Monday, July 6, 2009
In fact, I'd like to "take it easy" but for the next month it will be more like hyper-speed. In addition to continuing learning golf and re-learning Spanish, I have 3 upcoming golf games, I'm packing to move out of my apartment and into a house, designing new promotional materials for the Chamber, getting a newsletter out, and - oh yeah, preparing to leave for SPAIN in now less than 2 weeks!
The great thing, though, is that last week when 4th of July was approaching I thought to myself, "Dang - it's the 4th already! The summer is already half over..." But THEN I realized ... YES! It is almost half-over, but I have nothing to regret this year because I've finally made the most out of the great weather, longer days and summer adventure spirit. And I'm thrilled for the next couple months of the season because if it's even half as good as the first 6 weeks, then, quite frankly, I will have accomplished what I set out to do. Feels good to actually have an answer to the "What have you been up to this summer?" question!
Until the next update ...
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I know it's not just me. Both criminal behavior and death are intriguing subjects, I don't care who you are. The Squirrel Cage was fascinating in the same way you slow down to see a terrible car wreck; it's so awful you can't take your eyes off it. Those pie-shaped cells - there are 10 on each level - were amazingly small, especially when they were built for 2 prisoners, but often had up to 5 in each cell. I have visited the new Story County jail and I've even been to Fort Madison prison, and both are luxury living compared to the Squirrel Cage. But just when you think the cells are small, we were shown the "solitary confinement" cell. I kid you not - I could barely turn around in there. There's no way a grown man could. I'm not making a statement about prison reform, but, honestly, I'm not sure if that's actually an effective way of heightened discipline, or if you would make the prisoner even more violent/angry. There was a shower with two knobs for cold water and cold water. Not sure why there were two knobs. Prisoners usually showered with their clothes as a means of laundering.
- First, there was quite a bit about President Lincoln in the museum, including a new exhibit detailing his encounters with General Dodge and in Council Bluffs. Not only was Lincoln remembered for uniting the North and the South, he was instrumental in bringing the East to the West with his support of the railroad. Last week when I saw Mt. Rushmore, I learned that Lincoln was selected for representing "unity."
- Second, there was a write-up on the U.P. timetable of the Ames brothers who also contributed to the development of the Union Pacific. Oakes Ames is, yes, one of the founders of Ames, Iowa.
- Third, a friend of General Dodge and an ongoing supporter of the railroad was President U.S. Grant (ref. Galena trip 2 weeks ago!)
General Dodge House
The trolley took me from the U.P. Museum to the General Dodge House. Because of the Railroad weekend, there was a LOT of activity going on at the house. My recommendation is to go see the house when it's NOT so busy. There were way too many people being herded through each room, and if you dared stray out of order, not-so-friendly 'hosts' would shoo you back with the other cattle-like-tourists. The General Dodge House was recommended to me by a couple people, and when I was in Cedar Rapids at the Brucemore Mansion, I learned that the General Dodge house was also on the National Historic Registry. All that said, it was another old house. My view was definitely tainted by the chaos of the day, but I knew I'd need to limit my trips to "old houses" this summer and I probably should have stopped before this one. I didn't find it to be as interesting as the ones I've already seen this summer (Brucemore, General/President Grant Home, Dowling House), but it was still a nice house with several original remnants of the Dodge family. One thing this house did have that was interesting was a 3rd floor ballroom.
Western Historic Trails Center
The surprise of this weekend was the Western Historic Trails Center. It also serves as a welcome center for Iowa, but contains several displays detailing the western expansion of the Lewis & Clark, Mormon, Oregon and California Trails. I had no idea they all went through Council Bluffs, and today's highways and interstates still follow these original trails with some acccuracy. There were fantastic sculpture displays that told the story of the trails that made it a lot more engaging for people like me who usually like to wait for the movie rather than reading the book. :) There was a great Iowa gift shop inside and if I hadn't left my wallet in the car, I probably would have gone home with a few goodies. The center grounds were also a link to several bike/walking trails. Even though I'm not a cyclist, I'd like to bike some of the nearby trails there.
BUT WAIT! There's more!
