass statue of Victorian man riding a vintage bicycle called a Penny-Farthing, so-called because its two wheels were of very different sizes and looked like you were holding a penny coin (small) up to farthing coin (large)…. Its located in the tiny riverside town of Port Byron, IL. Usually, the “Big Things” sculptures on my blog have a bit more whimsy to them than this one did… Not sure why this failed to do so, but it did. As such, this one really didn’t “make me happy” in the way the other fiberglass statures tend to and unless you’re needing a break on your cross-country drive, I don’t suggest it.

fullsizeoutput_4325

I learned about it from the traveler’s web page, Atlas Obscura and since it was ‘almost’ directly along the route I was intending to drive anyway, and at exactly about a point where I was going to need a break anyway (about once every hour or two, just to stretch the legs), I went.

fullsizeoutput_4324

According to Atlas, there are actually two of these (not identical), this one in Port Byron Illinois and the second, called “Ben Bikin”,  located in Sparta Wisconsin, that have spawned a 300 mile bike tour that zig zags cross-country from one statute to the other, called the Will to Ben Bike Tour.

Susan G. Komen: Race for the Cure; Springfield, IL

About a week ago, as I wandered around downtown Springfield on saturday evening after the museums had closed I came across this event, the Susan G. Komen ‘Race for the cure’ getting ready to start right in front of the Illinois Capitol building. And for those who don’t know, it was the Koman Foundation that first associated pink ribbons with the fight against breast cancer…

IMG_1654

For those not familiar with the foundation: Koman was once one of the most trusted charities in the country, raising funds in the fight against breast cancer.

IMG_1657
This stand was handing out free wig stands for women undergoing radiation therapy, and free food to runners, which included pulled pork sandwiches and lots of cookies (I admit it, I accepted a chocolate chip cookie, which they offered to me even after I said I wasn’t running)
IMG_1551
Free pink cotton candy and water from McD’s was also being provided to the runners

But then,  it made a decision to stop donating some of its money to fund Planned Parenthood (a reproductive health foundation founded by Margaret Sanger — who was part of the inspiration for Wonder Woman —  that serves the poor, but that is HIGHLY controversial with conservatives because it also provides abortions), and pretty much lost a lot of its goodwill.

fullsizeoutput_3ed0
They were giving out Pink scarves, like in this girl’s hair, as well. A woman commenting on my entire lack of pink in my outfit insisted that I take one and wear it.

This included (some unfair) claims that only about 20% of the money goes to cancer research, while paying Komen’s founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker an exorbitant salary. So at this point, while the foundation is starting to redeem its reputation, it’s still a bit controversial with liberals.

IMG_1663

An after the fact note: this run was towards a yearly goal of raising $500K, we are now approaching the start of June (the half way point) and Koman has only managed to raise $65,967 towards its goal (according to this website, at the date of posting).

fullsizeoutput_3ece

Casey IL: the land of 8 world record holding big things, and a lot of Jesus

If you’re the sort of person who is into BIG things, i.e., roadside attractions designed to lure motorists off of main roads and into small towns that they would otherwise have no reason to pass through… at least long enough to stop and have a meal or fill up their tank, than you’re going to LOVE Casey IL, pronounced ‘Kay-zee‘ by the locals.

IMG_1681

I first heard about Casey NOT from billboards or Tv, but rather from the woman whose Airbnb I stayed in during the Total Eclipse of the Sun that passed through downstate IL on August 22, 2017, (not one I’ll ever go to again, the woman who ran it was kind of despicable in her unmitigated greed) and I had been trying to work Casey into my travel schedule since then.

That said, when I say Casey is a town you probably would never come to otherwise (unless your family or job necessitated it), I mean it ! THIS ladies and gentleman is pretty much the whole of town (plus or minus a side street or two), if you don’t count the fast food options located adjacent to the highway off-ramp, about a 15 minute walk, or two minutes of driving away.IMG_1203

These photos were taken at around 4pm on a Monday afternoon, and so many of the businesses were closed, even the ones that were still in business, that at first I thought I might have made the strategic error of showing up on a Sunday.

Let’s be clear, Casey isn’t just kind of quiet, its dying. According to Wikipedia the most recent 2010 census, the population of the town was 2,762, down from their 2000 census count of 2,942, and while the next census isn’t for a few years, the estimated numbers for 2016 are even worse, 2,698… to put this in perspective the suburb I grew up in has a population of 12,187 and my highschool had a population of about 4,500 when I graduated, although it’s down to about 4K now…

That said, there’s something kind of brilliant in the efforts of town local, Jim Bolin to not only bring attention to his town, but do something to try to revive its economy, which is something I learned from these postcards in his wife’s shop:
IMG_1743

That said, the following video is worth seeing, as Casey made the iconic CBS Sunday Morning show, in that section where they talk about wonderful and/or odd things to be found off America’s beaten paths….

