Branson 2012

Has it been all of five years since I was last in Branson? Seems that way. Quite a spectacle, that town.

Branson in early November was already lighted for Christmas because the late Andy Williams, Mr. Christmas, had wanted things done up by November 1. So let it be written, so let it be done.

A few trees at Silver Dollar City.

Branson 2012Branson 2012There were other seasonal decorations elsewhere.
Branson 2012Branson 2012And fall foliage in the rolling hills of southern Missouri.
Branson 2012And of course, French millstones.

Branson 2012 - French millstones, College of the Ozarks

What’s a major tourist destination without a few of those lying around?

Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, St. Louis

You might call Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum in St. Louis a Mount Auburn-class cemetery, since it dates from the 19th century as a solid example of the rural cemetery movement. Mount Auburn in Boston is the first of the class, dating from 1831. Others are Green-Wood in Brooklyn, Laurel Hill in Philadelphia and Woodland in Dayton, all of which are now surrounded by their respective cities, as Bellefontaine is.

It is a good class. More people ought to visit these places. But as usual, when we were at Bellefontaine on May 26, the only other living souls around were groundskeepers.

The good people of St. Louis got around to founding Bellefontaine in 1849, well outside the existing city, spurred in part by a severe cholera epidemic that year. The further away those bodies were, the better, since the dead helped create the miasma that vexed the living with the likes of cholera. Sure, that wasn’t true, but it must have made intuitive sense in the days before germ theory, and it gave us a roundly beautiful public space.

Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum

Bellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine’s web site has a well-written short history of the place, including its founding, the splashy dedication event in 1850, the work of long-time grounds superintendent Almerin Hotchkiss (1816-1903; he still resides at Bellefontaine), and a paragraph about post-Victorian cemetery aesthetics, something I didn’t realize.

“Nearly 50 years after its founding, Bellefontaine was inspired to modernize. Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati and the burgeoning landscape-lawn cemetery design movement ushered in a new aesthetic that replaced ornate and elaborate Victorian fences and hedges with open, cross-lawn views.

“Bellefontaine followed suit by removing hedges, fences, elaborate plantings, and stone copings. Open, cross-lawn views became the more common aesthetic of the cemetery, bringing Bellefontaine in line with modern ideas about cemetery design. The changes also made Bellefontaine appear more open and park-like, creating a more integrated landscape composition than the earlier delineation of individual lots with distinctly defined spaces.”

The cemetery sports a fair amount of funerary art, such as the Hilts memorial, whose angel has spent many years out in the elements.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumThis memorial says it remembers the “nobelest, dearest, gentlest and most unselfish of women, Ottilie Stephan, wife of Henry Hiemenz Jr.” (1858-1897). Well, let’s hope so.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and ArboretumBellefontaine is also known for its mausoleums. Such as one for Ellis Wainwright and family.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, Ellis Wainwright“In 1891, St. Louis millionaire and brewer Ellis Wainwright commissioned architect Louis Sullivan to design a tomb for his wife who had died suddenly of peritonitis,” the cemetery tells us. “Sullivan had recently completed the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, which is considered to be the beginning of modern skyscraper design. The mausoleum is a domed cube with simple carved decorations in Sullivan’s signature stylized plant patterns. The mausoleum’s double doors are bronze grills framed by delicate stone carvings. Sullivan’s draftsman for the project was Frank Lloyd Wright.”

The Tate mausoleum is a little different.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum, Tate tomb“This Egyptian Revival mausoleum, designed by Eames and Young, was built in 1907 by Frank N. Tate, who at the time controlled most of the theater property in St. Louis. He also owned theaters in Chicago and Buffalo, New York…. The mausoleum has an entry flanked by columns with palm capitals. An Egyptian winged disc is flanked by serpents above the entry, and a pair of granite sphinxes guard the front.”