WALNUT, IOWA - Antique City
I've known for a while that there was this town off of I-80 where there were lots of antique stores, and while I'm not at a point where I'm buying stuff for my house anymore, I do enjoy an occasional stroll through an antique store and it's one of Iowa's travel/tourist detsinations. Hence, the stop in Walnut - Iowa's Antique City.
Well, I either picked the perfect weekend or the worst time to come to Walnut, depending on your thoughts on antiques. Just last week I heard there was a big "Antique Walk" going on with hundreds of dealers. Apparently I didn't grasp the enormity of this event, but I am not exaggerating when I say THE ENTIRE TOWN was COVERED with antique dealers; residential streets, church lawns/parking lots, the business district, ball fields .... It was antique-palooza craziness.
If you've ever gone for a run and realized you've just made your "half-way point" way too far because now you're stuck crawling back home, you know how I felt in Walnut, Iowa on Saturday. At first it was kind of exciting to see all the booths ... until I realized it was like an antique purgatory with no definitive ending point. I eventually started cruising pretty quickly past the vendor booths and headed for the main street where the actual antique stores were. The stores ranged from the quaint/cute to the complete dump. There is that slight nudge that tells you to look through because there may be that one can't-find-unique item there that you can't live without, but I was feeling so smothered and suffocated by musty smells and complete chaos that I didn't spend much time in any of the stores. The only thing I was tempted by was a pair of old, joined folding theater seats that I thought would be cute on the back porch I'll soon have, but the thought of shlepping it back to my car made it quickly unattractive.
Don't get me wrong - if you love antiques, you'd love this place, especially during the AmVets Antique Walk weekend (which apparently happens every year on Father's Day Weekend). but I reached my limit quickly. One bonus: while there weren't many food vendors, there was one that made home made ice cream and I did make that purchase. Hands down it was the best home made ice cream I've ever had.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I never said all my experiences this summer would stay within Iowa. A week and a half ago I was in Galena, IL. This past weekend, I drove a bit further - actually, a LOT further - for my latest adventure. Welcome to my Black Hills experience!
A couple hours later along 90, we crossed the Missouri River and experienced one of the most gorgeous sights I've seen in a while. You literally come over a hill and you think you're about to drop off the face of the earth, but the Missouri River is huge and beautiful surrounded by rolling hills. I can't remember ever crossing a body of water that large without crossing into another state or country. Pretty impressive, but unfortunately I don't have any photos.
Al's Oasis; Oacama, SD
Just past the river Al's Oasis. We never met Al, and, truth be told, this was a last-minute add based on a couple recommendations we got just a couple days before the trip. But Al is supposed to have the world's best Buffalo Burgers. Well, Al's is not your typical Oasis as it stretches out to include a couple souvenir stores, grocery store, bakery, restaurant and more things that, quite simply, just confused us a bit. We did learn that Al's Oasis is, however, "where the west begins." Not sure who determined that, or if Al just decided it was so, but that's what the sign said. The unfortunate part was that when we arrived in Oacama, we just weren't hungry enough to eat a buffalo so we just took a quick look around, filled up with gas (fuel - not buffalo), and headed back on the road.
Wall Drug; Wall, SD
Where is Wall Drug? Well, it's in Wall, South Dakota, of course! What else is in Wall, SD? Not much! The story of Wall Drug is that it was started years ago during the Old West times, but the store owners weren't getting much traffic. In a stroke of genius, they decided they should advertise free ice water to travellers heading West, and they started putting up a bunch of signs along the road. In fact, when the owner started putting up signs, the first customers beat him back to the store. The signs are key, because they are ALL ALONG I-90 ... starting in Minnesota, and apparently they go just as far West of Wall Drug into Wyoming. Truly - if you can't find Wall Drug, you're an idiot. :)
So, what is Wall Drug? Well, it's a Drug Store. Duh.
Oh - well, it's also a few other things, too. Wall Drug is also a restaurant, cafe, ice cream parlor (with home made ice cream), leather store, cowboy boots & hats store, book store, old fashioned apothecary, toy store, jewelry store, and home of a caged, angry T-Rex, jackalope collection, stuffed bears on the wall, animated singing characters, dancing fountain, playground, photo studio, and a souvenir or two.
