Two Bridges of Madison County

While in Winterset and environs, I took the opportunity to see two of the wooden covered bridges of The Bridges of Madison County fame. The movie, at least, seems to be relegated to a chick flick ghetto. Wrongly, I think. The story was at least as much about the visiting photographer – the man – as it was about the farm wife.

Movie or not, I liked the bridges. At least the two I saw.  It’s remarkable that such artful wooden construction has survived for more than a century, but they have. Ann was less impressed. When we visited the first structure, the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, she said something like, “What’s so special about this bridge?” You have to be older to appreciate older things, maybe. (Though I’ve liked old things since I can remember. I’m peculiar that way.)

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, July 2014

The Cutler-Donahoe Bridge dates from 1870, built by one Eli Cox. In 1970, it was moved to Winterset City Park, where we saw it. Length, 79 feet. Weight – and you’d think it would be lighter – 40 tons. Nice work, Eli.

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge interior

Not far from town is the Holliwell Bridge, in situ over the Middle River.

Holliwell Bridge, July 2014Ann stayed in the car for this one. The structure’s a little newer than Cutler-Donahoe, built by Benton Jones in 1880 and renovated in 1995 (on the occasion of filming the movie, I guess, but my sources don’t say so explicitly).

Middle River, Iowa, July 2014This is the view from the north end of the bridge, looking out on the Middle River, a tributary of the Des Moines River that runs through the county. Iowa’s nice and lush this year.

The Duke in Winterset

The thing to do when heading out of Des Moines in a southerly direction is to detour into rural Madison County, southwest of the capital, whose county seat is Winterset. If you have time. I decided we had time, since how could I pass up a look at a bronze of Winterset’s favorite son, Marion Robert Morrison?

John Wayne, Winterset, Iowa 2014JOHN WAYNE

Born Marion Robert Morrison

In Winterset, Iowa

May 26, 1907

Sculpture donated to the

People of Madison County

By the John Wayne Family

The statue of John Wayne is a short block from his birthplace house, now a museum that (like the capitol) happened to be closed when we arrived. No matter. A good look at the bronze was enough for now, and we weren’t the only ones doing so. A few other families pulled up for a look-see while we were there. Wayne’s fame has some staying power.

Next to the statue is a Chevy van, detailed to honor Wayne. According to the birth site museum web site, “Several years ago, an anonymous person from Arizona donated a full-size 1980 Chevy van that has been extensively customized for the true John Wayne fan….

“This one-of-a-kind vehicle is covered with $50,000 of artwork from John Wayne movies—even the windows are etched to continue the design! The interior boasts hardwood floors, carpeted walls, a wet bar, TV and VCR (this was 1980, remember?), a souped-up sound system, and saloon-style swinging doors that lead to the queen-sized bedroom [sic] in the back.”

I didn’t realize it when we were there, but the statue usually resides at a corner of Washington St. and John Wayne Dr. – one of the main drags through town – but has been moved a block away, so it won’t be damaged during construction of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum. Work started in 2013 on the new museum, which is slated for completion for the 2015 John Wayne Birthday Celebration (and it’s convenient that baby Marion was born pretty close to Memorial Day). Last year my old friend Kevin, quite the fan of the Duke, went to the birthday fest. He said he had a large time.

One more thing: there are other John Wayne bronzes out in the wider world. You have to go to California to see these two.

In the Midst of the Corn, the Middle of the USA

In early August 1978, I took a bus from San Antonio to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and back again, along with a busload of other high school students to attend the Mu Alpha Theta national meeting in that (seemingly) remote Wisconsin outpost. The route took us through Des Moines, which I only knew as the capital of Iowa from maps. We didn’t stop, but one of the teachers on the expedition, the admirable Paul Foerster, pointed out the Iowa state capitol as we went by – and noted the gilding on the dome, which he said was a very thin layer of gold. Indeed it is.