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

The Old Cathedral of St. Louis, formally the Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, is near the Gateway Arch. In February 1990, after visiting the Arch, I took a look at the Old Cathedral, which dates from the 1830s. It’s a fine old church (recently restored, so I suppose I should take another look someday).

A man I met there briefly told me, in so many words, that this one was nice, but you should see the “New” Cathedral of St. Louis, which is a few miles away in the city. He also told me how to get there. So I went, even though I was racing a winter storm to get back to Chicago. (The storm won, and I spent the night in a Normal, Ill., motel room.)

At least, that’s how I think it happened. I’m not completely sure. But I know I went that day. I entered the cathedral, shook off the cold, and let my eyes adjust to the relative dim. I was astonished by what I saw.

On May 26 this year, Lilly and I paid the place a visit en route home. I’ll never be as astonished — I had no idea what I was going to see beforehand — but I’ll always be impressed. Photography barely does the church justice, my photos even less so.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisAfter seeing the cathedral for the first time, I wrote: “It isn’t necessary to cross oceans to savior the majesty of large-scale mosaic art, vaultingly expressed in a cathedral. You only need to visit the Cathedral of St. Louis, about 10 minutes west of that city’s well-known Arch. Composed of millions of tesserae — tiles of stone or glass — the mosaics of the cathedral dome and walls offer visitors a pageantry of Christian saints, symbols and stories rendered in hundreds of subtle hues. Its architecture is deeply reminiscent of the great Byzantine cathedrals of Italy and points East.”

I based that on what I’d read about (and pictures seen of) places like Ravenna. I thoughtlessly did not go there when I was in Italy, even though I knew about it. Ah, well. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis will have to do for now.

The mosaics are especially easy to see in detail just above the entrance.

Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe basilica’s web site says: “George D Barnett of Barnett, Haynes, and Barnett of Saint Louis designed the entire structure of the Cathedral, including a circular Sacristy on the north end which was not built when the main structure was completed in 1914. The semicircular Sacristy which was eventually built was designed by George John Magualo of Magualo and Quick.

“Barnett also designed the main Altar, the baldachino, and the Lower Sanctuary mosaics. The mosaics were installed by the Gorham Company of New York in 1916. Barnett also designed the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and its mosaics which were installed by Gorham in 1916 and 1917.”

As for the fact that it is now the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which it was not in 1990, the web site notes: “On April 4, 1997, Pope John Paul II honored the Cathedral of Saint Louis by making it a Basilica, a place of worship of special distinction. As a Basilica, the Cathedral displays two special symbols — the tintinnabulum or bell and the ombrellino or umbrella.”

A warm spring day is a better time to take exterior shots. Also impressive.
Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe last time I saw the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis was in 2005 (I think), when I took Ann — and she was small enough to pick up when she didn’t want to walk. I know I took Lilly at a similar age, and showed the place to Yuriko, when we visited St. Louis in 2000. In any case, those visits were too long ago. Good to make it back.

The Old Gasconade River Bridge

On I-44 in south central Missouri, there’s a point at which you cross the Gasconade River, which rises in the Ozarks and ultimately flows to the Missouri River. It hardly seems like a bridge, so effortless is the crossing.

Transportation disaster enthusiasts, or maybe just train wreck buffs, know the Gasconade River as the site of the Gasconade Bridge Train Disaster of 1855. A train from St. Louis bound for Jefferson City broke the railroad bridge it was traveling across, precipitating the engine and some of the cars into the river, killing 31 and seriously injuring many others at a time when the state of medical science meant that you were pretty much on your own when it came to recovery.

The accident was nowhere near where I-44 crosses the river, but rather near the town of Gasconade in Gasconade County, between St. Louis and Jeff City. Hope there’s some kind of memorial to the event around there, but I can’t find any evidence of one.

A few years ago, Ramona Lehman, co-owner of the Munger Moss Motel, told me about the old bridge across the Gasconade, just south of the modern I-44 bridge, which is only about 10 miles from the motel. She even sells postcards depicting the bridge at the motel front desk, proceeds of which go toward preserving the bridge. I’ve bought a few over the years.

