Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2014-20 Springfield Illinois, State Capitol


Springfield Illinois
(Land of Lincoln)

Campground:  Illinois State Fair Campground: 801 Sangamon Ave, Springfield, IL 62702.  $20 senior rate or $125 per week.  Partial and full hookups same price.  I got a paved parking lot style site with nicely marked stripes on the pavement to tell where each camp site is located.  Excellent free wi-fi and good cell phone and over-the-air tv coverage.  Note:  Many trains passing throughout the late evening and early morning blowing their long mournful horns into the night.

Illinois State Fairground

Distance traveled:  158 miles

Camper Tip:  Springfield Ill. Has numerous railroad overpasses.  I noted a few that were shorter than 13ft so caution should be maintained when traveling in and around Springfield with your camper.

I really do enjoy hooking up the camper and heading out on the road.  A short stint on a major highway and then I was off onto a two lane country road, hwy 51 and 29 into Springfield.  A really enjoyable drive through very small towns and some of the post beautiful farm land I’ve ever seen.  The crops all looked very healthy and green and each set of farm buildings looked idyllic set between row after row of corn and soybeans (couldn’t really tell what other veggies were being grown).   Along the way I also noticed a number of “correctional institutions”, prisons.  Apparently they have designated hwy 51 as a good location for all the prisons.  You know, the U.S. has the most number of prisoners in the world, yuck.

Springfield, the current capitol bldg

Springfield is the capital of Illinois, but the governor and many of those in the legislation, travel back and forth between Springfield and Chicago.  The Illinois government owns 11 private jets to help get all those politicians around.  The Governor often travels a couple times a week between the capital and Chicago.  Supposedly, they plan on selling off some of the jets in an economy move.  There were only two ex-governors recently in prison, so that’s a good thing I guess.  Actually, four of the last 7 Governors have been sent to prison.

Before I began my touring of this State Capitol, I headed to the Visitor and Convention center where I was given some really great information.  Not all visitor centers are all that helpful, but I can assure you that the one in Springfield is most helpful.  Like giving me a three day parking pass for Free and telling me to come back and they'd give me another one for an additional three days.  Pointing out all the live demonstrations, re-enactments and music going on each day of the week.  It started to sprinkle out and went into a light rain for the rest of the morning and afternoon.  With umbrella in hand, I went to each venue, including lunch, not letting a little rain slow me down.

Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library

from a log cabin to the whitehouse

holographic show

from the movie by Spielberg

There are some nice exhibits in the Lincoln Presidential Library Museum and I particularly enjoyed the holographic movie presentation.  The Presidential Library next door is for research and has little of interest to the average tourist.  The following day I visited the home Lincoln and his family purchased and lived in while in Springfield before he became the 16th President of the U.S.  It’s run by the National Park and currently includes an 8 block section of town surrounding the home, providing a buffer from today’s modern world.  Continual guided tours are available throughout the day.  Almost surreal to think we are allowed to walk through the same house Abraham Lincoln lived in.  The National park also includes a movie presentation at their visitor center and a presentation by an actor portraying Lincoln or Mary Todd Lincoln.  I saw the presentation by the person portraying Mary Todd and must say it was all extremely well done.  The “actors” are in fact historians who are constantly researching and learning new facts about the Lincoln’s and are able to bring that information to life.  Make sure you take the time to ask them questions as they often are available between presentations and you’ll learn so much more history from a one on one discussion with them.

the National Park does guided tours

the Lincoln home in Springfield, originally purchased as a single story home 

the formal living room, the home was added onto as the family grew

Lincoln's bedroom

On a personal note, I have read many books on Lincoln and of course have seen the movie produced by Steven Spielberg (movie set and costumes on view at the train depot).  The first book I ever read about Lincoln was Gore Vidal’s book “Lincoln” and still consider it one of the best books on Lincoln I’ve ever read.  I’ll recommend a little book I read a while back called:  Séances in Washington: Abraham Lincoln and Spiritualism during the Civil War.  It’s the personal account of the medium who was invited to the White House to give séances to the President and First Lady and provides her descriptions and recollections of living in Washington D.C. during the Civil War.  A most intimate and compelling story.  More books have been written about Lincoln (15,000 and counting) than any other person in history, except possibly Jesus.

