Below are the diary entries for September 7, 2012, with the newest entries added at the bottom. Also, check out today’s photos.
Today we barely touched Interstate 70. But we did not sit still at all! After breakfast, we started out going north from Vandalia, to Springfield. The first stop in Springfield was at "Shea's gas station," a gas-station-turned-museum along the historic route of US-66, the "Mother Road." The owner of the gas station has stuffed it with Route 66 memorabilia and other stuff. Some may call it junk...
After the gas station, we went to the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. I had not expected such a modern building, although I'm not quite sure what I had expected, given that the Lincoln Presidential Museum might very well be one of the most famous ones. It turns out the museum is all about "interpretation" and has, in my opinion, overdone it. Everything is "immersing," you walk in-between the characters. It's nice, but there is no feeling of authenticity.
The "ghosts of the library" presentation was technically amazing, leaving you wonder at the end what was real and what was movie. Beyond that, the life-size figures of Lincoln and his family in front of the White House replica in the central rotunda of the museum was nice, and the reconstructed log cabin was quite neat.
After the Lincoln museum we went to a Honda dealership, because a warning light had come on on the dashboard. The service manager was very kind and instead of making us wait for a mechanic to be available, he plugged in the diagnostic computer to find out what the problem was. It turned out that an oxygen sensor had gone bad, something that needs to be fixed before I have my next emission test but not something that impacts the car. So now we can continue without having to worry about that light. Kudos for Honda in Springfield, IL!
From Springfield, we started following the old Route 66 for a while, starting out with lunch at the Cozy Dog Drive In. It's more a sit-down and drive-through place now, but they still serve their "Cozy Dog" (corn dog).
Continuing on Route 66 we came through a mile-and-a-half long stretch in Auburn that has been re-created with brick on a concrete bed, the way some parts of the road were in the beginning. At this stretch you could really imagine driving the road in the 1940s and 1950s (although to be honest, by that time the brick would probably no longer have been there).
From Girard we drove quite a way down to Colinsville, where there was a water tower in the shape of a ketchup bottle next to the road. We then continued further south, towards Kaskaskia, the first capital of Illinois. We made it as far as Chester (birthplace of the creator of Popeye), where we crossed the Mississippi river, but by that time it was getting late and the weather had turned so bad (pitch dark clouds, driving rain, and so on) that we decided to find a hotel room instead. We had dinner at a Chines buffet (not bad, actually) and when we turned on our computers we learned that the storm we were taken refuge from actually had made the news.
We managed to visit all three of Illinois’ state capitals - having woken up in the second one, Vandalia - which is pretty impressive, considering that our faithful Honda developed engine trouble which necessitated a trip to a Honda dealership in the state’s current capital. The lady at the Springfield visitor center sure thought it odd that we asked for the address of a car dealership rather than directions to any of the myriad Lincoln-related sights. But the Lincoln sites are pretty hard to miss in Springfield, while a Honda dealership is kind of hard to find.
We thought that driving into town on U.S. 51 and state route 29 we’d be almost sure to come across one, but no such luck. So we decided to do the touristy thing first and stop at garage-museum on Route 66. It was kind of fun, lots of early 20th century automobile memorabilia, but more of a jumble of stuff than anything you’d call a museum. We arrived at the same time as a group of Swedish tourists, corvette enthusiasts to judge by their t-shirts, who had flown into Chicago the day before and were going to drive the length of Route 66, all the way to Los Angeles. They had a bunch of questions about the road and wanted to look at *everything* so we slipped out to work on reaching our second goal.
One does not, after all, visit Illinois without paying homage to Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln library is of course a research library that isn’t really open to the public unless you come as a researcher. Some creative soul may be able to come up with some new angle of writing about Lincoln, but it must be getting more and more difficult.
In order to deal with all the ignoramuses who come to find out about Lincoln unencumbered by any kind of knowledge, they recently built a new Lincoln Museum right next to the library. It is a state of the art facility, where one is directed first to a holographic presentation sponsored by AT&T, which is, I have to say, very well done. Of course, it helps to have gobs of money to spend on it as the telecom giant no doubt does. When the presentation opens it looks likes an actor (it can’t be a librarian or an archivist, because the performance is so polished) explains a lot of things about the collection and what it can tell us today and things like that. When he opens a book, for example, a hologram appears to flutter out of its pages to “bring the past to life” as it were. It’s until the end that you notice that the guy who’s doing the presentation is actually a hologram himself who turns out to be a Union soldier who was killed at some battle with some regiment of which only the flag they carried into battle was returned. Pretty nifty.
Then you are directed to the next presentation, in Union Theater, the main sponsor of which is the Exelon Corporation. It’s all about an artist who supposedly gets the assignment to draw a picture or sculpt a bust of Abraham Lincoln. “I started out by finding out as much as I could about my subject.” Well, good luck with that. I’m not sure how many miles of library shelves are needed to house every book ever written about Lincoln, not to mention the thousands of artifacts stored in the Lincoln presidential library and no doubt elsewhere, too, but I’m pretty sure it would take you more than a lifetime to work your way through them. The presentation is, of course, state of the art, with all the appropriate sound effects timed for maximum effect - I jumped when John Wilkes Booth fired his shot at the president and the little girl sitting in front of me was scared witless by the Civil War sound effects. But the whole thing is just a little too slick, and a tad too nifty for its own good.