Yes, there are a couple other things in Wall, but they're all across the street from Wall Drug. For example, the Wall Post Office is there, along with a couple tacky souvenir stores, a bar and a bank. But the real attraction is Wall Drug.
Be warned; there are those out there who will try do dissuade first-timers from stopping at Wall Drug, citing it as tacky or a waste of time. However, I would argue ... that's the point! And Wall Drug is as much a part of Americana as apple pie. It's a humorous attempt at recapturing the Old West, and you'll kick yourself for not stopping - I don't care how old you are or who you are. You miss this, and you'll be sorry!
Sheer randomness; all over South Dakota
So, these were the things we knew we'd see along the way - the aforementioned stops. What we did not count on were the dozens of completely random things popping up all along I-90. Seriously. There is some crazy, crazy, crazy stuff. To name a few: swingset/playground all by itself in the middle of a field no one could get to, a dragon on a garage roof, tiny little church not even the size of a dog house, sculpture garden with an oversized buffalo head and horrendously awful metal creatures, a human skeleton "walking" a dinosaur skeleton on a leash, upside down firetrucks, buffalo (ok - maybe not so random, considering), fake horse, sign reading "BAR - on/off liquor," Exit 241 that goes nowhere, John the Baptist's van, Reptile Gardens, the General Lee, a tiny little barn - again, not even large enough for a dog house (and nowhere near the tiny little church), a 7-lb peanut butter cup, and much more. While the trip from Okoboji, Iowa to the Black Hills was pretty long, the three planned stops along with all the complete randomness made for a pretty interesting drive.
Saturday, June 13
The Black Hills!
We made it to the Black Hills late Friday night and realized why they call them the Black Hills. It's stinkin dark at night, and they apparently don't believe in street lights in the Black Hills area. We stayed in Keystone, SD, which advertised having the closest hotels to Mt. Rushmore. The town of Keystone is pretty small, but it has the touristy 'Old West' look that seems par for course for the area. On Saturday morning we got up and after breakfast our first stop was to go to the Borglum Rushmore Museum. Gutzon Borglum was the creator of Mt. Rushmore, and the museum stop was a great prelude to seeing the monument because we got to see some of Borglum's other works, along with the history of how he was chosen, how he did his work, why he chose the presidents he did, and more.
My favorite part was finding out about Borglum's first attempt to carve a mountain in Georgia. He was commissioned to sculpt some of the Civil War heroes, but after he finished the head of General Robert E. Lee, he had an argument with the committee that hired him, and they fired Borglum. Well, unfortunately for Georgia, Borglum was the one with all the dynomite, so he blew up the head of Lee. The museum also had a life-size replica of the eye of Abraham Lincoln which put things in perspective a bit. Borglum came up with a way to make the eyes of all the presidents so that the sun would catch them and make them 'twinkle.' Kind of amazing when you think about it, but it really did give them even more depth. I was impressed.
After going through the museum we went straight to the monument itself. $10 to park, but the permit is good for the rest of the year ... just in case I have another free weekend in the near future. Unfortunately it's non-transferable as they also included part of my license plate on the parking pass. However, they shortened my personalized Iowa CEVEGO plate so my parking pass reads "IA - EGO" which I find a little humorous in itself.
So, Mt. Rushmore really is monumental. There's really no other way to describe it. I really kind of thought I'd show up and see it and be done with it, but it's impressive and I wanted to get as close as possible, and take as many photos as possible (although, they, of course, looked pretty much the same). The setting is beautiful, and the carving is just amazing. It's hard to not be a bit in awe looking at it.
Borglum chose the four presidents to sculpt, but they had to get approved by a committee. The only choice that met some debate was Teddy Roosevelt. I appreciate Borglum's rationale for his choices, and for his desire to sculpt the mountain in the first place. First, Borglum wanted to create a monument that was as impressive as America itself, so I was encouraged by his patriotism. Second, he chose each of the four presidents because of what he believed they symbolized for America: Washington - LIBERTY; Jefferson - DEMOCRACY; T. Roosevelt - COURAGE; Lincoln - UNITY.