In later years, I figured I’d go back someday and take a look at the capitol more closely. Somehow, I never got around to it until July 12, 2014, our first day of driving, when I made a point of stopping there. We arrived just after 4 on that Saturday afternoon, right after the building closed (that’s what we get for having a leisurely lunch in Coralville). Ah, well. I had to make do with looking around the grounds, and seeing the magnificent gold dome up close from the outside.

Iowa Capitol July 2014The building was completed in 1884, repaired after a major fire in 1904, and exterior refurbishment was done in the last years of the 20th century. “The commanding feature is the central towering dome,” according to the State of Iowa (whose text, I note, was copied directly to Wiki). “This is constructed of steel and stone and covered with 23 carat gold. The gold leafing was replaced in 1964-1965 at a cost of $79,938.”

Iowa Capitol, July 2014Since the capitol itself was closed, we took a look around the immediate vicinity. We would have done that anyway. The grounds sported a good number of memorials, as capitol grounds usually do. Including the modest and not-very-picturesque, such as this homely slab.

Spanish War memorial, IowaIt memorializes the Iowa men of the China Relief Expedition (you know, 55 Days in Peking), the War with Spain, and the Philippine Insurrection, and is dated April 23, 1898, to July 4, 1902.

This is a much larger memorial. It is, of course, the state Civil War memorial, or to use its correct title, the Iowa Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, IowaThe Iowa Department of Administrative Services tells us that “the State of Iowa erected this monument, funded partially by refunded war taxes, to commemorate Iowans who fought during the Civil War. The monument was approved in 1888, the cornerstone was laid in 1894, and the structure was completed two years later. Because formal controversy developed over the location and artistic details of the monument, nearly 50 years passed before its dedication in 1945.”

I didn’t realize it looking at the thing, but the equestrian statues – two of the four are visible in my picture – represent actual individuals: Marcellus M. Crocker, who led troops at Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg; John M. Corse, who joined Grant at the siege of Vicksburg; Grenville M. Dodge, who built railroads to support Grant and accompanied Sherman on the March to the Sea, and Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the Union Army at Pea Ridge.

The other figures are allegorical, such as Victory at the top, common soldiers and sailors nearer to the base, and Mother Iowa.

Mother IowaLet’s just say that Mother Iowa, offering nourishment to Iowans in a way that only a mother can, looks a little odd to modern eyes.

The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center

Why Kansas? Even the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center web site asks that question in its FAQ page. Why is a first-rate spacecraft museum – absolutely the best I’ve ever seen, except for the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum – in Hutchinson, Kansas, a town of about 42,000 northwest of Wichita? The answer: that’s the way the cookie crumbled. Right place, right time.

“The Cosmosphere began in 1962 as nothing more than a tiny planetarium on the Kansas State Fairgrounds,” the page says. When the planetarium outgrew its original facility and moved to its current location, Patricia Brooks Carey and the Hutchinson Planetarium’s board of directors sought business advice from Max Ary, then director of Ft. Worth’s Noble Planetarium. “Interestingly, Ary was also part of a Smithsonian Institution committee in charge of relocating thousands of space hardware artifacts to museums throughout the U.S. The Cosmosphere was granted many of the artifacts.”

These days the museum measures over 105,000 square feet and includes a large exhibit space for rockets and spacecraft, plus a planetarium, dome theater, and more. We arrived in the mid-afternoon of July 13, too late to catch a planetarium show, but in plenty of time to look at a lot of space stuff, expertly and chronically organized for display.

“Most everything you see in the museum was either flown in space, built as a back up for what was flown in space, built as a testing unit for what was flown in space, or was the real deal, but was never meant for space,” the museum continues. “Only a few artifacts are replicas, and those that are replicas, are for good reason. For example, the lunar module and lunar rover in the Apollo Gallery are replicas (though built by the same company that produced the flown modules), because those that went in space, stayed in space. No museum in the world carries a flown lunar module or rover. In fact, they’re all still on the Moon.”