Watching the show I found it really interesting how its producers assiduously opted to ignore a huge element of the oversized objects scattered around town… namely, Casey is a town that takes its love of all things biblical, SERIOUSLY!

IMG_1184
Note the Star of David and Fishes motif on the chimes

Apparently, the wind chimes were the first item Jim built (with the aid of the Guinness organization), in order to hopefully draw traffic from the highway (with the aid of billboards) to his wife’s failing coffee-house, and it proved so successful that he started to create other items to help other stores in town…. that were “appropriate to the business” being helped.

For the yarn store he created the world’s largest knitting needles and a crochet hook, which would have brought me into the store and I might have purchased something, but for the fact that in spite of it being a Monday afternoon, the place was closed. (I’m pretty sure these had biblical text on them as well, but since the store was close I don’t know what it was.)

IMG_1191

… But that said, THIS is the password for the free wi-fi his wife’s business, the local coffee-house, offers. My provider is T-mobile and while my phone worked there, there was absolutely NO data other than this available for me in the whole town; otherwise, I might not have spotted this.

IMG_1742

I looked it up, the verse is “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Once I saw that, I got a tad suspicious, as it’s not the sort of thing you expect as a WiFi login outside of a religious institution.

IMG_1738
Note: even more biblical stuff in this mural

After seeing the WiFi password it quickly became clear that every single one of these oversized item in town (from what I saw), while it does clearly serves to help bring customers into the various stores who might never otherwise enter them, each item also comes with an apropos bit of evangelicalism … via bits of biblical text.

IMG_1202

According to the (very) professional video located at this web site, the shoes weigh 1,500 lb, and according to the video from CBS, not only does the mailbox work, but if you mail things from it the postmark stamp says “world’s biggest mailbox” rather than Casey, IL. (Wish I’d known that when I was there, I’d have sent some post cards.)

IMG_1200

While most of the items are located in the downtown area, and were kind of easy to find with these sign posts that were scattered around town:
IMG_1186
Easily the single biggest “big-thing” in the whole town was the rocking chair… although is a rocking chair a rocking chair when it’s not allowed to rock?

IMG_1185
One of the stores in town sold a service where they would Photoshop you onto the chair

IMG_1753

While the final two items, the golf-tee and the pitchfork were both in locally owned businesses (not a national chain, etc), these were not in the downtown area but rather nearer to the highway.

IMG_1758

IMG_1199

 

IMG_1193

In addition to Guinness World record holding items, there were also other big items scattered around town items that did NOT earn that merit, but were none the less very big… and again, evangelical….

IMG_1945

IMG_1190

Also while walking around town, I came across this sign referring to a road I’d never heard of, “The National Road

IMG_1693

… it wasn’t until I got home and wrote this blog that I learned it was actually the Cumberland Road, the first federal highway built by the United states government, which ultimately became route U.S. Route 40 …. so of COURSE that I had heard of that …

 

 

That said, there’s a quote from one of my favorite books, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, that comes to mind anytime I’m in one of the tourist trap/roadside attractions

“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low, unimpressive wooden building.
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”
“Come again?”
“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a giant bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”

― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

So who knows, maybe there is something special about Casey…

Is there a the connection between Lincoln logs and the log cabin Abraham Lincoln was born in? HMMMMMMMM…. a theory

I have just come up with a convoluted but not so unlikely theory regarding the invention of Lincoln logs and why they are called Lincoln logs…

So yesterday while Visiting Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL I learned they were invented by Frank Loyd Wrights son…

IMG_1551

Well I have been the memorial for Lincoln’s birthplace, inside of which stands a log cabin

IMG_7004

today I learn I was wondering who were these Lincoln Farm Association folks…  and learned that…

According to Wikipedia:

Richard Lloyd Jones “From 1903 until 1911, he was a writer and associate editor for Collier’s Weekly, working under the publisher Robert J. Collier.[1] In 1905, Robert Collier and Jones collaborated to buy the old Abraham Lincoln farm at auction in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Then they organized a fundraising campaign to establish a historic site, which was opened during the Lincoln Centennial in 1909. The first board of trustees for the site included Jones, Jenkin Lloyd Jones [his dad]Mark TwainWilliam Jennings Bryan and President William H. Taft.[1]

AND….

Jenkin Lloyd Jones was not only a famous Unitarian minister, but was ALSO the uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright.

So what you ask?

I have been to Lincoln’s birth place, and according to both the staff member at the memorial  and Wikipedia the log cabin that is there is NOT the original, but according to this site it was — or at least the guys who made up the Lincoln Association, who were the ones that bought the building thought it was. Doing more research I found this site which sort of explains the confusion.