The old bridge dates from the 1920s, and carried U.S. 66 traffic across the river for many years. After that highway became nostalgia fodder, the bridge continued to carry local traffic for many more years.

In late 2014, the Missouri Department of Transportation closed the old bridge as unsafe. What with the new bridge and all, the department had probably opted for deferred maintenance on the old one for a long time. Get off the Interstate west of the old bridge, and take the access road — Historic 66, that is — and pretty soon you’ll find yourself at the inaccessible bridge, as we did late on the morning of May 26.

The Gasconade River Bridge, Route 66The Gasconade River Bridge, Route 66Not especially impressive from that vantage. The best way to look at the old bridge was from underneath. A patch of land near the river and under the bridge was surprisingly accessible.

The Gasconade River Bridge, Route 66

The Gasconade River Bridge, Route 66I was motivated to see the structure as more than a passing blur out of the corner of my eye. The next time I come this way, it might be gone. The good people who live near it want the bridge preserved, but it isn’t clear that’s going to happen. As usual, it comes down to money.

MoDOT recently issued a press release that included the following: “The majority of public comments stemming from a Dec. 14, 2016, public meeting held in Lebanon supported constructing a new bridge near I-44 and leaving the current facility, located on historic Route 66, intact. However, MoDOT has indicated all along that liability issues and limited funds would require the department to remove the bridge unless an outside entity stepped forward to take ownership of and maintain the bridge.

“The current bridge will remain in place as the agency works through the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The act requires federal agencies and the recipients of federal funds, such as MoDOT, to consider the effects of projects on properties eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the Gasconade River Bridge.”

Thus the fate of the bridge is uncertain. That meant seeing the bridge was a carpe diem situation, so I did.

The Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden

There are a surprising number of Japanese gardens in the United States, as illustrated by this Wiki list of them, though it’s probably incomplete. It had never occurred to me that there might be one in Springfield, Mo., until I spied it on a map: the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden.

The garden is part of the larger Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, which also includes an azelea garden, dogwood garden, iris garden, butterfly garden, hosta garden, dwarf conifer garden, and more. All that sounds nice, but on the road sometimes you have to focus. The stroll garden it was.

It had everything you’d expect, trees and shrubs and flowers and lanterns and other structures along a winding path, along with water features.

Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenA zigzag bridge.

Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenAccording to one web site anyway, the notion such bridges were designed to prevent dimwitted evil spirits from being able to cross them is baloney.

THE MYTH: Some misguided Westerners claim that evil spirits can only travel in straight lines and that Japanese gardens have zig-zag bridges to prevent evil spirits from moving through them.

THE FACT: Japanese gardens do sometimes feature zig-zag bridges, but the evil spirit story is complete nonsense. Zig-zag bridges are featured in Japanese gardens partially because they are attractive and because they are interesting to walk over. There is also a charming story that links zig-zag bridges to Japanese literature and culture. [?] The zig-zag bridge motif is a natural fit for many of the Japanese arts including gardening.

A moon bridge.
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenExpanses of lawn.
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenNot all the foliage is green in the spring.
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll GardenA trellis.

Mizumoto Stroll Garden 2017A zen garden. But of course.
Mizumoto Stroll Garden 2017And some droopy pines, the likes of which I once saw in Rockford.
Mizumoto Stroll Garden 2017According to, the 7.5-acre Stroll Garden is the oldest attraction at the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, now a little more than 30 years old. “The plan was inspired by a Fort Worth, Texas copy of the Garden of the Abbot’s Quarters in Kyoto,” it says. Probably that means Tofukuji Temple, which is indeed stunning.

“The garden was initiated by the superintendent of park operations, Bill Payne, in the early 1980s and supported with partnerships from the Springfield Sister Cities Association, The Southwest District of Federated Garden Clubs, The Botanical Society of Southwest Missouri and the Friends of the Garden.