There's a walkway up to the mountain with all the flags of the 50 states, and then there's a path that takes you around the front of the base of Mt. Rushmore, so we walked around there taking photos along the way. The path (which is also featured in "National Treasaure II" of course) leads to another education center where we could also see a scale model of what the mountain was supposed to look like upon completion. Borglum died before they could finish the work entirely, which would have included more of Washington's and Lincoln's torsos. We could also see scale model of the Hall of Records. Borglum's original plan also included a room behind the faces of Rushmore that would store busts of "great Americans," as well as historical documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He had planned to create a grand staircase of 800 granite steps. Unfortunately, those plans were never finished. I mean - how cool would it be to actually climb Mt. Rushmore by staircase, and see that stuff?
We left Mt. Rushmore after a trip through the gift shop (of course), but planned to return later that evening for the lighting ceremony.
Time for lunch, we went back into Keystone to ride a chair lift up to a 'mountain top' lunch where we enjoyed more views of Mt. Rushmore, Keystone, and the Black Hills. That's where I had my first Buffalo Burger ... and it was great! Tastes like ground beef, but juicier and more flavorful. Getting down the mountain was the real fun, though. Instead of making the return trip via chairlift, we decided to experience "2000 feet of fun" on the "Presidents Alpine Slide." It's like the luge of the Black Hills. When we bought our tickets, we noted that we could buy tickets in packs of 5 or 10 if we wanted ... and now I know why. Man - who wouldn't want to take the slide down? Sure, there's a few warning signs, a waiver that needs to be signed, and a teenage kid at the top telling you to be careful in the turns or else you'll flip and get hurt or die, but - pish posh - that's a whole lot of fun. 2000 feet of fun, in fact.
After all that fun, we drove to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Now - word to the wise. Just because the sign says that something is 11 miles away in the Black Hills, don't think that means it's just about 10 - 15 minutes away. The roads through the Black Hills are, well, hilly and curvy and forces even a driver like me to go slow. Needless to say, Crazy Horse was a little bit away from Mt. Rushmore.
After Mt. Rushmore was started, Native American Indians commissioned Korczak Ziolkowski to sculpt one of their heroes in a mountain. Crazy Horse was one of the heroes of the Battle of Little Bighorn, and a hero to Native American leaders because of his dedication to serving others and perserving his culture.
Let's get this straight, though. The Crazy Horse Memorial is not done. It's nowhere near done. You can most definitely see the image beginning, but it's taken over 50 years to get to this point. Crazy Horse is not being funded at all from government money; puposefully so, the Native Americans don't want to accept them and want the monument funded compeltely from donations. In addition, Crazy Horse is HUGE. In fact, the four faces of Mt. Rushmore (Washington's head is 60' tall) fit in the space of Crazy Horse's forehead. So, yes - if you put all the pieces together, that means that not only is the Memorial not done now, it's not going to be done in my lifetime.
It cost us $10/each to get in to the Visitors Center, essentially. If you're coming to Crazy Horse from Mt. Rushmore, you pretty much think that's your only option. However, if you're not so excited about seei
The Black Hills are really gorgeous. There are the little towns that pop up along the way that, quite frankly, don't offer a whole lot, but if we had more time it would have definitely been fun to do some hiking or more driving around to see more buffalo and great scenery. But what we did see was tremendous. With no offense to the state of South Dakota, I just don't think people would normally think of it as so beautiful. Given the opportunity to drive through South Dakota or to drive through Nebraska or Kansas, South Dakota will win hands down. I understand why it's a big area for camping, and I can understand why most people spend several days here - as opposed to the 36 hours we spent in the area. :)
We did do a little shopping back in Keystone, but I think the most we came out with was a couple bottles of South Dakota wine (now chilling in my fridge). Our timing was good in that it started to rain in the late afternoon, so we were able to enjoy a nice dinner on the covered deck and enjoy a glass of wine while we watched the rain. Keystone was bustling. We did all there was to do in Keystone, so it doesn't take much, but it served as a good home base.
We did return to Mt. Rushmore in the evening for the night program and lighting ceremony. The rain hadn't let up yet, and it was getting cooler, but that didn't stop the crowds from showing up. We staked a great location under the cover of the elevator shelter, bought a deck of cards, and kept ourselves - and several others around us - amused until the show started.