Apparently, in 1894 a speculator by the name of A.W. Dennett bought the farm where Lincoln had been born thinking people would want to see it, and had deconstructed a two-story log cabin found on a different part of the property, and moved its logs over to the spot where the original farm was thought to have stood (the original building had long ago been disassembled and he just assumed that this Lincoln cabin had been built using those logs). He then opened the spot for business, only no one came — because, no one was interested enough to shelp to rural Kentucky… So, as the saying goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the Mountain…. and at one point he added the logs from the cabin that was supposed to have been the childhood home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. But, with all the building and taking-apart and moving around, the Davis logs and the Lincoln logs got mixed up… so that by the time the Lincoln Farm Association got around to buying the land and the logs back from Dennett, it was anybody’s guess (by historical standards) which if any of the logs were from the original house, when they ‘rebuilt the house’ in Hodgenville.

SO, Frank Loyd Wright’s son is the cousin of the guy who started the foundation to buy up the property that had been Lincoln’s birthplace and original home which was on touring display (come see Lincoln’s cabin) both of which were owned by the same guy… oh and this guy also own the Jefferson Davis logs from his original home and would show them together… and in the South, Lincoln logs were not marketed as Lincoln logs, they were marketed as Jefferson Davis Logs… coincidence? I doubt it…

 

President Lincoln’s Tomb; Springfield, IL

All the presidential tomb’s I’ve seen so far have been highly impressive, and Abraham Lincoln‘s is no exception. If you’re going to Springfield, IL to do the Lincoln pilgrimage I strongly suggest it. Warning, it is really NOT walking distance from the downtown area where the rest of the tourist attractions are, it’s a good 2.5 miles away …. so you’ll need either a car, or to take the public bus (whose route does connect the Lincoln’s tomb to his house).

IMG_1558

IMG_1627

This small nondescript door is the entrance to the tomb, I was expecting something larger and grander, or to have to go up the stairs on its side to get to the upper level, but no…. apparently not

 

 

As soon as you enter you see a smaller bronze version of the famous Lincoln Memorial statue from D.C.. You then go through the doorway on the right, taking a circular path back to the crypt, and then keep going until you come back out via the doorway on the left (like the two people in the picture below)

IMG_1561

I got lucky, and right after I had walked through the whole monument on my own and was getting ready to leave, a school group came in, so the docent (he looked to be in his early 20’s), who had entirely ignored me, got up and started sharing information. So I stuck around and did it a second time, this time with a guide.

IMG_1603

Things I learned: Firstly, there are 36 sets of the sort of caramel colored vertical design elements surrounding the room, representing the number of states in the union when Lincoln died; Secondly, the ceiling of the room is made of some sort of metal (platinum or something of the sort) that at the time of the building was more valuable than gold, and thirdly… the air conditioning vents are covered with wheat like designs, to represent the fields of the area (what is now the midwest)

IMG_1604

Most interestingly I thought, the statue of Lincoln is not a copy of the one in D.C., but rather a precursor to it… according to the docent, the artist, Daniel Chester French had actually presented various bronze versions of the statue, before one was chosen to be chiseled in marble, and this was one of them.

IMG_1562

As soon as I came in I had mentioned to him (before the school kids arrived) how I love that Lincoln has fasces below each of his hands. When the school children arrived he pointed them out, and I asked if I could add something (I looked at the teacher and said, “I’m a former teacher, she nodded her permission”), and I then told the students about how if you take a toothpick and break it, it’s easy to do. If you take a bunch of toothpicks and hold them together like the sticks in a fasces and try to break it, it’s MUCH harder to do. And then, if you then compare how hard it is to break that fasces made of 4 or 5 toothpicks with how hard it is to break a stick of the same width, you also find that it is HARDER to break the fasces than the stick. It’s physics, but it also represents an idea, that we are stronger as a union; that the total is greater than the sum of its parts. (I sware to G-d I saw tears come to the eyes of one of the teachers. She then came and thanked me. I’m guessing there’s a back story that I don’t know, but it was nice.)

Also, according to the docent, if you go to the lincoln memorial in D.C. something you really can’t see is the back of the marble statue, and as such one important symbolic element of the piece is lost… Lincoln is sitting on an American flag.

IMG_1608

According to him, this was not intended to be disrespectful, but rather a manifestation of his fierce resolve to not allow the flag, with a star for every state, to be torn apart. I.e., by sitting on it, Lincoln is protecting it.

