Thursday, September 20, 2012

American Gothic in Eldon, Iowa, and Nauvoo, Illinois

Monday, September 17, 2012  and Tuesday, September 18, 2012
(Published 2 and 3 days later.....)

Tuesday, September 17:

Sioux City to Fairfield, Iowa

(Sorry!  Not a single photo to go along with today, but there are some in the second half.)

We continued our trek east, driving south on Rt. 29, passing the Loess Hills. Don't ask me what they are, as the information I got was so vague that we were not sure what to look for or where to look for it. They looked like hills with heavy forestation. We did see some wonderful swarms of birds swooping over the fields while we looked for the hills, though.

The rain started just about then, and continued ALL DAY LONG. I mean pouring, gushing rain. Windshield wipers on high type rain. ALL DAY. Nerve-wracking rain. We switched drivers a few times so we wouldn't yell at each other as the semis passed us, leaving the passenger near hysteria. (OK........that was primarily moi.) Not good for road traveling but I do have my back-seat license..............

We passed some interesting signs: One to go see John Wayne's Birthplace, and one to get a map to find The Bridges of Madison County. With the heavy rain, it was hard to convince the other half that these were necessary things to visit, especially since they were a fairly long distance off the highway. Next time. A nice diversion from the rain was our Subway lunch.

We went east on 80E through Des Moines in the hideous rain, but got get a glimpse of the Iowa State Capitol. The dome on that building is magnificent and gleaming. It was rainy, but I don't think I exaggerate.

We have a point we aimed at, but time and rain altered that, so we decided to stay in Ottumwa, Iowa. Ottumwa is not a huge city, but seems spread out. There are four major chain motels where we entered town, and every one of them was booked solid. Why?

Joe Biden, our US Vice President, will be speaking there tomorrow morning, and people are coming in to see him or the hotels are booked for people needed for his security. One nice host at the Fairfield Inn gave us directions to, oddly enough, another city named Fairfield, where he knew there would be rooms.

We drove east  Rt 34 to Fairfield the 22 miles, we kept seeing highway patrol and police cars with their lights blinking. They were racing in pairs up the highway, one pair after another, and then we saw a very long chain of cars with more highway patrol cars lit up mixed in between the cars. It was, obviously, Joe Biden and his entourage approaching Ottumwa, Iowa ! We watched him on the news after we were settled into our lovely Best Western in Fairfield, Iowa.

I have a cousin who grew up in Ottumwa, Iowa. I thought of him this afternoon as we drove around the city looking at the bridges, the stores, and the high school. We pulled over at a Wallgreens so I could buy him a postcard with a picture of Ottumwa on the front, and send it to him in Wisconsin. I let him know I finally got there.

It's just too bad that he's not there now, too.
Wednesday, September 18, 2012
 We were out of Fairfield, Iowa as soon as we were done with breakfast. We had plans for today, unusual for us. Eldon, Iowa was waiting.
Eldon is the place where Grant Woods first saw the house with a church window in the upper story of a small farmhouse. It caught his eye, and he decided to use it as the background for his famous painting, American Gothic. If you are not seeing this in your mind, picture the two very stoic-looking farmer-type man and woman in front of a farmhouse, one of them holding a pitchfork between them. You got it.
Grant Wood got his sister and his dentist to pose for his initial drawing for the painting. He promised them that they would be unrecognizable in the actual finished product. His sister came out differently, but the dentist looked like himself in the end result, and he was not a happy guy with a pitchfork. Their friendship suffered, it is said. Perhaps he became more famous for his appearance in the painting than for his dentistry in the long run, however. He surely looked the part......................
We drove to Eldon. Remember the mess-up driving we did on Sunday? Well, we did it again on Monday.  Yesterday we'd already driven 22 miles out of our way due to Joe Biden, and now we were out in some corn fields with only Thelma to help us get around. The roads had changed a bit, and just as the commercial says, we had "not updated" Thelma. We apparently flew through space to get to Eldon. The screen was  white, except for the picture of our little car floating across it.
We got there, and for a few minutes we were alone in Iowa with the house. There was a parking lot and us. We could see that there was a welcome center, but before anybody else got there, we just needed the picture. We needed to stand in front of that house looking staid and farmerish, and take a picture of ourselves. 
A woman appeared and told us that we could get the pitchfork at the welcome center. We did. They came in sizes...........!
We set up the tripod, fiddled with the arrangement of the window of the house in the background, and kept shooting.
Then, we volunteered to take photos of every other person who'd suddenly appeared in the parking lot. Some of them actually needed persuasion to allow us to shoot them................... but we weren't letting anybody leave without the photo that we knew they had also come to take. Even the lady with the dog, who at first refused, three times, to let me use her camera to take a picture of her and the pup, finally decided to let me shoot them. (Get with the program, already.........)


A trip through the welcome center followed. More photos. Some postcards purchased. Then we asked to put on the clothes and get our REAL photos taken in front of the house..............After we saw that Bill and Hillary had been there and put on the clothes, we had to do it, too.
We laughed over photos of others taken there, posted on a bulletin board. We will have to send a copy of ours for that bulletin board, too...............
Leaving Eldon, we drove east across Iowa, under a bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, and eventually crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. We drove along the river for quite awhile until we came to the town of Nauvoo, Illinois.
We had read a bit about Nauvoo on our way west,but weren't near it then. We purposely aimed for Nauvoo on the way back.
The Mormons settled  Nauvoo in the 1840's. There are about forty historic buildings in the town, most of them marked with historical markers that tell their story. Joseph Smith lived there. He and his brother were shot as they were going west, and Brigham Young then led most of the Mormons from Nauvoo west and on to Utah. The Mormons had not been well-received in Illinois, apparently, and needed to move on. The small community is now taken care of by a group called The Community of Christ.
We stopped at an old store and found they were selling glass vases that were made practically in our back yard, in Bath, Ohio at the Hale Homestead! They also had typical toys from that era, jams, candles, and linens. A very nice lady told us the history of that building.
It felt a little Williamsburg-ish, with fences and well-groomed grassy areas. Not as large was Williamsburg, and the religious aspect made it different, too.
The main reason we chose to go to Nauvoo was to see the Mormon Temple there. Our book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, in the United States and Canada, (or something like that) mentioned Nauvoo in the section about Illinois. When Randy and I are gone, you will be able to see all the places we've checked off in this book,...............until then, we're still using it.
We've been to Salt Lake City and walked around the temple there. (We're not allowed in, since we're not Mormons.) Today we walked around the Temple at Nauvoo. The grass was like a golf course, and beautifully manicured. The gardens were amazing with begonias and other summer flowers still hanging on. There were nice seating places for us to rest and look at this enormous building proclaiming the glory of God. It might have been nice to see the inside, as we have done at Catholic Basilicas and other places of worship..................but, oh, well.......................We were impressed with their building.
There was a discussion in the car about what to do next. The options were either to head east towards home or head south for one more visit to Hannibal, Missouri, hometown of Mark Twain, which wasn't far.  It is also the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn's antics.
The discussion didn't last too long, but it did have a few go-rounds, before we decided to go to Hannibal.
It will be my 6th visit to Hannibal. It is dear to me.
Nearly every family member I hold inside my heart closely has been in Hannibal with me at some time or other.  It must have something special about it, then, do you think?
More on that tomorrow, but here I add one of our American Gothic shots.   I am saving the best one for another time.  Suffice it to say that it was very sunny, which is why the old lady is squinting.