The program was emceed by a member of the military who then introduced a video showcasing the history of Mt. Rushmore. We didn't bother coming out of our shelter for that since we had seen much of the same thing at the Borglum museum. However, it was a grand experience to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem right there at Mt. Rushmore. C'mon - admit it - you just got chills, too.
As the anthem starts playing, lights start fading up on the darkened mountain. The rain provided an interesting perspective as it kind of looked like the faces were even crying. After the anthem and lighting finished, the emcee invited all those in attendance who had served or are currently serving in the military. That night there were several, which was so cool. They stayed on stage for the lowering of the flag, and then the emcee had each one introduce himself/herself. Before they started, though, he reminded them to listen carefully, because they have often had people come up and realize they were up there with members of their former unit. We didn't hear any of that on this night, but that must be a very emotional experience whenever it does happen.
We were pretty chilled by the time the program was over, so headed back to our hotel right away and packed up for the long trip home the next morning. We had been staying at the Presidents View Hotel which was pretty basic, but, again, scored points for proximity. So I'd give them credit for that. However, our adventure wasn't completely over as we were awoken at 2:00 a.m. with crazy screaming in the hall that went on and off for about an hour and a half. It's not worth writing all the crazy details here, but we do know that some chick got kicked out of a hotel room, some guy was a felon, both had limited vocabulary, and neither were happy. At 2 in the morning it wasn't fun, but admittedly, we've been laughing about that ever since.
The trip back to Central Iowa was long, but we made it in just under 9.5 hours. Plenty of caffeine and snacks got us through, and we even got a bonus stop to see the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN. Lot of driving, but well worth it. I totally get why it's a national treasure (no pun intended). It might be a while until I go back, but I feel that much more satisfied after seeing it. Two thumbs up.
When I finally got home on Sunday evening, I was beat. And I was still tired on Monday. But now, revelling in the experience, I'm so glad I did it (and thrilled I had company), that I'm that much more excited for the next adventure. We're back in Iowa this weekend, but loving every minute of this Experience Summer!
Monday, June 15, 2009
Grotto: suggested $5 donation for adults. I bought a $3 booklet in the gift shop explaining the history and the different portions of the Grotto, and I bought an ice cream cone in the Grotto Cafe. 2 hours from Ames - it's worth the trip.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Heartland Acres Agribition Center
I've driven past the Agribition (Agriculture + Exhibition = Agribition) Center a handful of times driving back and forth to Chicago on Hwy 20 over the last few years, but never had any idea what it was until I started planning Experience Summer. Simply put, even for - and maybe because I'm - a "city girl," this is a great place.
About halfway between I-35/Hwy 20 interchange and Dubuque, the Agribition Center is like a museum documenting the history of agriculture in the Heartland and, specifically, Iowa. It was advertised to have antique farming implements, farm animals, machine shed, historical displays and, most attractive to me - hands-on activities including the opportunity to milk a fake cow. Yes, that's right. At Heartland Acres you can squeeze fake milk out of a fake cow. C'mon - who wouldn't want to do that????
I had a fairly limited time to spend at the Center as I was meeting my mom in Galena later that afternoon, and I was afraid that I would be at the Center the same time a school bus of kids got dropped up and there would be a long line for the cow-milking. I mean, there would be nothing worse than having to elbow my way in front of a bunch of kids just so I could fake-milk the fake-cow, but I was on a mission so I was prepared to take whatever measures necessary. As I pulled in the parking lot I actually felt my heart skip a beat because I was so excited ... and then my heart almost stopped when I realized there were only 2 cars in the parking lot. It wasn't closed was it????
Not only was it not closed, it was clearly not crowded. :) The (seemingly) 12-year old girl working at the registration desk had no idea why I was there, and seemed kind of surprised that I really wanted to visit the center. And she thought I was a bit too excited when I asked about the fake-cow to fake-milk, but then she seemed very happy to take my photo fake-milking the said fake-cow. She took a few photos, in fact, and was happy to answer some questions I had about milking cows. For example, I didn't know you didn't actually pull, but, instead, you just squeeze the teats. Hey - in Experience Summer I learn something all the time. And, for what it's worth, the fake-milk the fake-cow experience fully satisfied any desire to really milk a real cow. However, I'd still be up for seeing - for real - a chicken running around with its head chopped off.