After viewing the statue, you then follow this sign into the pathway to the right

IMG_1565

IMG_1566

Along the path are black panels like the one above, and a whole series of Bronzes of Lincoln depicting him at various ages and stages of his life in sets of two, standing across from each other at various bends along the circular path

 

 

So the images above and below are of statues located right across from each other, and show him as a young adult starting his career, probably as he might have looked upon first arriving in Springfield.

IMG_1568

While the bronze below which was further along the path is him as president, and we know this because he was clean-shaven up until he shortly before he became President until convinced by a letter written by a 12-year-old girl convinced him to grow it:

Dear Sir
My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to [sic] but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauqua County New York.
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
Grace Bedell

IMG_1572

IMG_1591

IMG_1593

IMG_1598

After these statues you finally arrive at the crypt, which has more of those black panels on either side, only these have some of his best known speeches:

IMG_1576

IMG_1621

The guide basically told us what was written on the sign that was right next to him (read below) adding a few the facts, namely that the ceiling above the crypt was lined with 18k gold, and the reason the President was 10 feet down instead of six, and was also encased in concrete (which the sign didn’t say) was that between his burial and the completion of the tomb, there had been an attempted theft for ransom of Lincoln’s body

IMG_1584

IMG_1579

And then, after pointing out all the flags mentioned in the sign and describing their meaning. He asked us, “Do you know where Licoln was born?” … total silence till a teacher said, “Kentucky” and he pointed to that flag; Then he asked the room, “does anyone know which state he lived in after Kentucky but before Illinois?” again silence, and the teachers didn’t appear to know, so I said, “Indiana” and he said “right”; and then  he held out the Flag of the President of the United States that according to him, was placed there in order to represent not only Lincoln, but also all the Presidents since him who had come to visit the Tomb….

IMG_1615

He said he ‘thought’ that President Reagan might have been the one to have added it to the collection when he came to visit, but said he wasn’t actually sure which president had done it, so not to hold him to that

IMG_1589

And then he noted that on “the wall behind you”, just as the sign had said, there are the crypts of Mary Todd Lincoln and most of her sons, excluding Robert, who was buried in Arlington Cemetary (he was a veteran of the Civil War) … at which point I quietly added to the adults standing by me what I had learned about Robert from my visit to Mary Todd’s family home in May of 2016, about what an asshole he was and how he had tried to get control of her money.

IMG_1617

 

 

When I was finally leaving the tomb, I passed the manager of the younger guy who had been giving the tour and asked him if there was anything else in the graveyard I should see before leaving… he said that there was in fact a second tomb, where Lincoln had been buried the first time. That this was the second burial location (Lincoln died in 1865 and his body was moved around a few times — read the history of the Tomb until it reached it’s final resting place about 10 years later.) So this manager said I could take a walking path, that he pointed out, around to the back of the tomb and then go down a staircase of, I think he said 55 steps (!!!) to the bottom. (see the photo below, take from the bottom of said steps)

IMG_1650

Now, with my horrible balance, bad knees, weak legs, and a general level of out of shapedness (yes I know, that’s not a word), … So I just gave him a sort of a ‘look’ which I guess clearly communicated to him that this was probably not going to happen… so he said, “OR, you could get into your car, and as you exit the parking lot take a right hand turn, then another — you’ll see signs, and the road will wind down to the back of the monument where you can see it from your car…. So that’s what I did.

IMG_1635

IMG_1634

IMG_1642

 

 

So I have now been to Lincoln’s birth place and his home in Springfield, and Tomb…

 

 

 

Gay Pridefest; Springfield, IL

Completely by accident I happened on Gay PrideFest while visiting Springfield, IL. I was looking for parking in order to visit Abraham Lincoln’s home, when I saw a massive street fair type thing happening down the street that led directly to the front steps of the capitol building. After I parked, I passed a girl who seemed to be coming from there and asked her “what’s going on over there?”, “Pridefest” she answered…

fullsizeoutput_3ee5.jpeg

The event basically consisted of a series of booths lining two city blocks of the street, including about a half block to either side of the cross street in the center. There was also a bandstand featuring live performances at the far end, closest to the capitol building, with most of the food and beverage sales happening towards that end (near the music)

IMG_1371.JPG

The PrideFest Central booth (information about the event, distribution of wristbands which allowed you to buy alcoholic beverages from venders, etc.) was located right at the crossroads point in the center of the event…

fullsizeoutput_3ee4

About half the booths were political in nature, some of them were selling items to raise money, some collecting names on petitions, others just informational IMG_1562.JPG

While most of the booths were selling rainbow (Gay pride) themed type goods that would be attractive to members of the LGBT community

IMG_1563.JPGOf course the sales booth that caught my eye was selling bumper stickers….IMG_1376I’d like to say that I can never have too many bumper stickers but I’m running out of room on the back of my car… am beginning to dreaming longingly of purchasing a plumber’s type van in part because more room for both stuff and bumper stickers

IMG_1382
I ended up buying this one, times three (spares)

I will say this is not my first Pride event by a long shot, and compared to most of the ones I’ve been to this one was a pretty small and laid back event. In fact I only found one guy who REALLY embraced his gay during the event.

