"The real voyage of Discovery lies not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes"
Marcel Proust

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lincoln's Funeral Train 2015

I flipped through my Midwest Living magazine this month and found something I had to mark on my calendar. This April will mark 150 years since our 16th president was assassinated. In remembrance, a replica of Abe Lincoln’s funeral train will roll through Springfield, IL and ML says that a “replica horse-drawn hearse will carry a replica coffin to Oak Ridge Cemetery on May 3, where a memorial ceremony honors Lincoln’s life.”

I researched the details of the funeral train when I was writing a story for my Traveling through Illinois: Stories of I-55 Landmarks and Landscapes between Chicago & St. Louis book. The newspaper’s description was so eloquent I had to quote them directly. When the railroad tracks separate from their long journey along the highway and veer away toward the center of Springfield, near mile marker 108 southbound, I imagine that mournful train bringing Lincoln home. Here is our entry for southbound mile 108:

108 Funeral Train
During your journey, you may have seen a passenger or freight train traveling between Chicago and Springfield on these rails paralleling I-55. On May 3, 1865, the most memorable train in Illinois’ history passed along this same route. President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train brought him home to Springfield. When Lincoln left Springfield on February 11, 1861, (the day before his 52nd birthday) he stood at the train depot and bid his friends a sad farewell.

Friends, no one who has never been placed in a like position can understand my feelings at this hour, nor the oppressive sadness I feel at this parting. For more than a quarter of a century I have lived among you, and during all that time I have received nothing but kindness at your hands. Here I have lived from my youth until now I am an old man. Here the most cherished ties of earth were assumed. Here all my children were born and here one of them lies buried. To you, dear friends, I owe all that I have, all that I am… With these words I must leave you -- for how long I know not. Friends, one and all, I must now bid you an affectionate farewell.

Four years later, a train brought him back to the Springfield depot, once again among tearful friends. On April 21, 1865 the funeral train left Washington and began its 1700-mile journey to Springfield. Over 30 million mourners, with bowed heads and teary eyes, waited alongside the tracks for their moment to pay respects to him as the train passed. In the late evening of May 2, the train left Chicago and followed the future route of I-55. In Joliet, Bloomington, and Lincoln large silent crowds had gathered, and in the smaller towns hundreds more mourners lined the tracks, sometimes illuminating the route with torches held high and sometimes even paying tribute with funeral arches placed over the tracks. The town of Williamsville, which you’ve just passed, had an arch that said, “He has fulfilled his mission.”

On the morning of May 3, the train moved slowly into Springfield—taking two hours to go about a mile and a half. The New York Tribune reported that:

The pall-bearers, those old men, friends of his, lang syne, approach. The stillness among all the people is painful; but when the coffin is taken from the car, that stillness is broken, broken by sobs, and these are more painful than the stillness. The coffin is borne to the hearse; the hearse moves slowly, almost tenderly, away, followed by the mourners, and the pallbearers walk by the side. The cortege, more solemn than any that had gone before, reaches the States House, where he was wont to speak face to face with his neighbors – where at this hour those neighbors press to behold his face locked in death. All night they will pass by with eyes searching through tears for resemblances and recognition of the features they knew so well.

On this eve of President's Day, and in the month of his birth, I envision Abe through Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay in "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight":

It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down...

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Royals and Cards I-70 Series Repeat?

So, of course, I’m excited that the Kansas City Royals are in the play-offs. They’re the closest MLB team to our home- just an hour south down the interstate. We love Kauffman stadium and have enjoyed many games there. But, I’ve recently realized the other exciting possibility that the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals could meet up in an I-70 Series again. Hmm…dreamy vision bubble forms in my head…the Driving Across Missouri: A Guide to I-70 takes off in sales. Hmm…the marketing possibilities…

We wrote a story in our book on billboards. According to a group called “Save Our Scenery,” Missouri has 14,000 billboards—about 3x as many per mile as the 8 neighboring states. Many people find them an eyesore on the landscape. About 42,000 people a day view the billboards near mile exit 183 according to highway statistics.

Hm…I imagine two billboards: the first says something like, “Do you know what happened at Mile 97 in 1829?” the second shows a cheesy photo of Ted and I holding our book and it says, “Read our book and you’ll find out!”