Of course it’s hard to see how much one can still say about a man who has become a myth to the extent that Lincoln has. The museum does try. When, after the show, you go on a tour of the Lincoln White House, they show you just how unpopular the president was in his day. But again, it’s too nifty. While you try to decipher the derogatory cartoons as they appeared in the popular press at the time, you are made to listen to a chorus of actors’ voices saying things that people will no doubt have said about Lincoln at the time, but it prevents you from concentrating.
The tableaux are beautifully done, but they inspired the most insipid commentary from a bunch of women accompanying children of various ages, whom I meanly supposed to be home-schooled. The girls’ questions seemed to focus mostly on the dresses as worn by Mrs. Lincoln and the boys were made to listen to a whole expose about “how they did not have electricity” and just think how terrible that would be: no air-conditioning. I know it’s a heresy, but there really ought to be a way to make sure that homeschooling is actually a process in which knowledge is transferred, rather than a way of preventing your child from becoming contaminated with such worldly knowledge as - GASP! - evolution. But I digress. The museum annex to the Lincoln Presidential Library is just a 21st century way to keep the myth going and does nothing at all to inspire critical thinking or even the thought “but what if...” And I guess corporate America prefers it that way. A presidential myth, nice and uncontroversial at (almost) the sesquicentennial of his death, without anyone asking awkward questions.
Since today was a Friday, we thought it best to get the engine trouble checked out before it we got stranded, who knows how many miles from anywhere out in the boonies. Of course the Honda place was on the other side of town, so we drove all the way around Springfield to get there. But it’s all in the game and it turned out that it wasn’t anything serious, just a bad oxygen sensor, which can wait until we get back to Maryland. After that, it was lunch time so we drove another big loop around and through Springfield to get to the Cozy Dog Drive Thru, a Route 66 landmark. As it turns out, cozy dogs are nothing but corn dogs, but it was fun to eat there anyway. After that, we continued on our way along Route 66, because there is a section of the road that is still paved with the original bricks. Let’s just say there’s a reason they switched to blacktop... In Girard we paid a visit to a real soda fountain, where they have a large world map up on the wall with pins representing the states and countries that various visitors over the years have represented. Unfortunately, they already had a pin for Maryland. I’ve decided that when someone asks me where I’m from I just tell them Maryland and if they figure I can’t possibly be a native, that’s just too bad. I can say “y’all” like the best of them and I figure that after 15 years in Maryland, I’ve earned the right to say I’m from that state, darn it! The last part of our Route 66 fix was to find and take a picture of a water tower that’s shaped like a ketchup bottle (not the real one, because that would have to be in Pittsburgh).
So much for Route 66. On our way out of Colinsville, home of the ketchup bottle water tower, we already caught a glimpse of the St. Louis arch across the river in Missouri, but we wanted to stick to Illinois a little while longer, because we wanted to visit its first capital, Kaskaskia. This modern-day metropolis of 14 souls actually has a storied past, having been started as a frontier fort during the reign of Louis XIV. We visited the ruins of Fort Kaskaskia, on a bluff above the Mississippi. You can see that that would have been a pretty strategic spot back in the day. After the French and Indian War France ceded the Illinois Territory to Britain and the town of Kaskaskia became the capital of Illinois Territory until Illinois became a state in 1819. It was the state capital for a year, until the powers that be thought it safer to move the capital to Vandalia. It didn’t help that the Mississippi River refused to cooperate: “As the Mississippi continued to flow through its new bed, earth was deposited so that the village became physically attached to the west bank of the river, which primarily lies within the boundaries of the state of Missouri. Now a bayou, the old channel is regularly flooded and has a bridge to carry traffic over it.” (Wikipedia)
However, by the time we had made our way to almost the extreme southern end of Illinois, the weather, which had been threatening most of the day, turned bad and we saw some pretty scary flashes of lightening and had a couple of heavy downpours. There are several historic sites in the area, including the sites of French forts. There was also a sign for a river ferry, which would have been a great experience, but we weren’t sure that it would even run in a bad thunderstorm. So instead of going back up State Route 3 for a couple of miles to the ferry, we decided to continue south on route 3 where there would be a bridge across the Mississippi at Chester, Ill. As it happened, Chester has a pretty nice visitor center, which was already closed for the day, but we could still use the restrooms and we even took our lives in our hands by venturing out on the viewing platform overlooking the river and the bridge Lighting flashing all around water and a metal bridge; probably not the safest spot, eh? But one has to have pictures. We also learned that the creator of Popeye the Sailorman was a native of Chester, so that the town claims the cartoon hero as an honorary citizen. By the time we had the necessary pictures, we knew we had to get to shelter, and quickly. The sky had turned slate gray, with some patches of a sickly green and lighting was practically continuous. Missouri does get pretty bad tornadoes sometimes, and I know that if the sky had looked like that in Ellicott City, I would have gone into the basement for sure. So I drove quickly but carefully to Perryville, MO. where we found a Days Inn with yet another acre of bed and a Chinese buffet next door. We’ll visit the town (hamlet?) of Kaskaskia tomorrow, and then we’ll go on to St. Louis and the Arch.