IMG_1379
He’s dressed as a leather fairy, note the wings on his back

But, to be fair, most of the pride events I have been to were in Cities with MASSIVE out of the closet LGBT populations, and hence a significantly higher level of perceived safety to be OUT.

For instance, I lived in the San Francisco Bay area for years and in addition to the LGBT pride parade have attended some really out-there pride events. For instance, while the Folsom Street Fair is more about BDSM and Fetish than it is about LGBT — although there’s a LOT of overlap, as both are Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures,  this particular pride fair is most definitely NOT for the squeamish (and in fact is one of the few things that pushes even my boundaries). That said it’s a HUGE event; Folsom takes up 13 city blocks and draws between 250,000 and 400,000 people every year depending on weather, etc (and the crush is such, that it is can trigger Agoraphobia, even for people who are normally just fine with crowds). That, and just a two months ago, when I was in Australia, I attended the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with some friends of mine.

Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL

The Abraham Lincoln Home (the only home he ever owned) is a national historic site in Springfield, IL, and a must see for anyone from the state (see below), or anyone interested in his life. It is actually a preserved district that allows you to see his neighborhood as he would have, and contains: a visitors center, his home, and collection of preserved neighbors’ homes that surrounded his (although only the interiors of a few of those homes are accessible, and those constitute more museum space, than presenting them as they were) ….  Entrance is free to the public … i.e., your tax dollars at work.

IMG_1386.JPG

To preface this, I was born and raised in Illinois, I am in my early 50’s and this is the FIRST time I have been to my state’s capital, Springfield, IL. SERIOUSLY! Everyone else in my school went on the Springfield class trip, but not me. I didn’t get to go on the Washington, D.C., school trip either. My parents always complained that the cost was too high and that they’d take me, but they never did. It’s kind of embarrassing.

IMG_1527.jpg

The first thing to know is IF you drive your car, be warned, the parking lot on the property will charge you $2 an hour (in leu of an entrance fee), and you have to tell them how many hours you want to stay there and then put the receipt on your car’s window or be ticketed. That said, IF you come on a weekend street parking is free (not weekdays), and I came on a Saturday, and had no trouble at all find a spot no more than a block away from the site. Also, are a handful of covered parking lots not more than a block or two away, and the one I found (1 block away) was only $1/hour, with a maximum charge of $5 for the whole day, but you must have exact cash (which I didn’t) and it didn’t take credit cards.

IMG_1387.jpg

After you park, you head into the visitor’s center (this is where you pay for your parking if you used their lot), and ask for your free ticket for a tour of the house. I asked them why there was no fee (Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville for instance was NOT free… nor was the childhood home of Mrs. Lincoln in Lexington, KY). And they said, IN UNISON, a spiel about how “Robert Todd Lincoln donated the family home… under the condition that it would forever be well maintained and open to the public at no charge” (while putting together this blog I found it pretty much word for word on the Wikipedia site). The Tours start every few minutes and the tickets are just to keep the groups at manageable numbers.

IMG_1390

That said, I told the staff member how just a few days ago I was at the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, and how they managed the same feat simply by setting up some chairs, and only allowing in at one time as many people as could comfortably sit in those chairs… a practice that is much greener, i.e., would save a lot paper.

Inside the visitor’s center there is a massive map of the historic district, with displays around the edges where you can press button to light up various houses or routes, with explanations of what it is that’s lit up.

IMG_1668.JPGThere’s also a movie on the history of Lincoln, and about his relationship to the historic site and the Civil war ………..

IMG_1410.jpg
……….which offers an overly simplistic view of the man; it’s what I like to refer to as the middle school version of Lincoln, the one that says he was against slavery (full stop).

[Begin rant] The reality is a lot more complex. Lincoln really didn’t like slavery, he thought it was a bad institution, and he wanted to contain it (keep it from spreading to new states)… but he never said he wanted to end it (He thought that would happen naturally) … At least that was his stance until the realities of the fact that Union was essentially losing the war and house might in fact become divided drove him to it.

Lincoln’s House Divided Speech made before he became President was actually very specific, but few folks bother to really pay attention to it:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

So he was sure the Union would have to go one way or the other, all slave or all free, and he was very worried that it go all slave. That he could not abide.