The displays begin at the beginning of modern rocketry – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard and on to Nazi rockets, including a restored V-1 and V-2.

V-2 rocketThen on to Soviet and U.S. rockets and capsules that ventured into space, plus a lot of ancillary items. It’s an astonishing collection, including a replica of the X-1, a flight-ready backup for Sputnik 1, a backup version of the Vanguard 1, a Russian Vostok capsule – the only one outside Russia – Liberty Bell 7 (pulled from the ocean floor and restored), a Redstone rocket and a Titan, too, the Gemini 10 capsule, a Voskhod capsule, the Apollo 13 Command Module, a Soyuz capsule, various Soviet and American rocket engines, an Apollo 11 Moon rock, and a lot of smaller artifacts.

I took a particular interest in the Russian equipment because I’ve seen so little of it. In fact, I’d never seen a Vostok, and there it was. Looking like a large bowling ball behind glass. “Hop in, Comrade, and we’ll shoot you into space.”

VostokThe American equipment was impressive, too, though more familiar. It’s always an impressive thing to stand under a rocket like a Titan, which used to deliver Gemini into orbit. Titan

Ann seemed to enjoy herself, and probably learned something. But to really appreciate this museum, it helps to have been an eight-year-old boy in 1969. You find yourself turning the corner and saying, “Wow, look at that!” a lot.

Fifteen Days, Seven States, Nearly 3,000 Miles, and the Blue Hole

Our drive to San Antonio and back started on the morning of July 12 and ended a few hours ago. I actually remembered to set to trip meter as we were leaving, so I know that between backing out of the driveway and returning to it, the car had been driven 2,952 miles and change. Except for when my brother Jay used the car in San Antonio, I drove all those miles. Ann was in the back seat almost all of the time.

Our route southward wasn’t as direct as it could have been, passing from metro Chicago to Des Moines to St. Joseph, Mo., the first day; to Hutchinson, Kan., by way of Topeka the second; and Dallas by way of Wichita and Oklahoma City on the third. After some days in Dallas, travel resumed: to San Antonio via the most direct route, which turned out to be a mistake (more about which later).

Our return northward was more straightforward: San Antonio to Dallas to Lebanon, Mo., and then home, three days’ driving spread out over four days, with a jag into extreme northwestern Arkansas. More about that later as well.

We were caught in two storms so intense that we waited them out beside the road. I saw two suitcases broken open, and their contents spread on the road, on two different Interstates. I’m pretty sure I saw a guy pulled over on the shoulder of yet another Interstate, changing his pants outside his car. We listened to a lot of radio. As hard as corporate interests try, terrestrial radio isn’t quite homogenized.

When I wasn’t driving, I was working (that’s the self-employed life). Or visiting with family members and friends: my mother, two brothers, two nephews and one’s wife, my aunt, first cousin and his family, two friends from high school. Or eating. Some chains, of course, but I did my best to support independent eateries in places like Wichita, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Mt. Olive, Ill.

Besides all that, we squeezed in visits to three museums, the outside of two capitols (closed, unfortunately), a mall, an enormous bookstore, a couple of wooden bridges, and a cemetery with an historic figure buried in it. I also watched a number of early episodes of Treme, an addictively good show.

And I saw the Blue Hole.

Blue Hole, SA, July 2014

I lived within 10 minutes’ drive of the Blue Hole for more than a decade, and every time I visited San Antonio after that for 35 years, I was equally close. Yet I never saw it before this visit. All I can say is, it was about time.

Summer Interlude

Summertime and the living is — not so different from the rest of the year, considering that we have climate control in the house, have to meet the same deadlines as the rest of the year, and so on.

Time for summer break anyway. Back to posting around July 27. Till then, a handful of summer tunes. Been fond of “Summer Wind,” sung by Sinatra, only since the late ’80s, when I acquired a tape of Strangers in the Night. Music by Heinz Meier and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

I’ve known “Summer Breeze,” by Seals & Crofts, probably since it was released, or at least fairly new. It evokes a moment in summer, in particular a summer evening, without mentioning beaches or puppy love or such.