A visit to Lincoln’s memorial tomb on a bright sunny day.  Thin white clouds drift across the light blue sky as I walk towards the tomb.  A lump in my throat and a welling of emotions comes to the surface as I view the large memorial on the top of a gradual hill.  Contemplating the great man that he was, entering the tomb, past a smaller version of the statue than the one that resides in Washington D.C.  at the Lincoln Memorial.  Quietly walking down a marble lined hallway and around to the tomb itself.  Paying my respects to this great president and praying that more inspired presidents will follow in the future.

a moment of respect in front of the tomb

There are so many historical Lincoln sites throughout Springfield and Illinois in general, one could spend the entire summer visiting all of them.  The Old Capital Building (1839-1876) which was rebuilt in the 1960’s to bring it back to the state it was in during the Lincoln era is well worth the visit.  The tour guides are enthusiastic and share just a ton of information and stories that bring it all to life.  They tell me the outer structure was dismantled stone by stone and later reassembled on top of a new three level underground basement, two of which make up a new hidden from view parking garage. The level of detail in restoring the old structure is stunning.

the Old Capitol Building

Dickson Mounds State Park.

Near the end of my stay in Springfield, I decided to take a day trip to Dickson Mounds.  It’s a little over an hours drive through more rich farm fields, past small towns almost too small to have names ending up in Havana Illinois where barges and silos collect grains to be transported via the river route.  The area is riddled with Indian mounds, many having been leveled such as the ones that are now home to a large power plant.  In Havana, one has become a park with a picnic pavilion on top of it.  Illinois is proud to have one of the very few on-site archeological museums, the Dickson Mounds SP Museum.  Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, they built the museum, parking lot and picnic area right on top of the largest mounds in the region basically destroying the integrity of the site.  Although one can see a number of the other mounds from the third story roof top viewing area, none are accessible to the public as they are on private lands.  The museum is on three floors and has a fairly good collection of artifacts from the mound builders, but it is hard to wrap my mind around why they would build their museum and infrastructure on top of the mound.  Perhaps it is because they did such an extensive dig on the site, that the buildings cover up the destruction.

Dickson Mounds state park

Ogden-Fettie Mound

part of the mound is visible here with the museum overtaking most of it

Dana-Thomas House State historic Site

My last tour in Springfield was to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed house here in Springfield.  It’s one of his early works and one of the largest private homes he designed, over 12,000 sq ft in size.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen many of the prairie style designed homes he’s created over the years but this one is by far one of the most detailed and biggest homes I’ve visited.  It is owned by the state of Illinois and entrance is free, with a suggested donation.  Built in 1902-04 the home is complete as Wright designed all the interior spaces including the stained glass windows throughout, the furniture and all of the lighting.  The state purchased the home for $1,000,000 and spent $5 million renovating it.  One Wright designed lamp that was originally in the home sold in Paris for one million dollars and I stood next to it's twin, not more than a foot away from where I was standing.  Needless to say the house as a whole is priceless today. (Interior photo's) 

For anyone interested in stunning architecture and design this home is a must visit.

although this is the main entrance, there are 8 in all

Six Picasa photo albums for viewing.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

2014-19 Benton Southern Illinois


Benton Illinois
Lazy Summer Days on the water

Campground:  South Marcum COE, Benton Illinois.  $8.00 senior rate.  Elect 50 amp.  I goofed, I thought the site at least had water and electric but only had elect.  Should have signed up for a full-hookup site. The volunteer worker at the campground office was of no help at all in attempting to get me a different site.

Distance Traveled: 149 miles

It’s easy to miss some good sites when traveling further distances.  Like Paducah and Metropolis.  Paducah is, from what I’ve read, quite the artist community and a world class quilting center with a museum and shops that teach and sell what ever quilters need.  They also have wonderful murals along the flood walls that protect the town which my good friend LaVon told me about.  And imagine, I missed visiting the hometown of Superman!.  They have a huge superman statue of course.  They’re both on the border of Kentucky and Illinois.  I was also hoping to visit with my niece Kim Boyle and her family, but having not heard back from them I'm guessing they are too busy for a visit from me and so I’ll head on to Springfield and the Land of Lincoln next week.  See you next time around the bend.

seeing a water tower in the distance always
tells you there's a town coming up.