“The garden was given the name Mizumoto in 2004, in honor of Yuriko Mizumoto Scott. She generously acts as a bridge between her native Japan and her home in the Ozarks. As the first Japanese War bride brought back to the United States, her insight has the breadth of a bi-cultural history.” First war bride brought to the Ozarks? Not to be pedantic, but I think they mean postwar bride. Or occupation bride.

“Mrs. Mizumoto Scott spent many years as a volunteer in garden maintenance and hosting tour groups. She has also conducted hundreds of tea ceremonies and explained the customs of Japan. The gardens are maintained by the Friends of the Garden Japanese Gardening Group and Park staff. Gardens are supported by the Springfield Sister Cities Association Isesaki Committee.”

Well worth the stop in Springfield, a town I’d only ever known before as the turn off to Branson.

GTT 2017

This month Lilly and I visited Texas for a couple of weeks, beginning when I picked her up on May 12 in Champaign, at the end of her exams at UIUC, and ending with our return to metro Chicago on May 26. Unlike last summer, we mostly took direct routes, there and back. All together, we drove just a shade over 2611 miles through only four states, but ranging from about 42 degrees North to 29 degrees North.

Mostly we spent time with family: her grandmother and uncles and cousins, in San Antonio and Dallas, most of whom she hasn’t seen recently. She also met little cousin Neil for the first time.

From Champaign, we headed to Effingham, where we passed the giant cross, visible from the highway, but did not stop for it, and then headed west to St. Louis. By evening, we’d made it to Lebanon, Mo., and the Munger Moss Motel, which has had a few more neon burnouts since Ann and I stopped there last year.

Munger Moss sign 2017The second day, we went to Dallas by way of Springfield, Mo., where we stopped to stroll in the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden, a part of the Springfield Botanical Gardens. Later that day, we stopped in Muskogee, Okla., and took a look at the USS Batfish, a WWII-vintage submarine incongruously perched on land and functioning as a museum.

On Sunday, May 14, we proceeded to San Antonio, with my brother Jay joining us. We stopped for a delightful lunch in Austin with Tom Jones that afternoon at Trudy’s, a local brand. Tom was already an old friend of mine when I was Lilly’s age.

Circumstances forced us to scrub our plans to drive to Big Bend National Park for a long weekend beginning on the 18th. While in San Antonio, Lilly went to North Star Mall one day by Uber, and on another day Jay and Lilly and my nephew Dees went to the Witte Museum and then the Sunken Gardens (formally, the Japanese Tea Garden). On Saturday, May 20, we to returned to Jay’s house Dallas via U.S. 281 until north of Austin, picking up I-35 near Killeen, because there’s no reason to go through Austin unless you’re going to Austin.

In West, Texas, — which is in Central Texas — we bought some kolaches at the Little Czech Bakery, which is next to the Czech Stop. Been there a number of times since I wrote this.
Czech Stop, West, Texas 2017The line wasn’t quite as long as usual. Good thing.
Czech Stop, West, Texas 2017Czech Stop, West, Texas 2017One day in Dallas we visited the Dallas Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, as lovely a garden as I’ve seen in quite a while. Despite its location on White Rock Lake, close to Jay’s house, I’d never been. Another day I dropped Lilly off at North Park Mall, known for its collection of artwork, and visited the next-door Sparkman-Hillcrest Cemetery, or in full, the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery. A first-rate bit of landscaping.

We headed back for home beginning on May 25, driving from Dallas back to the Munger Moss for one more night (getting room 67; the first time we got 66). The next day we passed through St. Louis en route to the Chicago area and home.

On the last leg of the trip I was determined to stop a few places. First, we saw the abandoned Gasconade River Bridge, which counts as a Route 66 sight, though it could have been along any old road and still be just as fine. In St. Louis we visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, one of my favorite churches in North America, and then the wooded, hilly Bellefontaine Cemetery north of downtown, which is in the same league as Green-Wood in Brooklyn or Woodland in Dayton. First rate, that is.