Not quite sure what’s going on in “Suddenly Last Summer,” by the Motels, but it’s to do with a particular summer. Some summers, after all, are more memorable than others, especially when you’re young.

Also, some recommended reading. I just started Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger. I’m already hooked, and I haven’t even gotten to his crossings of the Empty Quarter. He’s only been dead about 10 years. The Telegraph’s obit is here, and the Guardian’s is here.

My Online Encounter With Yabba

I woke up this morning wondering, is there really a statue of a baseball player in London? I dreamed about it. I made notes in my dream, so that I could write about it. I didn’t think it the least bit odd. Such are dreams.

As far as I can tell, there are no such statues, at least not in a public setting. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking into it, though. But I did come across the Sporting Statues Project, which seems to list sport-themed statues all over the world. I looked at a couple of its maps out of idle curiosity, including the World Cricket Statue Location Map. At a glance, you can see where people care about cricket: the UK, the Indian subcontinent, Australia and the Caribbean.

Look a little further and you can examine curious works like “Yabba.” The web site says: “Sydney Cricket Ground. ‘Yabba’ (Stephen Gascoigne). A tribute by the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust to every spectator who has ever come to these Grounds. Sculptor: Cathy Weiszmann. Benefactor: Basil Sellers.”

“Yabba” was one Stephen Harold Gascoigne, “remembered as a heckler at Sydney Cricket Ground cricket and rugby league games in the early part of the 20th century. Yabba was known for his knowledgeable witticisms shouted loudly from ‘The Hill’, a grassy general admissions area of the SCG.” – Wiki

Good useless fact for the day. You never know where your dreams will lead you.

Entertainment Oddities, Some Involving Actors Named West

As it happened, on July 4 one of the channels was running a Batman marathon, and by Batman, I mean the one starring Adam West. Accept no substitutes. I watched two episodes, which is about enough at any one time, a pair originally broadcast one night after the other in 1966. Catwoman was the villain. At one point, after capturing the Dynamic Duo, she separates the two using a vacuum tube, saying: “It’s time to separate Damon and Pythias.”

Did I hear that right? A casual Classical allusion on mid-60s TV? Yes, indeed. Hadrian and Antinous would have been funnier, but even more obscure.

At a grocery store parking lot not long ago, I saw an ordinary sedan, one car among many, except for one thing: “NCC-1701” was detailed on either side. I couldn’t help mocking the owner in abstentia on the way into the store (Lilly was with me). “To boldly go shopping,” “Hope he doesn’t use his phasers in the parking lot,” etc.

She Done Him Wrong (1933) is an odd movie, at least to modern eyes. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to see the movie new, when it wouldn’t (presumably) have been so odd, but it was hard. Still, the movie must have had its attractions in its time, since it made Paramount a bucket of money in the pit of the Depression.

Mae West is one of those people now mainly known by reputation, and that includes my impressions of her. I’d never seen one of her movies until last week, when I watched this one. She’s famous for her one-liners, and justly so. And of course for her sex appeal. I think it helps to have been born around 100 years ago to fully appreciate it.

Another thing I wondered about was the setting. The movie was set in the 1890s, which the intro refers to by its common sobriquet, the Gay Nineties, a ’20s invention. I wonder just what kind of nostalgia people of the 1930s felt for the 1890s. It’s possible to be nostalgic about anything, so I guess that applies to a decade marked by its own depression and bitter labor disputes.

James “Pate” Philip and His State Park

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources tells us that “first-time visitors to James ‘Pate’ Philip State Park (formerly Tri-County) may initially wonder what the area’s specific feature is. After all, the land is predominantly farmland that had been tilled and grazed for years. The north branch of Brewster Creek flows through the property, but most of the streambed had been channeled to move water away from former agricultural fields. Along the north boundary of James ‘Pate’ Phillip State Park, starting in the east, a row of houses rises up like a wall against a sea of grasses. Further west along the boundary is an active gravel pit and by the Bartlett Park District sport field. To the west of the park, across Route 25, is a landfill in the process of being closed.”