I see myself at a little pop-up bookstand along the highway. No watermelons or pumpkins for sale, but bites of stories about the history, community and natural history along the road. Maybe I’ll add a few tomatoes and green beans from my backyard, too.

Hmm… any baseball-related stories between St. Louis and Kansas City? Well, at the beginning of the book we talk about the new Busch stadium and of a 6-mile stretch that honors homerun slugger Mark McGwire and later we mention Kauffman and the George Brett superhighway stretch of I-70.

We also talk about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City’s 18th and Vine District. I’ve visited it multiple times and it is interactive and interesting. A real gem of a museum in KC. We pass local baseball fields like the ones at Dyer Park just outside of KC and T.R. Hughes Field, home of the River City Rascals, in St. Charles county. We've seen road-trippers taking a break at I-70 rest stops with their leather gloves out playing some catch. 

Well, as I listen to Game 3 of the Royals against the Angels, I’m feeling optimistic! All right, Cards, let’s get our I-70 Series going. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Exploring LaSalle

Over the years, when in Chicago I have logged many miles on Michigan Avenue’s “Magnificent Mile.” And I have spent countless days strolling “State Street that Great Street.” As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have often played the role of tour guide when visiting the city with friends and family. My tour would include Michigan Ave and State St., a few of the East-West streets, and the adjacent parks, restaurants, ornate hotel lobbies, soaring skyscrapers and subtle historic landmarks.  However, on a recent visit to Chicago my sister-in-law suggested that we deviate from our normal route (which had become more rut, than route) and explore LaSalle – a street whose name honors an explorer and his explorations.

Our exploration began when we hopped off the Metra Train at the Van Buren St. station rather than the more popular end-of-the-line Millennium station.  Immediately I was transported into a scene from a 1940s black and white movie. Built in 1896, the Van Buren St. station is the oldest active building on the Metra Electric line. Ornate tile floors and pillars reeked with nostalgia. The graffiti-laden wood benches – looking like pews – seemed saturated with stories of generations of commuters who squeezed into them as they waited for their train home.

Heading up the stairs into the bright morning light, I was surprised to exit through a replica of an Art Nouveau-style Paris Metro entrance which the City of Paris gave Chicago in 2001. This would be just the first of many surprising discoveries.

We walked west on Adams past the venerable Bergoff’s Restaurant and then ducked into the two-story lobby of the Marquette Building to see the beautiful mosaics honoring two other Illinois explorers Pere Marquette and Louis Joliet. Four bronze relief sculptures depicting the pair launching their canoes, meeting Native Americans, arriving at the Chicago River, and interring Marquette’s body can be found above the entrance to this National Historic Landmark. Built in 1895, it was one of Chicago’s first skyscrapers. Even the revolving doors are noteworthy with tomahawks on the kick plates and panther heads on the push plates designed by Edward Kemeys of the Art Institute lions fame.

Continuing west we came to our destination. LaSalle Street is the heart of the financial district and this heart pumps money across the city and world. It is cliché to refer to canyons among skyscrapers in major cities, but LaSalle really feels like a canyon. The canyonesque feeling comes from the Board of Trade Building which closes off the south end of the street, thereby making pedestrians feel like they are walled in on three sides by rock canyon/skyscraper walls. Atop the copper roof of the art deco Board of Trade building a 6,500 pound, 3-story tall aluminum statue of Ceres, the Goddess of Grain, looks down on LaSalle Street. 
She holds a bag of corn in one hand and a sheaf of wheat in the other hand to represent the commodities traded in the building.  For many years this was the tallest skyscraper in Chicago and many folks still consider this to be its finest building.

It seems appropriate that in the shadow of the Board of Trade is the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Money Museum.  Ironically, it does not cost money to enter the Money Museum. Once you pass through airport-like security visitors learn how our economy works and why it sometimes doesn’t.  You will see a stack of one million dollar bills and you can put your arms around a million dollars’ worth of $20 bills. 

You also can learn how to identify counterfeit money. Free souvenirs include a bag of shredded currency and photo “ops” include having your face on a $2.00 bill.