In addition if you actually read the Emancipation Proclamation, which “freed the slaves” it actually doesn’t. It says any Confederate state that doesn’t end its rebellion by January 1, 1863 would lose the right to own slaves … which by default means that if the state DID end it’s rebellion, they could continue to own them… and by extension, the three slave states that had not rebelled, including Kentucky where he was born, could continue to own their slaves (at least until the 13th amendment was passed). AND, by doing so Lincoln ensured that the French and the British, would not come to the Confederacies aid (from whom both countries bought a lot of cotton) …. The British had publicly declared their support of the South’s right to secede. Keep in mind America pretty much owes its independence to French intervention in the our rebellion from the British.
… P.S., putting aside the whole slavery issue….  to this day lawyers STILL debate whether the South was within it’s right to secede from the Union, and very few believe Lincoln’s arguments for why they did not have the right were airtight (and most of them think Lincoln, who was a really good lawyer, knew it).
[End rant]

In addition to the movie and the interactive map the visitor’s center has a really good gift shop with a large selection of goodies

IMG_1671
Learning that Frank Loyd Wright’s son invented Lincoln logs led to a massive brain fart on my part that I blogged about (read here, it’s actually interesting I think)

And of course there a very large book selection about Lincoln and the Civil War (both written and recorded formats) … I bought a few of these useful things called BottleEze (they had them with Lincoln’s home printed on the sides) where you clip one end around the neck of your water bottle, and stick the other over your pants waistband, or in a tight pocket,

From time to time (you need to check their schedules) the historic site does special things, living history demonstrations. I was lucky enough to stumble onto one. The woman at the front desk told me that in the lecture room (adjacent to the movie theater) I would find Abraham Lincoln…. so I opened the door to find…

IMG_1669Martin Luther king talking to Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman— apparently this is a regular event for the kids (who get to draw fake beards on to their faces before it starts).

I only stayed for a little bit because it was about time for tour to start (and you are supposed to be there five minutes before the start time.

IMG_1670

This was the first room we entered, the Lincoln’s divided living room area (there are big wooden doors that can be closed in the middle, if he needed to speak with visitors)

IMG_1424

IMG_1672.JPGOne of the things I learned, while listening to the tour guide gave us her introduction, wa that today is the anniversary of Lincoln being asked to run, in this room. The shelves against the living room wall are called apparently called whatnots — and I own some — they’re tucked away in storage till I settle down; my parents had a few of them, almost identical to these, and till today I never knew they had a specific name. (Last time I got this excited about a piece of furniture was when I visited Elvis’ kitchen Graceland and he had almost exactly the same interior design for his kitchen, down to the same brands of ovens and stoves).

That said, I asked the tour guide if in fact Mrs. Lincoln kept a bust of her husbands head in pride of place at the top of the whatnot… she smiled and said that it seems she did. When Lincoln was running for President a bust was made of his head and mass-produced for sale, and Mrs Lincoln is known to have displayed it in the living room. To which I said, “like a proud mama.” The tour guide agreed.

IMG_1440.jpg

This is the closest I will ever get to touching Abraham Lincoln. These banisters are original to the house.

This site gives you a good overview of the interior of the house

That said, according to the tour guide, very little of what’s in the house is actually original, although she pointed out to us every item that was. I found this one document which I think says the entire sum of original objects in the house is 48. The rest of the furniture pieces are similar or identical to things the Lincolns were thought to have owned, based on sketches that had been made of the rooms, or original items held in private collections. If you search on the internet you can see that the sale of Park passes, and the $2/hour parking fees are being used to slowly buy up bits and pieces of the Lincoln’s possessions from private collectors to return to the house.