I wondered something along those lines on Saturday, when we went to take a walk at James “Pate” Philip State Park (Philip is a retired state politico; I’ve never read an explanation for the nickname, but he’s always referred to by it).

I’ve seen the park on maps as a green blotch for some time now. It was created about 10 years ago. I assume it had been farmland until then, though housing development probably came close in the 1990s. Now the idea is to return it to prairie, and dechannelize the creek.

Seems like a good idea to me. The Prairie State doesn’t have quite enough prairie. Since we had cloud cover and only warm temps, it was a good walk. The park is mostly flat and lush in early July, with grasses almost as tall as a grown man and a lot of wildflowers – including clusters of tiny gorgeous orange blossoms that I don’t think I’d ever seen before. My natural history knowledge is meager, so I might not ever know what they’re called.

I was also intrigued by the fact that the park is within three counties: mostly Du Page, but also Cook and Kane. The tri-county border is, in fact, within the park. I don’t know if there’s any kind of marker, and we didn’t feel like walking far enough to see it, but maybe I’ll go look someday.

We also visited Pratt’s Wayne Woods on Saturday, just south of Pate Philip’s State Park, and took a walk around one of its bodies of water. It was to have been part of a state park, but that didn’t happen, and it’s now a part of the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County – at 3,400-plus acres, the largest chunk under its authority, in fact. The district says, “Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in Wayne is located on the outwash plain of the West Chicago Moraine. Made up largely of wetlands, this landscape combines calcium-rich water with wet sandy soil to support plant life more commonly seen near Lake Michigan.

“Today, the forest preserve is home to over 1,000 species of native plants and animals. Below the savanna’s widely spaced oaks grow dogbane, pale-leaved sunflower and smooth yellow violet wildflowers. In the marshy areas, explorers can view great Angelica, marsh marigold, shooting star, nodding ladies’ tresses and spotted joe-pye weed as well as egrets, great blue herons and wood ducks.”

We saw a lot of plants and a few animals, probably including some of those listed above. But the district forgot to mention what a swell habitat the park is for mosquitoes and especially gnats. It’s been a good year for gnats.

Cape Ashizuri, 1993

Wiki’s helpful when it comes to putting Shikoku in a little geographic context. Hope it’s accurate: “The 50th largest island by area in the world, Shikoku is smaller than Sardinia and Bananal (a river island in the Araguaia River in Brazil), but larger than Halmahera (near New Guinea) and Seram (likewise). By population, it ranks 23rd, having fewer inhabitants than Sicily or Singapore, but more than Puerto Rico or Negros.”

July 2, 1993

Yuriko and I took a train south from Kochi to Nakamura, and then a bus to Cape Ashizuri, the extreme southern tip of Shikoku. The coast reminded me of the coast of Washington state near Kolaloch: rough, rocky, rainy.

Ashizuri1993-1Despite intermittent rain, we took a walk on a path hugging the shore. It was a concrete path, which often evolved into staircases. We went down to the rocky beach and looked at the larger rock formations under gray skies and wind and some rain.


Back up the hill, we visited one of Kōbō Daishi’s 88 pilgrimage temples, number 39 I think [sic. It’s 38, which is Kongōfukuji (a little more about it here)].

The proprietor of our minshuku came in his minibus and took us up, up, up a high hill, where the establishment is perched. The minshuku is our accommodation for the night, and completely fogged in. The evening meal made up for it by being excellent, especially the bonito sashimi, which I’m told is a specialty of the region.

July 3

Clear morning. Up early and took a walk. The minshuku’s got a fine vista of the sea. Too bad the stars were hiding last night – that would have been an unusually clear place in Japan for looking at stars. But the ocean view’s worth the trouble of getting up the hill.