Land of Boats, Miners, and Lincoln

Back in Chicago tonight. I’ll catch up with the details of the past couple of days downstate later, but the short take is this: We began the day in St. Peters, Missouri, had coffee at our motel and headed straight up state Highway 79 to a place called Winfield. Drove several miles through farmland to the Mississippi, then crossed over to another ferry slip in the middle of nowhere. Then crossed a ridge and drove north along the west side of the Illinois River valley in Calhoun County, and crossed the Illinois at an actual town, Kampsville. Drove south down the east side of the valley to Grafton, the site of the only Mississippi ferry in the area we hadn’t taken; we rode across to St. Charles County, Missouri, then turned around and came straight back. So that made eight ferry crossings Sunday and Monday.

Why all the ferries, you might ask? Well, the ferry idea had intrigued me ever since my son Eamon and I happened upon one of them, more or less by accident, in June. But the bigger reason is that it’s just a way to be closer to the river, to the water, and get a chance to really see it in a way you just don’t if you’re just crossing a bridge or driving by (I haven’t gotten so fascinated that I’ve actually gotten a boat and gone out on the water by myself, though).

From Grafton we made a quick drive north and east to Mount Olive. Mother Jones, the labor heroine, is buried in a union miner’s cemetery just outside of town (another chance find on my trip with Eamon in June). It’s a beautiful spot, a sort of modestly impressive memorial, and appears to get a steady trickle of visitors (judging by keepsakes left at the grave; have to wait to get my pictures developed, as my digital camera ran out of battery before we got to the cemetery). Dad and I both had the same thought when we were out there: The one person we would have loved to have with us was my Uncle Bill, who would have been in heaven out there at a place dedicated to a cause he loved. One local note: The town of Mount Olive has put up banners along the main street celebrating Mother Jones and the memorial. I wondered how her legacy played in a place that an outsider (me, the Californian/ex-Chicago-area-type) might assume to be strongly conservative; if nothing else, maybe someone in Mount Olive has enough of a Chamber of Commerce sense to see an attraction out in the cemetery. Another possibility: The banners might be connected to the annual Mother Jones observance, held each October, which includes a dinner event in Springfield on a Saturday night and a caravan out to the grave on Sunday.

After Mount Olive, we headed up Interstate 55 toward Chicago. Stopped and ate just south of Springfield, then on a whim, drove into the capital, which I’d never visited before. Two things I wanted to see: the state Capitol and Lincoln’s tomb. We pulled up to park on a street just south of the Capitol about 5:15 p.m., and the employee parking lots were already deserted. We were getting out of a car at the meter when a woman wearing an employee badge from the Illinois State Library told us we’d get ticketed — the area was a no-parking zone after 4. She told us it would be just fine to park in the employee lot despite the tow-away warning there. Score one for Springfield people; Nice to strangers. We strolled around the Capitol — gorgeous late afternoon, with a stiff breeze from the south and piles of cumulus moving to the north. Then we found our way across town to Lincoln’s burial place. I won’t — can’t really, have to think on it more — sum up right now what I felt about the site. I’m not sure I understand Lincoln or his importance at all, but I will say I think his presidency and the tragedy of his death have been woven into the lives of liberal ’60s kids like myself, and his presence is real down there in that cemetery even 139 years after his death.

Then we got back to I-55 and headed north, passing Bloomington-Normal and other places that raised lots of memories of past adventures. More about them later, perhaps.

One Reply to “Land of Boats, Miners, and Lincoln”

  1. You were in Springfield. Wow! I know what you mean about the importance of Lincoln. It’s only been in the last couple years that I’ve tried to understand him from the eyes of someone other than a seventh grader raised on everything Lincoln. Or something like that. With all the Lincoln sites, and now the opening of the presidential library, and soon the museum, Lincoln is definitely Springfield’s greatest asset. It’s hard to get past that.

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