December 2, 1999
Yuriko and Lilly were in Japan at the time I took this short trip to St. Louis and back.
I spent a pleasant Thanksgiving Day with Kevin’s family, which includes his parents and his older brother Tony. The next day I headed out for St. Louis. Aside from a few hours in the winter of 1990, just ahead of an ice storm that forced me to spend the night in Normal, Ill., I hadn’t spent any time here before.
On Saturday afternoon, after wandering through the art museum in Fair Park, I found myself on the riverfront, near the Arch. It’s an ugly riverfront, populated by riverboat casinos; a defunct riverboat restaurant (the Lt. Robert E. Lee, an ersatz steamboat dating from the ’60s — the 1960s, that is); “the world’s only floating McDonald’s”; and two cheesy tour boats, the Tom Sawyer and the Becky Thatcher.
That said, I like the Arch, and its museums underneath, but I’d been inside the Arch in 1990 and, especially considering the long lines, didn’t feel the need to go again. One of the tour boats was leaving in a few minutes, and I thought: Have I ever been on or in the Mississippi? Being beside it isn’t the same, nor crossing it by bridge, both of which I’d done a lot.
It would be silly, by my completely idiosyncratic way of thinking, to have been in or on a long list of bodies of water — Lake Baikal, the Indian Ocean, Hong Kong Harbor, just to name some of the more far away — and never the Mississippi. So I got on the Tom Sawyer.
It was one of the more drab tours I’ve ever been on. Some of the bridges weren’t bad, and a riverside 1910s-vintage power & light building had its Machine Age charms, but on the whole the Mississippi River near St. Louis is bleak this time of year, especially the Illinois side of the river. Even Hamburg Harbor and the Mouth of the Yangtze had more riverside sites.
On the drive down and on the way back, I also saw a few things. On the way south I stopped in Bloomington, Ill., I saw Justice David Davis’ (US Supreme Court, 1862-77) fine Victorian house. I had read that he organized delegates for Lincoln at the Wigwam in 1860, but not that he weighed 300 lbs. and then some. Most visibly, his size affected his choice of furniture, which tended to be sturdy.
I stopped in Lincoln, Ill., for lunch, and learned that the town was named for A. Lincoln several years before he became president — he did some legal work for the developers, it seems. En route out of town, I chanced by the Postville State House State Historic Site, a replica of the original courthouse for Logan County (Lincoln is the county seat). The actual 1830s courthouse was dismantled in the 1920s by Henry Ford and moved to his museum in Michigan.
The replica was good, however, and the volunteer tour guide, a woman of about 70, was really glad to see me, since I was the first visitor all day. She even showed me a cache of yellow documents hidden in one of the desks that she said the park administrators didn’t know about. (The ones I looked at seemed to be bills of sale from about 100 years ago). There were some even older documents on display, slipped into clear plastic protective covers so you could pick them up and read them. One I saw was an arrest warrant, dated 1847 if I remember correctly.
On the way back to the Chicago area, I stopped at the old capitol building of Illinois in Vandalia, from the 1830s. It was the original. After Vandalia lost out to Springfield as state capital, it was the county courthouse for the better part of a century. Not a bad little building. References to Lincoln were, of course, nearly as thick as in Springfield, but with some reason, since he was in the legislature that met in Vandalia, and in fact a voice for moving the capital.
Labels: historic artifacts and sites, Illinois, Missouri, Thanksgiving, US history