Tsūtenkaku and Billiken

At some point during their recent visit to Osaka, Yuriko and Ann made their way to the Tsūtenkaku, a tower rising above the Shinsekai neighborhood.


I hadn’t thought about the tower in years. I visited it very early during my time in Osaka. The present tower dates from 1956, probably counting as part of the postwar reconstruction. An earlier tower, built in 1912 and which supposedly took inspiration from the Eiffel Tower, stood until a wartime need for steel spelled its end in 1943.

I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that the current structure is the work of one Tachu Naito (1886-1970), Japan’s “Father of Towers.” He had a talent for designing towers that can withstand earthquakes, so he did a fair number of them.

Tsūtenkaku — fancifully translated as “tower reaching toward heaven” — has a mascot, Billiken. The same charm doll that’s the mascot of Saint Louis University, it seems, a creation and fad item of the very early 20th century in the United States.

How exactly Billiken made the transition to Japan isn’t clear to me, and I refuse to go down the rabbit hole looking for the story right now. Wiki says, without a footnote: “The Billiken made its Japanese debut in 1908. A statue was installed in the uppermost level of the original Tsutenkaku Tower as it was opened to the public in 1912. When the nearby Luna Park was closed in 1925, the tower’s Billiken statue disappeared. In 1980, a replacement statue made its appearance in a new Tsutenkaku Tower that was built in 1956.”

He comes in a number of guises near the tower, too.

Billiken Osakadscn8284I can see the appeal, actually. He looks like something that the Japanese would have created. They didn’t happen to, but no matter. He fits right in. The real question is why is he associated with the tower?

Speaking of Billiken, if you listen to the “Billiken Rag,” you might be the only person you know ever to have hear it.

GTT 2016

On June 23, Ann and I left the Chicago area and headed south, returning earlier today. I’m calling the trip GTT 2016, as in Gone to Texas, but also Gone to Tennessee, another destination. Our route took us south to through Indiana and Kentucky and then to Nasvhille; west through West Tennessee and Arkansas and on to Dallas; and south again to Austin and San Antonio. The return was via Dallas and through Oklahoma and Missouri. All together, from backing out of my driveway to coming back to it, I put exactly 3,005 miles on my car, mostly on Interstates and US routes, but also a fair amount on the streets of Nashville, Austin and San Antonio.

None of the routes or places were new to me, except maybe Texarkana, where I’d never stopped before, and it’s been a long time since I’d traveled US 281 north of Johnson City, Texas, or on US 67 on to Dallas. But no matter how familiar the place or the route, you can always find new things.

In central Kentucky, near Elizabethtown, we visited Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, which features a granite and marble monumental building with a not-really-Lincoln’s log cabin inside. Near Mammoth Cave NP, we walked through Diamond Caverns, an unrelated show cave.

By the time we got to Nashville, the heat was on — in the 90s at least every day, which made stomping around outside less pleasant, especially for Ann, but I did manage to take her to the Nashville Parthenon, which she didn’t remember seeing in 2008. The more important thing we did in Nashville was spend time with old friends Stephanie and Wendall, and pay a visit to Mike Johnson’s widow, Betra.

In Memphis, we saw the Peabody Hotel ducks and the National Civil Rights Museum. In Texarkana, we drove down State Line Road and stopped at the only post office in the nation in two states. In Little Rock, I visited Mt. Holly Cemetery in the morning just before the heat of the day and then the Clinton Library (in full, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park) and, just before we left town, the Arkansas State Capitol.

Dallas was mostly given over to visiting my brother Jay and working. Jay joined us for our few days in Austin, including the Fourth of July, and for a few more days in San Antonio. In Austin on July 2, Ann went to RTX 2016 at the Austin Convention Center, a sizable event held by the media company called Rooster Teeth; I was her chaperon. We visited my old friend Tom Jones the next day, and on Independence Day, saw both the Baylor Street Art Wall and municipal fireworks over Lady Bird Lake. San Antonio was mostly about visiting my mother and brother Jim, and (for me) holing up in a cool place with Wifi and doing more work.