Across the street from the Money Museum is another building on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rookery Building. My sister-in-law works in the building and so this was our primary destination on our exploration of LaSalle Street.
Designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root, the Rookery was completed in 1888. Frank Lloyd Wright redesigned the two-story, sky-lit lobby in 1905. At 11 stories tall, it is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.

Even an untrained eye like mine could see the innovative and intricate approaches applied to designing a building with light in mind. Chicago was a dark, smoky city in the 1880s and even on sunny days the coal smoke shaded the city.  Electric lamps were gradually replacing oil lamps and the Rookery light fixtures were designed to work with either. (A bank vault in the basement stores many original light fixtures, elevator buttons, and other artifacts.) But neither source was reliable and, even when working, these lamps only produced weak light. So the architects designed an open “light court” to allow natural light to permeate the building. 

The friendly security guard led us into the elevator to the 11th floor where we visited the Burnham Library. Burnham, Root and Wright all worked and studied in what now serves as a conference room for the building’s tenants. A photograph of Burnham and Root sitting in the room depicts the furniture and fireplace just as it is today.
The most stunning feature of the building is Root’s vertigo-inducing oriel staircase which goes between the 2nd to the 12th floor.  This staircase is one of the most photographed features in Chicago. It is commonly featured on art posters sold to all of those tourists back on Michigan Avenue. Here on LaSalle you see the real thing!

Before leaving, I asked my sister-in-law how the building got its strange name. She said there were several versions, but most point toward mocking noisy Chicago politicians.  City Hall occupied the site before the Rookery was built. The “Rookery” may have referred to the City Hall’s rundown appearance or the crow-like politicians who roosted there. Others said it was because pigeons flocked to the adjacent fire station to eat the oats that were fed to horses that pulled the fire wagons. In any case, Burnham and Root were not happy that the name stuck to their beautiful building. But whether in jest or resignation, Root did design cawing crows (or rooks) on the building’s exterior.

Daniel Burnham is most famous for designing Chicago’s glorious iconic lakefront. His most notable quote states, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood …” The next time you visit Chicago I suggest that you “make no little plans” and include time to explore LaSalle Street. The architecture may stir your blood and your imagination. - Posted by Ted

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Driving With a Mission

It’s Labor Day weekend and some families are feeling the urge to get in one more big road trip before the days of turkeys and Christmas trees. Our family? Well, a 40-minute drive to Kansas City down Interstate 29 was fine for us. It’s been an active summer and we’re ready to settle in for the winter.

 One trip I took this summer was one down very familiar highways to a very unfamiliar place. My daughter and I traveled to the south side of Chicago on a church mission trip to help serve the people in the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago. In the week we were there a young woman was killed by gunfire just a few blocks down from the church where we were staying.

From St. Joseph we traveled 2 of the 3 highways of which I’ve written about: Highway 36 and Interstate 55. Not much had changed on either highway since I’d written the audio tour for MO and Ted and I had written the book for Illinois except for a larger expanse of wind turbines through central Illinois. But on my way home from our mission trip the road looked different to me.

During our week on the south side of Chicago we met people who found pride in their community even though they knew that outsiders talked of their neighborhood differently. They knew their neighborhood had gangs and individuals that caused trouble in their homes and on the streets, but they didn’t want to pack up and leave the place they had always called home.
Some outstanding community members choose to encourage others in any way possible. Many in the community wanted to work but had lost their jobs as industries closed. Others felt they had no means to leave.

Roadways conjure emotions just like sidewalks through gardens or sidewalks through garbage. The roadways in these neighborhoods had signs that said “speed hump.” I was used to seeing “speed bump” not “hump.” You could tell the neighborhoods where speeding had been a serious problem. Speed humps are much wider than bumps and in some neighborhoods they were lined up and down the street in every block.

After sharing our time with the community, we hit the highway again and traveled south down I-55. As I drove a suburban full of teenagers back to their safe neighborhoods, clean homes and loving families I thought of those we had just left behind. Some wouldn’t have come with us if we had asked. They would say they were needed there. It was their home and no matter how dangerous their neighborhood would become, they would be there to keep guiding their young people in the right direction. I marveled at their strength and their optimism in the face of poverty and violence.

