Nothing necessarily insightful about these next few posts, but more an account of some of the highlights of my second American Road Trip. This time I will be taking two specific roads while traveling to Vegas and back: Route 50, called the “Loneliest Road in America,” and Route 66, of course. Route 50 wends its way through the middle of the country, through towns which once held pioneer promise but now sleep through the 21st century as dust and wind work their wills upon them. Even so, I’ll also see some of the American Southwest along the way, too long on my list!
Day One: Michigan & Indiana
A two hour traffic jam in Indiana reminded me what a wasteland this state is. Corn and concrete, flat earth and non-descript towns, all seemingly devoid of any but the occasional flat-footed paisley-wearing housewife. The occasional “plantation-style” house, noteworthy in its Rockwell-picturesque way, only serves to underscore the washed-out hues of this state. No photos; not one.
Day Two: Indiana & Illinois
I take it back, a little. Indiana is known for the Battle of Tippecanoe, which ended up driving Tecumseh’s men into the hand of British as allies and starting the War of 1812. History is a bit unclear on who initiated hostilities (though both sides speak with great authority), but this much is true. Tenskwatawa, brother of Tecumseh and known as The Prophet, was left to protect the village when General Harrison’s men arrived. The Prophet spoke from a rock (today nearly unmarked), and told his people that the spirits of their ancestors would shield the warriors from the bullets of the Americans. That faith, of course, proved unfounded. The village was wiped out, almost to the last woman, and Tecumseh’s dream that he could form a Native American alliance to halt the advance of the pioneers was lost.
The Rock of that speech today, to me, felt fateful. I tried to imagine the nerve or certitude with which Tenskwatawa must have spoken, the words that would change the entire history of the continent. How much do any of us understand the long-term impact of our choices, of our influences on others?
Into Illinois, Springfield, of course, is Lincoln-obsessed. And with good reason. The president and his family are buried here, and the new museum is truly exceptional. Most museums limit themselves to a cataloging of artifacts and “clever” ones add a children’s clue hunt to the tour. This is a truly immersive experience in design, theme, and multi-media which surrounds the artifacts of his life and places the visitor within them. Yes, there are wax figures—all well done—but I was stunned by the off-angled doors and picture frames that contained a vast array of anti-Lincoln political cartoons (and we thought Bush or Obama were picked on!), all while voices of vitriolic dissent were piped in through speakers. Holograms of famous figures argued atop one another about the Emancipation Proclamation and the tableaux of Lincoln’s cabinet arguing over it was exquisitely detailed, right down to the tea stains on a letter draft. The war memorabilia and research are extensive, overwhelming. By the time we reach Ford’s Theatre, we are still unprepared for the scene. I left it quickly, upset, but stepped into the middle of a mortuary with the presidential coffin in full regalia black. AT&T’s holographic theater is also a nice touch, with clever tricks outlining the need for history. The museum is fairly new, 2005, and cost about $90 million. I can see why.
For all of the multi-media hoopla, Lincoln’s tomb is somber and stately. There is little here to pummel us; all the more reason for its power.
In southern Illinois, the Cahokia burial mounds are an under-visited site. Here, 1000 years ago, was a metropolis larger than London. The priest-chiefs dominated the land for hundreds of miles in all directions, and the mounds today are still distinct. While I climbed the Monk’s Mound main double-tiered mound in something like awe (the St. Louis arch cresting the trees nearby), I discovered that the stairways on this ancient empire’s altar were being used by runners for conditioning exercises.
More on this trip as I can!