Naturally, the trip involved long stretches of driving. I want to do that while I still want to do that. Because of my obstinance in not getting Sirius or the like, terrestrial radio helps fill the yawning spaces between destinations. The trip was bookended by two news events whose coverage was limitless, even when there was no new information beyond speculation: Brexit near the beginning, and the murder of Dallas policemen toward the end. I also listened to more religious radio more than usual, mostly only minutes at a time, except for the erudite Alistair Begg, whom I will listen to until his show’s over or the signal fades.

The selection of music was mostly what you’d expect, drawn from the rigid genres created by the radio business, though there were a few oddities, such as the Mesquite Independent School District radio station (KEOM) in metro Dallas that played teacher and student shows, besides a selection of completely conventional ’70s music. On I-40 between Nashville and Memphis — the Music Highway, according to official signs along the way — I picked up an oldies station whose playlist was a little older and odder than usual. I heard it play “Waterloo” (Stonewall Jackson), “Ahab the Arab,” “and “Running Bear and Little White Dove,” the last two I haven’t heard in years.

We stayed in a nondescript chain motel in Elizabethtown; in Stephanie and Wendall’s fine guest rooms in Nashville; in another, less nondescript motel in Little Rock; with Jay in Dallas; in the Austin Motel on South Congress in Austin, an updated version of a tourist court that’s been there since 1938; and in an updated former company hotel (vintage 1914) in San Antonio, the Havana Hotel, since there were too many of us to be comfortable at my mother’s house.

During the return home, we stayed at the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Mo., last night, because of course we did.

Munger Moss Motel 2016It’s the same as it was in 2009 and two years ago. Except (maybe) a couple of signs like this were added to the grounds.

Munger Moss Motel 2016Motel co-owner Ramona Lehman was selling Gasconade River Bridge postcards, sales of which help support the restoration of the bridge, a structure about 15 miles east of Munger Moss on the former US 66. I bought one. I didn’t stop to look at the bridge — this time — but it’s visible from I-44 if you know when to look, and I did.

Quantill’s Graves

Odd discovery for the day: the remains of William Quantrill seem to be buried in two different places. I was looking at the Wiki page devoted to the notorious raider and noticed, without apparent explanation, pictures of two gravestones for the man, one in Ohio, another in Missouri.

I looked into the subject a little further and this article has some explanation of it. Through a series of convoluted acts of skullduggery on the part of his mother and others, parts of Quantrill ended up in two different places, one close to where he grew up, the other close to where he made his name.

Reminds me of the two gravesites for Daniel Boone, but in that case there’s a dispute about where all of his mortal remain are – Kentucky or Missouri. In Quantrill’s case, the two states seem to have divvied up the distinction of having his final resting place.

Old Tractors & Old Abe

At the College of the Ozarks is the Ralph Foster Museum, and at the Ralph Foster Museum is a modified 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster, the truck used in the Beverly Hillbillies. I didn’t get to see that because the museum was closed the day I visited in early November last year.

Instead we went to the Gaetz Tractor Museum. On display are such marvels of the machine age as the two-cylinder, three-ton Advance Rumely, introduced in 1924.

There’s also a Rumely 6A, vintage 1930, as well as four-cylinder, three-ton Case model K, ca. 1927.

Made by the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co., which was eventually M&A’d out of existence as a separate entity. Now that’s a corporate name. Beats much of what we have now, such as the Three Initial Corp. or the Random-Syllable Co.

Note the eagle. That was J.I. Case’s corporate symbol, but it isn’t just any eagle. It’s Old Abe.

Old Abe – a living eagle – was the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment from 1861 to ’64. Quite a story. Bonanzaville, an open-air museum in West Fargo, ND, that we visited in ’06, has a striking Case Eagle on display.