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.

Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and The South Dakota

Sunday, September 16th   ......Published 3 days later

Today we left Huron, South Dakota, driving east on Rt. 14. The plan was to go to De Smet, in eastern South Dakota. It was the actual place where Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family lived during the period of time she wrote about in Little House on the Prairie.

Randy and I have visited her other home in Minnesota, which was about the earlier yeas, and De Smet is about the prairie life. Pa and Ma Ingalls, her parents in real life, are buried here, along with two of her sisters and her baby boy.

I don't know what was wrong with our map-reading skills or sign-noticing skills today, but we drove into De Smet, through De Smet, out of De Smet, back to De Smet TWICE, and put about 35 miles on the car within this very small town, totally due to our talking or other distractions. We had a fairly good laugh about it, once we finally left town, but it wasn't very funny while we were being stupid.

Signs led us to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home inside the town. There is a surveyor's house, where her family lived for a year, a school, and a replica of a school where she taught when she was about fifteen years old. There were nice restrooms, a gift shop which we could not visit since it is Sunday, and a very lovely park with picnic tables. (Oh, to have found these yesterday...........)

We left town and were a good five or six miles away before I read aloud from the AAA book telling about the burial site of the family. It wouldn't do not to turn around and go back so I could see where Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Laura's baby are buried. We stopped at the grocery to ask for directions, but the lady who gave them had "east and west" confused, so we ended up going out of town a good five to six miles again, before realizing her error.

No, I did not say, “Oh, just skip it.” I wanted to see the graves! Back yet again to town, through town, and at the street across from the sign for the hospital, we went about a mile into the country to find the cemetery. It is extremely well-cared-for, and we found the grave site due to good signage. Pa's tombstone has inscribed on it in very worn letters, “He has gone to a mansion in the sky,” on it. The other stones all match each other, and are more modern. I was surprised to see that Ma Ingalls gave birth to little Carrie when she was forty-one years old: a modern woman for her time.

I have read the Little House books, first as a child, then to my own daughter, then to my classes. I have such a fondness for them due to the values of family, love, caring for each other, and goodness that they convey to the reader. As a child, I must have realized that these books gave a sense of security and family togetherness that I cherished and needed. They are all good. The TV series was also very fine, but as a child reader, there was nothing better than imagining what I was reading and seeing it in my own mind.

Following the cemetery, we thought we'd stop at the Ingalls' Homestead, which is east of town on Rt. 14, and off on a dirt road about a mile or so. We'd seen the sign on our now TWO trips back to De Smet, but somehow missed the sign as we went east for our second time. When we got about seven miles out of town, we turned around, (because by now this was a challenge to find it) and drove back towards De Smet.

Aha! We saw the sign as we approached the town, and noticed that there was no sign on the opposite side of the road, which vindicated our stupidity a bit.

The Homestead is a large area. You can see the church from Rt. 14, if that will help you to find this place. There are several buildings, including the original dugout that Pa dug into a hill for the family to live in while he built their house.
You can rent this!
We could see a covered wagon  full of families, moving across the prairie towards the old school. It was drawn by large horses. Other children were making ropes at another building. We had arrived close to closing time and were told that we might be able to get a wagon ride, but we'd have to walk quickly through the rest of the area. The fee is $10 per person, and there is a lookout tower that we could climb up on without paying the fee, so we chose to do that instead. We really got a good view from up there. If we were parents with little children, especially fans of the Little House books, we would have stayed in town and come back the next day. Not to be missed, if you have children!!

One really neat feature that our AAA book did not mention is that there are sturdy covered wagon overnight motels, or whatever they call them, on the grounds. For only $50 a night, you can sleep in the covered wagon on the grounds. You must supply your own linens and towels, but there is a grill, showers, restrooms, and a picnic table for each unit. The hostess told us that they are booked fairly solid during the summer, but today there was only one in use. At the age of twelve, I would have moved Heaven and Earth to have had that experience.

We drove out of De Smet, for the last time, listening to our really involved and exciting audio book, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, by Nancy Pickard. Well-written, and well-read, this book has captured our attention for the past two days.

In a small town called Volga, west of Brookings, we stopped at the Schade Vineyards, which we could see from Rt. 14. We had the free wine tasting. The server told us that over 100 stores are carrying their wine. We did not purchase any wine there, but did admire their gardens and polite server.

We got onto Rt. 29 South at Sioux Falls. On we drove, mesmerized by our audiobook, until we decided to get gas. We realized that we had gotten off Rt. 29 at the site of the Memorial for the Battleship South Dakota. It had been on our “list” of things to see, but we didn't, on our way west, and here we were, looking at it without even planning to be there!

The Battleship South Dakota served in WWII. Its story is amazing, and its size is surprising. It was the length of two football fields. The ship itself is not there, but the memorial has mapped out and created a mock ship using low walls to show the size of the ship. Real radar towers, a sixty-some foot long gun, models of machine gun, and the general layout of this battleship was there to give us the idea of the size and function of this ship. Please remember that this description is being written by a woman who has no idea what she is talking about. A photo will help a lot.

We drove further south on Rt. 29 to Sioux City, Iowa, and at one point took the wrong turn and ended up in Nebraska! The good news is that we'd been here recently, and got off Rt. 29 in the same area we'd stayed in on the way west. Tonight we are at The Victorian, a very impressive non-chain motel that gave us a room at a beer rate, but has a champagne class delivery of services and immaculate guest rooms. We've been in the hot tub, ordered a pizza, and are resting up for our next adventure as we head towards home.

  We still have a few things to do before we get there....................

(p.s.  The Victorian turned out to be a gem.  They are small and growing.....maybe 5-7 motels in all.  The breakfast far surpassed most of the chains, the cleanliness was amazing, and they made sure that all guests were taken care of to the best. )