There was plenty more to see and learn at Heartland Acres. And while, for me, it was a real education in something I knew very little about, I also think it would be enjoyable for those who do know a lot about farming because I would hope they could appreciate the history even more. I could imagine grandfathers taking kids and grandkids through there explaining "this is how we used to do this when I was young ...", or even seeing this as required touring for researchers at Pioneer, John Deer, or even value-added fields.
I'm not completely ignorant to farming - I read my share of Little House and I have lived in Iowa for almost 20 years - so not all the concepts were new to me, but I learned more about the incubation process (and thought of my friend Mandy's bad incubator/science experiment fiasco!), single vs double pulley systems, turning corn in to cornmeal, cream separators, the pilgrimage to Iowa to begin farming, the rise of farming, the farm crisis, and even a polite way to ask where your outhouse is. The center was packed with antique farm implements, farmhouse items, and vehicles. I was surprised to also find quite a classic car collection that I would think even Jay Leno would admire. Cars from a 1905 Ford to a 1981 Delorean were on display, including a couple program cars that only had a handful created. Perhaps knowing even less about cars than I do about agriculture, the cars were very pretty and shiny. That counts for something, right?
Heartland Acres also has a fully-stocked machine shed, live farm animals, a one-room schoolhouse, an event center and an ISU extension office on their grounds. It gave me a heightened appreciation for farmers and God's provision in general. Admission is $5 for adults. Two enthusiastic thumbs up, and that's just because I only have two thumbs to give.
Galena comes from the word Galenium, a crystal made in nature with sulfur and lead. Galena was established as a mining town and was the largest city in Illinois in the early 1800s with 15,000. At that time, the Galena River running through town was 350' wide, able to hold several steamboats and shipping boats on its banks. After harvesting all the area trees to stoke the mining fires/kilns, the natural erosion control was depleted and, over time, the river was reduced to the narrow 'stream' it is today. Over time it was also discovered how poisonous lead was to humans, causing Galena to lose its primary export. Today there are just over 3000 residents in Galena, IL.
DeSoto House Hotel / Downtown Galena
While I've been to Galena before, I was fortunate to have won an overnight stay at the historic DeSoto House Hotel on Main Street so I met my mom there on Friday night. Built in 1855, the hotel has retained all its charm - grand staircase, elegant decor, lovely rooms, and they still used actual door keys instead of programmed key-cards like more modern hotels. And, for the first time there was bottled water provided in each room that was FREE for guests.
Galena's Main Street is probably what most people know about the area. It's a windy, historic street packed with unique stores and restaurants. Mostly fun stuff that no one needs, but definitely a fun window-shopping town where everyone is pretty friendly.
Ulysses S. Grant Home
Galena has had its share of famous visitors, but it was also home to our 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant. OK - I'll fully admit I don't know a lot about most of our presidents, and Grant is way up there on my ignorance scale. However, I learned this weekend that he wasn't the best of presidents, even though he was a great general and military leader. Among his successes, though were the anti-KKK legislation he passed, and his commitment to African American Civil Rights. In fact, Grant's parents didn't come to his wedding because they couldn't accept the fact he was marrying someone who came from a slave-owning family.
That said, Julia Dent Grant seemed to be sympathetic to African Americans, and, when land was cheap, she encouraged them to buy land to secure their futures. As First Lady, Julia was also always cordial to the White House staff, making daily rounds to make sure she spoke to each one. (Ulysses' parents eventually accepted both Julia and the marriage)
Actually, it was more interesting to learn about Julia Grant. She was the first President's wife to be called First Lady. In fact, the American people were so taken with her that they really called her the First Lady of the Land, a title which has never been used again for another First Lady. Julia truly embraced her role as First Lady and she was the first president's wife to send out her own press releases as she sought to help others. She was gregarious and hospitable. Galena loved her.
There is not much written about the Dowling House if you Google it or look on the Galena CVB website, and that's really a shame because it was really interesting and we had a very enthusiastic tour guide. The house is the oldest home in Galena. The first floor had served as a general store for Galena miners, and the second floor was the living quarters for the Dowling family.
The Dowling House was filled with antiques, and even if the majority of the items there weren't original to the home itself, however, they provided an incredible historical perspective. The average age of miners was 31 years old; for women, 38 years old. In addition to a hard life and consuming ridiculous amounts of salt due to the meat preservation process, lead covered everything - including every plate, cup and utensil. With such short life-spans, I guess it makes sense why girls were usually married by the time they were 14.
Speaking of marriage, inside the living quarters hung a needlepoint sampler. I always thought it was called that because it was a sample of different kinds of stitches. But apparently it was also called that so mothers could send their young daughters' works to potential husbands: "this is a sampler of what my daughter can do for you." Clearly, I'd be out of luck in the 1800s too!
A few other origins were revealed for common terms/phrases on the Dowling House tour. The beds they slept in were mattresses stuffed with hay that laid across a web of ropes holding the frame together held together, and had to be tightened often to keep the mattress from sinking. And, of course, the hay attracted all sorts of insects. Hence, "sleep tight," "hit the hay," and, of course, "don't let the bed bugs bite."
As mentioned earlier, Galena was a river town, so much of the town sloped down towards the river. As houses were built on the include, they had to be stablized. In the Downing House you can see an iron rod running through the whole house with bolts on the outside. When the house would start to lean because the walls were shifting due to the slope, two men would go to each bolt and tighten it to bring the walls back together, straightening up the house, as it were. In 'nicer' homes the rods were buried in the walls, and often on the outside of the home the bolts were covered by tin/metal stars. I've often seen those stars and thought they were always decorative, but didn't realize they were actually purposeful as well. In the photo below you can see the rod, with a towel hanging over it, as well as the hay-mattress, rope-tight bed.
On the way back from Galena, I was able to end Experience Summer 4 with a visit over dinner with friends in Waterloo. Drew & Angela are always a wealth of trivia, and as I told them about my experiences over the past 24 hours, they were able to enhance some of my education. I've always admired Drew for his goal to read through all the Presidents (reading at least one book on each of our presidents starting with Washington), so he told me more about Grant, including the fact that the reason he wasn't such a good President was because people really took advantage of him. Since he was a commanding general who troops followed unquestionably, Grant assumed others would follow him. However, apparently in the political world, people would say they'd do one thing, but either didn't follow through our would work towards their own agenda. Grant was apparently a good leader, but a poor manager.
But, hats off to Angela who gave me an even more interesting nugget that's closing out this week's Experience. Brown eggs come from chickens with brown earlobes. Don't question it. Just pass it on.
Until the next Experience ...
Sunday, May 31, 2009
I headed east Friday morning. I'm hoping that in the midst of my set travels I have the flexibility and initiative to take some unplanned stops if they offer the opportunity for more experiences. On Friday I did just that, although it only resulted in about a 5-minute diversion. In Tama, Iowa a "historical marker" sign caught my eye. Since it was literally right off the road, I pulled off to see what it was. I ended up finding the Lincoln Highway Memorial bridge.
All three historic families were also historically famous for their generosity, especially benefitting the Cedar Rapids community. Among those who were helped by the Douglas family was, appropriately, Grant Wood. There were a couple Grant Wood paintings in the mansion, but Grant was also commissioned to do a plaster mural in the sleeping porch built for one of the Douglas daughters. The Douglas family were also very big contributors to Coe College. In fact, according to our tour guide, Coe College might not be here today were it not for the Douglas family.
The Brucemore mansion was definitely impressive, but probably even more impressive were the grounds, including amazing landscaping. Especially since the weather was so beautiful on Saturday, the Brucemore grounds were really neat to walk through, although it proved that I am more than illiterate when it comes to naming flowers and plants. If I lived in Cedar Rapids, I'd definitely go back for some of the events held at the site each summer.
Quirky things about the Brucemore:
- The Douglas family had several pets as did the Halls. The Halls had 3 lions - one right after the other - all named Leo. There were also 4 dogs named King, among other pets.