We weren’t leaving them behind. They were on a path and had chosen their road. They chose the road to recovery. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Air Travel Guide Across Missouri

Last week my family and I flew out from Kansas City International Airport (KCI) to New York City. I love my road trips, but the view out an airplane window is mesmerizing. Cars move like little armies of ants in line on the highways. Multi-colored quadrilateral agricultural fields quilt the earth. Stormy clouds pass above you and below you. There's so much to see up there and you see it all in such a different way. It reminds me of that Proust quote we use in our I-70 book about "seeing with new eyes" the landscape we have taken for granted.

I watch downtown Kansas City scroll by my scratched up oval window. Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadium come into view and also scroll out to the right. We're traveling I-70 by air. Hmm... could I use our book thousands of feet above the interstate? It worked on Amtrak, maybe it will work on Southwest Airlines. As I was peering down trying to find landmarks I saw this one
and knew exactly where I was-- Mile 30,White Industries. I could see the huge 4,400-foot-long runway underneath us. At first I thought it was another airport, but then his inventory of 2,600 planes came into view. From the interstate you can see only the 1960s vintage Lear 23 jet in his front yard. It is impossible to see this view from anywhere but his backyard or the skies above.

White Industries is one of the largest suppliers of used airframe, engine, and avionics parts. Some planes are flown in while others have to roll down the highway within another transportation vehicle. Some of his planes have come from such remote places as a glacier in Greenland and an African forest.

As we traveled on further south I saw some of our other stories-- a glimpse of the Ozarks to the south (although, once again, more than a glimpse as we kept climbing towards our cruising altitude), small towns among the ag fields, cemeteries and schools.

It would be great to have interpreters on airplanes. Sure you can use the airline app to somewhat figure out where you are (but not really). The plane on the app I was using was the length of over 3 cities (that's one big plane!) and made it difficult to tell where we were. If interpretive sky travel guides could stroll the aisles and tell us what we were seeing how time would fly. Okay, bad pun, but it would be such a richly informative and entertaining trip. But they barely have room to push that little beverage cart down the aisle and not enough funding to give us more than a tea-bag size bag of peanuts (get out the EpiPen.)But I'd pay for an interpretive sky travel guide. "Can you see the...?" "Did you know that you're directly over....?" "See how the...?" I could put down my magazine and listen to the stories as I pass over like Peter Pan in Neverland.

Now I'm resisting the urge to write interpretive travel guides for airliners. We could put them in the little pouches just behind the safety instruction sheet. Safety first.  What a variety we could write-- and have alternative stories for when weather causes detours.Winter could throw a cold blanket on the land, but the worst part would be the plane ticket cost we'd have to endure flying back and forth to double-check all our stories and sites. Anyway, as you travel this summer, we hope you enjoy all the stories that you see from the road and the skies!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Labor Day Blues

It’s another Saturday night and in my household that means The Fish Fry is on the radio KCUR- Kansas City. It’s a great program that highlights blues, R&B, soul, jumpin’ jazz, and zydeco music and oftentimes, KC artists. The week of July 6 they were doing a “road songs” theme. Here are a handful of the road songs they played that evening. Listen to the whole show at http://www.kcur.org/fish-fry-archives

Key to the Highway- Muddy Waters

Big Road Blues- Rory Block

T Model Blues- Lightnin’ Hopkins

Long Time to Get There- Betse Ellis

A few more of some country blues for those who are laboring on the highway this Labor Day weekend:

Mobile Blues- Waylon Jennings
Truck Driver’s Blues- Merle Haggard
Long, Lonesome Highway- Dick Curless
Gulf Coast Highway- Nanci Griffith

Friday, August 23, 2013

Get Your Kicks on Route 66 and Enjoy the Drive on I-55

I had a radio interview on WGLT in Bloomington, IL last weekend about our “Traveling Through Illinois” book. They played the Van Halen song, “I Can’t Drive 55” at the beginning of it. Clever. I liked it.

Ted and I started an I-55 song list years ago, actually. We pondered what songs we should have on the soundtrack if this book should ever make it on the big screen. Okay, well, we just thought about all the fun road songs there are out there. So, for the next few blogs we’ll play some road tunes.

Seems respectful to start with this one:
Here’s an encore from his daughter:

Here’s hoping that after you read our book, you won’t ever sing Sammy’s lyrics about I-55: