Things You See in Mount Carroll

Somewhere or other at some time, I read that Mount Carroll, Illinois, had enough things to see to recommend a short visit (how’s that for source amnesia?). Wherever I got it, I can pass along that recommendation. It’s a small place, with only about 1,800 people, but it has a sizable concentration of historic structures. We took a look at a few of them on the afternoon of June 20.

That includes a fine courthouse, the Greek Revival part of which dates back to before the Civil War. Elsewhere on the courthouse grounds are a few monuments – but not quite as many as some courthouses I’ve seen – including a tall one dedicated to Union veterans. Turns out that Lorado Taft sculpted the cavalryman at the top of the monument, which is formally called the Carroll County Civil War Soldiers And Sailors Monument.

Mount Carroll, June 20, 2014

Writing in the short-lived blog Larado Taft: The Prairie State Sculptor, Carl Volkmann says, “Lorado Taft was a member of a team of artists who was commissioned to create the Carroll County Civil War Soldiers And Sailors Monument. George H. Mitchell designed the monument, and Josiah Schamel constructed the foundation. John C. Hall designed the annex that was added later when county officials determined that there were many names missing from the original honor roll list.

Mount Carroll, June 20, 2014“The monument consists of a fifty-foot vertical shaft with a Lorado Taft-sculpted soldier holding a flag at the top. Lewis H. Sprecher of Lanark posed for the statue and made several trips to Taft’s Chicago studio to model for it. Two additional statues are attached to the base of the monument, one an infantryman and the other a cavalryman.”

Not far from the town square is a genuine, honest-to-God Carnegie Library that is, in fact, still a library. We went in for a look around. It seemed like a nice facility for a town the size of Mount Carroll. We were the only ones in the library except the librarian – it was about 30 minutes ahead of closing time on a Friday afternoon – and I spoke briefly to her, telling her that I wanted to show my daughters what a Carnegie Library was. I also wanted to come in because they aren’t exactly common sites.

Later, I checked, and my feeling wasn’t quite right. At least according to this Wiki list, some 60-odd Carnegies are still functioning libraries in Illinois alone, out of more than 100 originally built. Seems like most of them are in small towns away from metro Chicago, so unless you frequent that kind of small town, you won’t see them much.

Just before we left town, we came across something that’s presumably not always near the courthouse in Mount Carroll: this unusual car.

Mount Carroll, June 20, 2014Unusual for American roads, that is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Morris Minor in this country. It’s so unusual that besides it being a Morris, I didn’t know anything else about it.

Naturally, I had to look it up. Through the marvel of Google images, I was able to pin it down to a Morris Minor 1000 Traveller. In its pages on Morris Minor history, Charles Ware’s Morris Minor Centre Ltd. in Brislington, Bristol, says “there is only one other car on British roads today which is as familiar as the Morris Minor, and that’s the Mini. That both were designed by the same man is no coincidence, and indeed Sir Alec Issigonis is one of the very few car designers whose name is recognised by the man or woman in the street and not just by enthusiasts or fellow engineers. [This might be true in the UK, but I have no way to judge that.]

“The products of Sir Alec’s genius have had a profound and highly beneficial influence on the British motor industry, so it is hardly surprising that it is his first car, the Morris Minor of 1948, which has become the subject of this proposal for a long-life car.” Morris Minor 1000 Traveller, Mount Carroll, Illinois, June 2014

More about Sir Alec here. I’m not sure I’d want to own a Morris Minor myself, but it’s a distinctive design. Good to see one loose on the roads of North America. I’m glad there are enthusiasts in this country. Any fool with money can buy a snazzy new sports car or a Lexis or the like, but it takes some imagination to invest in a Morris Minor.

Marzipan Day

Lübeck, June 28, 1983

Breakfast with Karen and Cindy, then boarded a bus for Lübeck. Nice ride up, lots of greenery, and as we approached, a view of the seven spires of Lübeck. Before we entered the city center (Zentrum) we stopped at a wide place in the road and disembarked. Three busloads of tourists, crowding around to take a look — from a distance, behind a large sign warning us to proceed no further — at a mean-looking fence and a grim guard tower, looking just like one you’d see over a prison wall. InterGerman Border, June 1983We’d come to the border with the DDR. We were told that there are guard towers like the one we saw every 500 meters along the intra-German border. [I forget who took this picture of Steve, me, and Rich.]

The first place we went to in the Zentrum was Marienkirche, St. Mary’s, an enormous, ornate, brickwork Lutheran church. It burned down during the war, but has been restored to what I assume was former glory. In one corner of the church, the bells that used to hang above lie broken on the floor, left as a memorial to the destruction. The story is that as the church burned, the bells rang and rang, moved by the rising heat, until they crashed to the floor. It’s a very effective memorial.

The church’s astronomical clock is an ornate marvel too, also rebuilt after the original was destroyed. It shows the hour and minute, of course, but also shows planetary positions, phases of the sun and moon, and signs of the zodiac. The town hall (Rathaus) was also well worth seeing.

Later we visited a large store specializing in marzipan. I’d never had marzipan before, never heard of it until I read about it in a guidebook. [I don’t know the name of the shop, but I suspect it was the renowned Café Niederegger in the Zentrum, which has a shop for the confections.] The variety of marzipan shapes you can buy is astonishing: large and small items, bricks and loafs, figurines and abstractions.

At 2:15 the bus took us to Travemünde, on the mouth of the River Trave and looking out onto the Baltic Sea. I sat with Bob, who lives in the Philippines, and Crystal from North Dakota, in a café as we drank coffee, tea, and chocolate, a watched the weather change with astonishing speed, from sunny to cloudy to rainy to sunny again, with the clouds always driven across the sky by strong winds we couldn’t feel closer to the ground.

The Field & the Basilica

As of June 21, 2014, there was no new development that I could see at the Field of Dreams movie site, which is near Dyersville, Iowa, about 20 miles west of Dubuque. Apparently there’s been a hubbub – or maybe a brouhaha (not sure which is greater dustup) – about plans for further development at the site.

I won’t dwell on that. Enough to say that the new owners of the property, who have a mortgage to feed, want it to be more than a baseball field amid the corn, while some residents of greater Dyersville and others very vocally do not want that to happen. More about the fracas here.

This is the kind of tourist that I am: although I’ve never actually seen Field of Dreams, I wanted to see the accidental tourist attraction created in haste in the summer of 1988 to serve as one of the main sets for the film. Why? Because it’s there. Or more exactly, because I was going to be near there anyway.

Besides, Yuriko had seen the film. As we drove in the vicinity of the Field, her eyes widened a bit. “This is what it looked like in the movie,” she said. She saw it a long time ago, and couldn’t really remember the story. I’d never seen it, but knew that the movie involved ghost baseball players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson. (Maybe Shoeless Joe got a raw deal from Baseball in his lifetime, but in terms of posthumous fame, he’s one of the better-remembered ball players of the early 1900s.)

The site is appealingly simple. You drive down a small road to get to it, park nearby, and walk a short distance over to the baseball field. It looks pretty much like any other non-pro baseball field, except in a wet late June, the backfield is bordered by lush rows of corn.

Field of Dreams, June 2014The immaculate white house stands nearby, along with a red barn. I understand that the movie producers added the white picket fence around the house to make it look more like our collective notion of rural Iowa (and they had to paint some of the surrounding vegetation green in that drought summer of ’88). Odd, it didn’t even occur to me to go see if the house was accessible. It looks like someone’s house, which it was until recently, so approaching too close would have seemed like trespassing.

A fair number of people were visiting on that Saturday in June. No one was playing a game, exactly, but people were tossing and hitting balls, including a man taking swings at a ball pitched by a kid who probably was his son.

Field of Dreams, June 2014Naturally, there’s a gift stand. It’s a modest operation, not generating enough revenue to feed a large mortgage, I bet. In any case I bought a few postcards and a souvenir spoon for Yuriko.

Field of Dreams, June 2014The Field of Dreams isn’t the only thing to take a look at in Dyersville. The town is home to the National Farm Toy Museum, and while in theory that might have been interesting to visit, we bypassed it to take a look at the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, an enormous and very ornate Gothic church right in town.

This is a gorgeous panorama, though in it the basilica is clearly decked out for Christmas, which we obviously didn’t see. The interior was restored in 2000 and ’01, so it must have some of the brilliance of the original 1880s design. How many small-town basilicas are there in this country? Not many, I think.

The Dickeyville Grotto

Writing for PBS, cultural anthropologist Anne Pryor says that, “In Dickeyville [Wis.], one of the area’s small towns, is Holy Ghost parish, the home of a remarkable piece of folk architecture. Situated between the rectory, church, and cemetery is the Dickeyville Grotto, a structure so amazing that I have seen unsuspecting drivers come to a full halt in the middle of the road to gape. What stops them short is a 15-foot-tall false cave, decoratively covered with colored stone and glass, dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus, to God and country.

“Although the name implies a singular structure, the Dickeyville Grotto is actually a series of grottos and shrines. It includes the grotto dedicated to the Blessed Mother, the structure seen from Highway 61; a shrine dedicated to Christ the King; a shrine to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and a Eucharistic Altar in the parish cemetery, formerly used for annual outdoor Corpus Christi processions. The large Patriotic Shrine depicts the history and love of country represented by Columbus, Washington, and Lincoln.

“All of these creations display decorative embellished cement ornamentation achieved by placing patterns of colorful materials in the concrete when it is still damp: shells, stones, tiles, glass, petrified moss or wood, geodes and gems. Iron railings with the same distinctive decorations border the walkways between the different shrines and grottos, unifying these separate structures.”

We arrived at the Dickeyville Grotto late in the morning on Sunday, when it was already sunny and very warm. The Blessed Mother grotto is striking indeed, and in case there’s any doubt, the site proclaims itself to be about RELIGION and PATRIOTISM. (And another sign mentions the gift shop.)Dickeyville Grotto, June 2014Dickeyville Grotto, June 22, 2014Here’s the back of the Marian grotto. Virtues are literally written in stone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of the surfaces are as colorful as can be. Under strong sunlight’s a good way to see it.

Dickeyville Grotto, June 2014Father Mathius Wernerus, priest at Dickeyville’s Holy Ghost Parish, and his parishioners built the grotto during the late 1920s. It was renovated in the late 1990s. The timing of its origin must account for the aforementioned and odd (to us) Patriotism Shrine, with Columbus, Washington, and Lincoln. The patriotism of U.S. Catholics was widely and openly questioned at the time, so it makes sense.

Dickeyville Grotto, June 2014Dickeyville Grotto, June 2014Also worth seeing at Holy Ghost Parish is the cemetery, which fulfilled my informal requirement of at least one cemetery visit per trip. While my family poked around the gift shop, I strolled through the cemetery. Not a lot of fancy funerary art, but still a handsome array of gravestones in a bright Midwestern setting. The most interesting stone I saw was a large one depicting a large farm, which presumably the deceased had owned and operated.Holy Ghost Parish, Dickeyville, Wisc., June 2014Also worth seeing, and not just for the air conditioning, was the church building. Its stained glass is nice, and tucked away in the landing of the stairway that connects the basement and the nave are a couple of statues with themes you don’t see that often (at least I don’t), such as St. Sebastian, whom I’ve seen depicted more often in paintings.

Holy Ghost Parish, Dickeyville, Wisc., June 2014 And this pietà. Maybe I’m not up on my Christian symbolism, though I have heard of broken vessels standing in for us sinners. But I’ve never seen a statue quite like this.

Holy Ghost Parish, Dickeyville, Wisc., June 2014I didn’t see anything to identify the work or the artist, so I’ll have to leave it at that. Enough to say that Holy Ghost Parish and its vernacular grotto were well worth detouring a few miles into extreme southwestern Wisconsin to see.

The Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque

Do you remember your first funicular? I know I do: Innsbruck, Austria, August 1, 1983. My friend Rich and I signed up for a group hike organized by the youth hostel we were staying at. We rode a bus up a mountain road to the terminus of a train that went further up the side of the mountain: a funicular.

Merriam-Webster: “A cable railway ascending a mountain; especially: one in which an ascending car counterbalances a descending car,” but that’s a latter-day usage. Go back far enough and you get to funis, which is Latin for rope.

Both the word and the thing itself please me. The Fenelon Place Elevator began as a cable car line up the side of Dubuque’s bluff in the 1880s, built by a banker who lived at the top of the bluff but who worked down near the river. By the 1890s it had evolved into a true funicular, using a system based on those used in the Alps, and according to the official history, “Ten neighbors banded together and formed the Fenelon Place Elevator Co…. This group traveled to the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago to look for new ideas. They brought back a streetcar motor to run the elevator, the turnstile, and steel cable for the cars.”

Remarkable the things that are connected in one way or another to the 1893 world’s fair, isn’t it? In our time, a technically more modern – but still old-timey appearing – funicular travels the slope in Dubuque. I assume some people still commute on it, because the neighborhood at the top of the bluff is still residential, and the district at the bottom is still mostly commercial. But I’m sure that much of the Fenelon Place Elevator’s business involves tourists taking it for a lark.

Here’s the view from inside one of the cars, waiting at the bottom. Fenelon Place Elevator

A sign at the entrance says:






The funicular is 296 feet long, runs on a 3-ft. gauge, and while I didn’t time the trip, it couldn’t have been more than a minute. Here’s the view from the observation deck at the top, looking down on the funicular. The cars can hold about six people comfortably.

Fenelon Place Elevator, June 2014Round-trip adult fare: $3. A lot if you consider the literal distance traveled. A bargain, if you consider how cool funiculars are.

Driftless Views

The area we visited last weekend included places in three states, but that’s just political geography, invented by men and as transient as a firefly light in the grand scheme of the Earth. A more geographically apt way to think of our destination is the Driftless Area. That too is transient – everything is, over millions of years – but not quite as much.

The concept is well enough known that a part of Wisconsin markets itself as Driftless Wisconsin, no doubt to compete with the better-known wooded areas up north and the cities in the southeast part of the state. The organizations web site tells us that “the Driftless Area includes 24,103 square miles, covering all or part of 57 counties in southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and a small part of northwest Illinois.

“The region’s distinctive terrain is due to its having been bypassed by the last continental glacier. The term ‘driftless’ indicates a lack of glacial drift, the deposits of silt, gravel, and rock that retreating glaciers leave behind.

“The Driftless Area is characterized by its steep, rugged landscape, and by the largest concentration of cold water streams in the world. The absence of glaciers gave the rivers time to cut deeply into the ancient bedrock and create the distinctive landforms. Karst topography is found throughout the area, characterized by shallow limestone bedrock, caves, sinkholes, springs, and cold streams.”

That is, this part of the Midwest actually has some pleasing topography, unlike most everywhere else. A 1989 visit to Galena, which is in that “small part of northwest Illinois,” introduced me to the pleasures of the land, even though visiting Galena is mostly about the pleasures of a late 19th-century streetscape put to modern uses.

Sometimes I miss hills. The modest hills of San Antonio, the more robust ones of the nearby Hill Country, the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee. So it’s good to visit the hills and take a look off in the distance.

A few miles east of Galena, in rural Jo Daviess County, Ill., along US 20, there’s an overlook worth stopping at.

Jo Daviess County, June 2014Jo Daviess County, June 2014Further south at Mississippi Palisades State Park, there are views from the palisades. They’re not quite as lofty as the more famous Hudson River features, it seems, but offer fine views of the Mississippi all the same. Mississippi Palisades State Park, June 2014Mississippi Palisades State Park, June 2014The hilly topography shapes human settlement as well. A large bluff rises west of the Mississippi in the city of Dubuque. The older parts of the city spread out below the bluff, down to the banks of the river. Dubuque, June 2014Dubuque, June 2014Naturally, the visit only whets my appetite to take a look at more of the Driftless Area, especially up around Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin and Effigy Mound Nat’l Monument in Iowa. It’s a mild affliction I suffer.

Tri-State Summer Solstice Weekend ’14

Late on Friday morning we drove west for a few hours – and enjoyed a remarkably long in-car conversation among ourselves, no radio or other electronics playing – and by mid-afternoon arrived at Mississippi Palisades State Park, which overlooks the Mississippi River just north of Savanna, Ill. The plan included bits of three states in three days. My plan, really, since my family humors me in such matters, and lets me think up the details of little trips like these.

Friday was Illinois. We camped at Mississippi Palisades, which is an Illinois State park and incredibly lush this year, and we spent time in Savanna, a little river town on the Great River Road, mostly to find a late lunch. Toward the end of the day, we made our way to Mount Carroll, Ill., which is the county seat of Carroll County and home to a good many handsome historic structures.

On Saturday, we ventured into Iowa – it really isn’t far – and first saw Crystal Lake Cave, just south of Dubuque. In Dubuque, lunch was our next priority, followed by a visit to the Fenelon Place Elevator. Which is a funicular. When you have a chance to ride a funicular, do it. The last time we were in Dubuque, I remember the Fenelon Place Elevator being closed for the season (uncharacteristically, I don’t remember when that was — the late ’90s?). Anyway, this time I was determined to ride it.

Afterward, we headed west a short distance to the town of Dyersville, Iowa, home to the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, but better known for The Field of Dreams movie set, which still draws visitors. We saw both.

Today was mostly about getting home at a reasonable hour, but I had to add a slice of Wisconsin by navigating a number of small roads until we came to Dickeyville. It would be just another rural Wisconsin burg but for one thing: the Dickeyville Grotto, which actually includes a main grotto, smaller grottos, shrines, a church and a cemetery (and a gift shop, for that matter). Like funiculars, grottos demand our attention, especially such as striking bit of folk architecture as the Dickeyville Grotto.

Juneteenth Firefly & Felipe

Saw the summer’s first firefly this evening, around dusk as you’d expect, but only a solitary bug, in the middle of the road ahead of me as I drove along. Still, it’s the first. A winged, flickering harbinger of the short high summer here around the Great Lakes.

Soon, bigger flashes were visible. Plenty of cloud-to-cloud lightning up high in evil-looking black clouds. According to the weather maps, most of the rest of the nation is having a quiet night, but we’re getting the pops and the rumbles. No big peals, cracks or claps of thunder just yet, but that could come at any time. No urgent warnings from weather experts, so I guess it’ll just be wet in the morning.

I had a lot else to do today, so I read a bit about the new King of Spain. Wiki’s handy for this kind of thing, and tells me a number of facts, such as his full name: Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y de Grecia. I wonder how old he was before he learned all of them in order, or whether he ever bothered.

Also, and this isn’t particularly surprising, he’s the great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria through two different lines. More interestingly, he’s descended from the kings of the Two Sicilies, most recently Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies (1810-59). There’s a kingdom you don’t hear much about any more, but the name always amused me.

Little Jet in the Sky

Last Friday afternoon I was out on my deck – partly to get it ready for the next day’s grilling event, but mostly just to loaf (is that verb disappearing?)  – and I heard an odd whizzing sound from somewhere above. It didn’t sound like a small aircraft, or at least one that was approaching the general aviation airport about a mile from where we live. Or a large insect near my face. Soon I realized it sounded like a jet. A small jet. That’s what it was.

For a moment I thought it was a drone. We’re nearly in the age of drones, after all, and not long ago I read about a drone spotted near one of the highways near where I live. I didn’t see it, but it turned out to be doing surveying work at a construction site.

What I heard and then saw on Friday was a model airplane flying in circles above the park visible from my back yard – a model jet airplane. I could also see the guy in the park controlling the thing. I had no idea there were model jets. All the model planes I’ve ever seen had props.

According to RC Airplane World (RC = radio controlled, I assume), “RC jets, whether gas turbine or electric ducted fan (EDF) powered, can provide the ultimate radio control flying experience if you’re looking to fly faster model aircraft.

“True gas turbine RC jets, however, are not for the beginner. They are very serious model aircraft that you have to work up to after gaining a large amount of radio control flying experience and an equally large amount of cash. They’re serious business!

“But the good news is that if you do like the idea of flying a radio control jet then there are plenty of options available these days; foam RTF (Ready To Fly) electric powered jets have become commonplace in recent years.”

I don’t know what kind of jet this fellow had, but a jet it was, and he made it do various maneuvers over the park and then landed it. Remarkable the things you see in the sky sometimes.

Arms & Armor at Dusk

How often do you have the chance to wear a chainmail shirt? Not very often, unless you’re an arms and armor enthusiast, like my old friend Scott. He attended our Saturday barbecue and brought some items for us to look at, including a chainmail shirt, a breastplate, and a couple of swords. Here’s me in the mail, and Scott in the breastplate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScott said the mail shirt was made in India, in the style of medieval Europe. Getting into the mail took some doing, and so did just standing up in it, so heavy is it.

“No wonder knights needed squires,” Kevin, another barbecue attendee, said during all of the rigmarole involved in me putting the thing on. That meant me getting on my knees, and Scott guiding the shirt down, with my head and arms careful to go through their respective holes. No wonder indeed. Not just to put it on and take it off a living knight, but to loot it from dead knights when the time came. Hard to imagine walking around, or riding a horse, or going into battle wear such weights, but then again I’m a pudgy 21st-century man, not a 13th-century tough.

The swords were very cool, too. This is one of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe examined them at some length at dusk. Scott told us what kind they were, and where the styles had been popular, and showed us some moves, but my memory for those details is poor.

What I remember is that the longer of the two was quite heavy, while the shorter wasn’t so heavy. Both were serious blades.