That said, one original item that they were able to obtain, according to the tour guide, was Mary Lincolns personal toilet … oh and apparently the Lincolns slept in adjoining but separate bedrooms. (No, I’m not going to go there)
IMG_1460.jpg
After viewing the house, I walked around the “neighborhood” making a point of stepping into any of the houses that were open for viewing, and reading the various informational signs scattered along the gravel road.
IMG_1487.jpg
The contents of each of the open homes had a different focus… sort of like rooms in a museum, with each house constituting a museum room.
IMG_1673
This house focused on the various families who lived in the neighborhood and shared some information about each of them, how we know what we know (the evidence), and items found during excavations, etc.
IMG_1493
While this next house focused on what was involved in restoring this heritage homes NOT to meet modern standards but to re-create the historic ones, historic building techniques, etc.
IMG_1674
This open corner shows the exposed walls, as originally built, with buttons you could push that would create red laser dots of light on the topic being discussed… in this case, she’s pushing on the button for the Nails… and there’s a red dot on one of the nail heads. (As luck would have it the woman standing there’s father had been a builder so she was all excited about it and telling me stuff)
Another of the walk through homes, the between the lincoln home and the visitor’s center, had a detailed display talking about who the Lincoln’s bought their home from and for how much; and how when the they first bought it, it was only a story and a half (a great starter home for a young married couple); but then, as Lincoln became successful and influential, they remodeled it, taking off the roof and expanding it to two floors, etc. (not going to bother posting pictures of it)
IMG_1495
Walking around the neighborhood, it is a very pretty shaded lane, and I found that locals take advantage of it.
Most of the houses you could NOT walk inside of came instead with these interactive options, where you call a number and then listen to a description.
If you want a listen to it call:   +1 (217) 213- 3003   and then press 50#
IMG_1678.JPG
According to this guide, Springfield at the time of Lincoln’s having lived here was a fairly diverse population, with a large recent immigrant population which included quite a few African-Americans affluent enough to afford their own homes. (apparently, if you come with a group of children — or 15 or more adults, you can pre-arrange to have a park ranger guide you around)
IMG_1498
For instance, this currently empty plot (before the yellow house) is just a few houses away from Lincoln’s home and used to contain two homes — both of which were owned by a Mr. Jenkins, one of Springfield’s African-American residents (the 2nd home was for his sister). He was fairly prosperous (obviously) and was involved in the “trucking” industry, moving goods around the country.
Both the tour guid and recorded guide point out that he was on good terms with the Lincolns and transported them and their goods to the train station when they needed to move to Washington.
IMG_1499.jpg
The reflections on the glass made all my other shots utterly unreadable
That said, there’s also strong evidence that his home and his wagons were all part of the underground railway
To hear about all the details, call +1 (217) 213 – 3003 and then press 51#
fullsizeoutput_3ee7.jpeg
According to the guide this was one of the his wagons, and if you look carefully you can see air holes have been strategically drilled into the boxes
But for something REALLY cool, look below!!!
IMG_1502
Since in this case there was no home at the site (I’m going to take a guess that once the entire “district” and not just the Lincoln home, became a national park in 1971… and was turned into what is essentially an outdoor museum, that all of homes on the property that were not original to the Lincoln’s time period were removed. AS Jenkins’ home was a historically important one, the park service has gone to the effort of creating an artificial Reality tour using a freely available app, which is really kind of cool if you think about it. (I did find it in Apple’s app store, and tested it. IT WILL WORK, if you have your smart phone look at the picture above!!)
Another cool thing was how the locals take advantage of property. I kept seeing folks walking around in twos and staring at their smart phones, my brain went, Pokémon!! And I was right. They told me that the local bar was having a fundraising event that involved playing the game, and that as EVERY home and object had historic importance the park was a very rich Pokemon playing ground for the locals.
IMG_1676
The bar in question is less than a block away from the park’s visiter center (sort of kiddy corner from it) and there is a coffee-house, bar and restaurant, each in a separate house but all owned by the same people,  — I had eaten at the coffee-house, Wm. Van’s Coffee House, already that day. I’d had an avocado and tomato on whole wheat toast with an iced coffee before going to the Lincoln’s home. (You’d think that would be hard to screw up, but they used some sort of pureed and watered down avocado spread… kind of tasted like the stuff sold in plastic bags at supermarkets … instead of just spreading the real stuff)
IMG_1381
and was intending to hit the restaurant for dinner, so when they mentioned the bar’s name I knew which one they meant …
That said, Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery, was supposedly the best place in town. When I got there, I found the menu mostly consisted of unhealthy choices, everything deep-fried with a lot of carbs, etc … As a rule, anyplace that does the unholy triumvirate of salt, fat and sugar can make food that tastes good… it’s making healthy food tasty that requires skill.
I ended up defaulting to a grilled chicken & berry salad with blueberries, strawberries, candied pecans and goat cheese … and I had them substitute straight balsamic for the vinaigrette (i.e., it didn’t need more oil… the cheese, chicken and pecans already provided enough)
IMG_1651
 

Metropolis, Illinois: a tourist destination for Superman fans

In keeping with my obsession with big things… how about a 12 foot tall fiberglass Superman?

IMG_1329.jpg

For that you need to go to Metropolis Illinois, a quiet, tiny little town (to put just how tiny this place is in perspective, my HIGH SCHOOL had 4,500 students)

IMG_1325

Metropolis is located on the southern border of Illinois, along the Ohio River, and it’s so quiet that even at 4:30pm on a weekday, it has mostly empty streets, seriously, where are the people?

IMG_1359.jpg

Besides Superman, it does not really have much else going for it, other than there is a riverboat casino on the Ohio River…

IMG_1366.jpg

So, in an impressive attempt at working with what you’ve got, the town has taken as much advantage as a town possibly can of having the same name as the fictional town Superman is supposed to be from.