- The Brucemore continues to be a host location for art fairs, outdoor theater and musical performances, a greenhouse and floral shop, and even an annual Night Glow hot-air balloon event. Organizations and businesses can rent the mansion for meetings, dinners and conferences. However, as gorgeous as the grounds are, Mrs. Hall stipulated that it was never to be used for weddings.
- Howard Hall had many contacts in Hollywood, and traveled to the West Coast often, including getting to go behind the scenes and take personal movies of "Gone With the Wind." And one of the Leo Lions was actually the daughter of the original MGM Lion.
- It was very "Narnia-like" on the grounds, complete with sculptures of dogs and deer that looked more like wolves and far too anatomically correct fawn.
- And ... SPOILER ALERT! There are 5 total floors to the Brucemore. The upper 4 are expectedly formal. Then we went to the basement, which was mind-blowing in uber-tacky Tahitian and Hunting lodge themes. No kidding. About 2/3 of the basement was turned in to a ridiculous tiki-hut with 1/2 plastic naked women with grass skirts and leis on the walls, 'bamboo' and straw faux roof and walls, diaramas of sea life, shells and more. Then you walk in to the Grizzly Bar complete with beer steins a'plenty, a couple more diaramas of bar scenes, 'log cabin' type walls, and all the tacky bar signs you can think of. According to the tour guide, Howard Hall wanted a place to entertain clients. Clearly, all his clients were men. :)
I kind of thought the Grant Wood studio was right next to the Art Museum or attached or something. I was wrong, but it was only about 3.5 blocks away, so I walked. I had never really been downtown CR before, so this was my first opportunity to be here, but it was still definitely 'post-flood.' Cedar Rapids is far from recovered, and there are still lots of empty storefronts, even in just the few blocks I walked. However, there were also a spattering of "We are open for business" signs, beckoning potential customers to come back. The day before while I was in our board meeting, there was another meeting going on at the Cedar Rapids Chamber with many angry citizens who still haven't gotten much progress on recovery funds from the State or federal agencies. Cedar Rapids is huge ... and hurting. But, as I learned from my experiences this weekend, Cedar Rapids is good about taking care of their own. Though the rest of the country was virtually blind to the severe flooding (unlike the enslaught of aid directed towards the gulf states after Katrina), Cedar Rapids will continue to rebuild because they don't know any other way to respond. Iowa needs Cedar Rapids.
Grant Wood Studio and Visitors Center
The studio is quite unpretentious as it's located, really, in the parking lot of a funeral home ... or so I thought. I followed the signs to the entrance and was immediately greeted by two volunteer workers. I purchased my ticket and was directed to a viewing area to watch the video "Grant Wood and Me." Just as it was starting, an elderly man also came in and purchased a ticket and watched the video with me. The video was pretty good, actually. Grant Wood was born in Iowa in the country, but moved to the 'big city' of Cedar Rapids when his father died and his mother need to find a job (3 jobs, actually) to take care of the family. Grant was well-liked everywhere he went, and in school he was recognized right away for his artistic talent. He went to school to pursue art, and returned to Cedar Rapids where he was offered a job teaching art. The principal said the kids loved Grant and would follow him like the Pied Piper. He also continued to do other art work which the Cedar Rapids community loved (and they loved him), so on summer breaks he was sent to Europe to study more. On his first trips, Grant was in France and learned about the impressionists which he could imitate, but he never really liked it, sensing something was missing from the finished work. Later, back in Iowa, Grant was commissioned to do a portrait that was a different style for him, but was more detailed. Grant decided to enter the painting in the Iowa State Fair. He not only won the Fair show, but he gained even more fame and fans. The subject of the portrait, if I remember correctly, was John Turner, who then owned the mansion earlier inhabited by the Douglas family and later Mrs. Sinclair. The Turners were so enamored with Grant Wood, they offered him the loft above their carriage house to be used as a studio and apartment.
- The "models" never posed for this painting in front of this house
- The "models" were Grant's younger sister Nan and his dentist. His dentist posed in the dentist's office.
- The house is in Elwood, Iowa. The window is a 'gothic' style.