So there you are, I’ve missed a few good sites all because I’ve traveled an extra  50 or 100 miles on down the road.  Life if rough on the road sometimes, but I guess I’ll survive.  I’m still not completely sure which direction I’m heading to in the next couple of weeks either, as I’ve already hit my major summer destinations which were, Ashville, Nashville, and Hurricane Mills.  Do I head further north and visit my sister Ann in the U.P. (Michigan)?  Do I travel to New York state where I have a dear friend who’d like to see me?  Or do I head into Canada where I have a group of friends on the Bruce Peninsula.  Or maybe begin my trek out west.

Benton Illinois, town square

So here I am in Benton Ill.  With very little to do.  As there aren’t any really great things to see and do in the area.  Which is kind of nice for a change in that I’ll be able to just sit back and relax.  I might take a day or two to just drive the back roads and take a few shots of old barns and such in the area.  Other than that, I’m enjoying the sudden cool down across the country.  I actually wore long pants and put on a short sleeved shirt over my usual T-shirt.

So that was yesterday.  Today, I decided to check out the Rend Lake Dam visitor center and go into the small town of Benton and check out a small museum.  The Rend Lake visitor center is a brand new big visitor center with a nice educational center describing the dam and the local geology and stuff.  Pretty cool especially for kids.  So onto Benton which is a small town located in southern most part of Illinois.  I drove up to the County Jail Historical Museum built in 1902 not expecting all that much, but I had time and why not check it out.  A sign at the entrance also indicated it was a visitor center which I found out it no longer was.  The gal, with dark hair and eye shadow that circled her eyes like a raccoon’s mentioned they had a video telling about the history of the jail and it’s exhibits, so I started there.

The County Historical Jail Museum

I quickly learned about the famous prisoner that resided in the jail.  The infamous Charlie Birger who was a notorious bootlegger during the country’s prohibition years.  A feud with the KKK ended with Birger and the Shelton gang killing many in the clan.  He was later arrested and hanged in the back of the jail in 1928.  The last hanging in Illinois.  The jail itself is an interesting building.  From the front it is a very nice two story house in which the sheriff and his wife lived. With the back half being a two story jail.  The cells had no privacy and faced a second row of cells.  The wife of the sheriff was expected to cook the meals for the prisoners and if the jail was fairly full, she could make more money preparing meals than the sheriff made being a sheriff.

an interesting video tell about the Jail

The front house where the Sheriff lived 

window where food would be passed to the prison cells

no privacy here

Charlie Birger's cell until he was hanged

The second most interesting exhibit in the museum is the display from the radio station WFRX 1300.  The original d.j. equipment, a wooden table, two chairs and a microphone in the center of the table were used when the Beatle, George Harrison came to town in Sept 1963.  It was his first visit to the U.S. and he was visiting his sister, Louise Harrison Caldwell who had married a Scottish mining engineer and was living in Benton Ill.  George Harrison went to WFRX radio station, was interviewed by his sister on air.  During that interview they played the newly recorded Beatles song, “From me to You” which was a smash hit in England.  Thought to be the first time a Beatles song was played in America.  Though a radio station in Chicago disputes that claim.  Less than a year later the Beatles would be on the Ed Sullivan show and Beatle mania was in full swing.  George Harrison lived in his sisters house for two weeks, vacationing in the area, jamming with a local band at the VFW, visiting places like Garden of the God’s and even camping while here.

The seat where George Harrison sat for the radio interview

George Harrison

How is that for a pretty cool connection.  Me visiting this little town in southern Illinois, camping, just like one of those Beatles did back in 1963.  Wow, it’s like George and I are connected somehow.

Anyone interested in Antique Malls should head to Benton Ill.  They have at least 4 large Antique Malls right on the square.  And a stop at the Buzz Café will put a smile on your face after having a great cup of coffee.  I had a perfectly prepared Caesar Salmon Salad as well.

Antique mall items for sale
entering Benton town square

hand made cloth doll

pretty good condition 

that was some pretty strong fabric

Looking out from the Buzz Cafe

Another week in the heartland of America.  The corn is as tall as a adult, the oil fields one armed pumps are pumping oil and I’m only about 4 miles from a Walmart and downtown Benton.  The crickets, frogs and night critters all sing me to sleep at night.  And the temperatures have been a comfortable 80 degrees during the day and has dipped down to a cool 59 degrees at night thanks to a Polar Vortex they tell me.  What ever it is, I sure have enjoyed this week of perfect weather.

corn is tall and ready to harvest

Next stop Springfield Illinois

additional photos on PICASA