There is superman stuff all around the center of town…

IMG_1335

IMG_1336

IMG_1372There’s a superman museum, that is ostensibly a massive store that sells everything superman, with an exhibit in the back ($5 entre fee)

IMG_1342

IMG_1340

IMG_1373IMG_1343

But, since it was declared Superman’s official home in 1972, by the Illinois State Legislature…  I guess it’s official.

I will say I was VERY happy to find this statue of Louise Lane located at the other end of town from Superman

IMG_1374

And just near her I found this….

IMG_1353

So, all in all it’s a cute place to stop and stretch your feet if your taking a road trip that passes by it or near it …. or if you have some hard-core superman fans in your family

 

BUT… that said, on the way out-of-town I drove by a grocery store called Big John that’s had a statue out front that I sware looked to be about twice as big as the Superman statue… What’s up with that?

IMG_1367.JPG

A Total Eclipse of the Sun

Only an hour after having seen the eclipse it was like trying to remember a distant dream.

fullsizeoutput_3344

I have always wanted to see a total eclipse of the sun, in fact it has always been a “bucket list item” — things to do or see before you die (i.e., kick the bucket). And now that I have, I can honestly say that it was a far more amazing experience than I thought it would be…

I now understand why it totally freaked-out folks back before they understood what was happening. We of course now know it’s coming WELL in advance… to the extent that people will book rooms along the path of totality as early as two years before the event…

20934218_1444289615618773_7737594579529411569_o

And, with our trusty NASA approved special eyewear we can watch the whole process as it progresses from partial, where the sun looks not unlike the phases of the moon but over the course of about an hour… through to the total eclipse which looks unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

That said, I thought I knew what to expect. There are no shortage of pictures of the total eclipse, from those taken by folks who went out and purchased thousands of dollars worth of special equipment (which some of my friends have done) to what can be achieved by just putting your safety glasses in front of your cell phone’s camera lens (possibly not the best of ideas) … but no matter how good they are, (and this site has some of the best I’ve seen so far 10+ Of The Best Shots Of The 2017 Solar Eclipse) the fact remains that NONE of the pictures I’ve seen to date manage to catch the glorious even that my eyes saw.  The “closest” if it’s not photoshopped is one that I spotted on facebook:

20992942_10203664091039538_5096015882793440884_n
“My uncle, Terry, took the best picture I’ve seen of an eclipse. Just wow!!!” was posted to Facebook by someone named James Richards (not a personal friend)

But even the photo above isn’t ‘right’ … although it does approach the beauty of the thing.

To quote my friend Brad Templeton, whose blog comment I’ve been paraphrasing since I first read it, “Totality is everything: The difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial one — even a 98% partial one — is literally night and day. It’s like the difference between sex and holding hands [only I now think that what he really meant was it’s the difference between an orgasm and holding hands] the total eclipse is by far the most spectacular natural phenomenon visible on this planet. Beyond the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Norway, etc. So if you can get to totality, get there. Do not think you are seeing the eclipse if you don’t get into the zone of totality.”

This is not to say partial isn’t worth taking the time to look at, it is… it’s exciting. And as the partial extends towards totality some cool things begin to occur. Even if it’s the middle of a sunny day, bugs and birds will start to get confused, and think it’s either overcast (for the bugs) or moving towards sunset, for the birds… and they’ll begin making the sorts of noises you don’t expect to be hearing at 1:00 in the afternoon. And then when the partial begins to approach totality the spaces between the leaves on the trees will act like pin hole cameras, projecting some cool looking shadows on to the ground.

But then totality occurs and even if you aren’t looking up at the sun, it’s obvious that something completely different is happening. Firstly, if you’re at all color sensitive — anyone trained in the arts as I was, will be… and this is doubly true for trained photographers (I think) …. The quality of the light all around you is just… well DIFFERENT; it was like sunset but with a lot of blue instead of reds and yellows. It was like what I imagine standing on a different with a blue sun rather than a yellow one must be like….

And then the colors directly around sun during full eclipse, no photo I’ve seen managed to get it … What I do remember seeing was a black circle surrounded by a sort of radiant blue light that moved from darker blue near the circle to lighter and then to yellow rays…  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, so I’m not sure my brain in the 2+ minutes it lasted was able to really grasp it, but that said, it was radically different from the experience of the partial eclipse.

Also now I understand why folks plan their travels around seeing it over and over (something that to be honest I always thought was a bit — well if you’ve already seen it three times why are you putting in all this time and effort, let alone expense, to see it again? NOW I get it) Those 2+ minutes of full eclipse are a radically different experience than the partials leading to and from… and I’m already talking with friends about maybe heading down to south American in 2019 for the next one which is supposed to cross Chile and Argentina.