I’m a bit behind! Things have been happening so fast since I stepped off that barge, I’m running to keep up with myself, much less finding time to write and process images. But, I’ll try to catch us up this morning!
I spent two nights in the pretty little river town of Louisiana, MO, at the quiet, country home of John and Karen Stoeckly. John is a talented artist who does beautifully detailed pen and ink drawings (click here if you’d like to see them). Karen is an amazing gourmet cook and together they own The Eagles’ Nest Winery, Bistro and Bed and Breakfast in downtown Louisiana. (charming place, great food and the business is for sale if that catches your fancy!)
With all they have going on, they still found time to share themselves and their home with me. I’ve been eating very well lately – the second night I was invited to the home of their friends, Dr. Ned Glenn, a retired physician, and his wife, the Reverend Patricia Glenn, an Episcopalian Priest, along with their son, Wes, and lifelong friend Martha Sue Smith, who interviewed me for her radio show on WBBA. It was a night of lively conversation with bright, creative folks. Thanks to all of you!
Of course, I had to visit the place where the memory of Mark Twain lives on, perhaps more than anywhere else – Hannibal, MO. His boyhood home, his father’s law office, Becky Thatcher’s home and the infamous Mark Twain cave are all there. If you’re a fan (and who isn’t to some degree?), don’t miss the Mark Twain Museum which includes the original Norman Rockwell paintings created as illustrations for Huckelberry Finn.
Then I made fast tracks to Alton, Illinois, where my husband, Mike, joined me for the weekend. We had a great time in what I expected would be a quaint, quiet town. Not so! On a perfect, sunny fall weekend, it was a happening place! It’s a favorite spot for motorcyclists and I have honestly never seen so many big bikes in one place in my life.
In order to keep pace with our raindrop, I move on every two days. It’s the honest truth that every time I leave a community, there is the thought, “I could really enjoy spending more time here.” I could spend nine years on this journey and still not follow up on all the interesting stories and people I encounter. That was certainly true in Alton.
The world’s tallest man grew up (and up!) in Alton. Mike and I snuggled up to the life-sized statue of Robert Wadlow, all 8’11” of it! He was, by all accounts, a sweet, gentle man who lived in an era when there was no treatment for his overactive pituitary gland. Although he and his family did their best to keep life “normal”, there was no avoiding the notoriety that came, so his response seemed to be one of gentle good humor. Still, it must have been a very challenging life and Mike and I empathized with its daily details like having to walk sideways on stairs not made to accommodate his size 37 shoes.
There are a dozen stories that presented themselves in Alton that I would love to follow. In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, Alton was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. The region of Missouri just across the river was known as “Little Dixie”, having been settled largely by slave-owning families from the South. Missouri was a slave state at the time and although Illinois was a free state, there was much pro-slavery sentiment in Alton. There are vivid tales of mob violence and stories of escaping slaves being secreted to freedom that either died with the people who lived them or have been kept quiet by the families involved. Judy Hoffman is an author and historian who spent 12 years researching and writing a book called God’s Portion: Godfrey, Illinois 1817-1865. She is the wife of the first mayor of Godfrey, an adjoining town incorporated in 1991, who now lives in a gorgeous loft in the heart of downtown Alton. She graciously invited Mike and I to visit and shared some of the intriguing stories she has uncovered, which gave us a unique look into this aspect of Alton’s past.
There is an amazing 33-mile stretch of road here known as the “Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway” which travels beside some magnificent river bluffs between the point where the Illinois River joins forces with the Mississippi to the point where the Missouri River does the same. At one end is the largest State Park in Illinois, Pere Marquette State Park, where we found a drop-dead gorgeous view with the first signs of fall color showing in the treetops below.
At the other end is the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, honoring the point where that famous journey began up the Missouri River. We let no moss grow on us this weekend! At the National Great Rivers Museum, Mike tried being a barge pilot at the simulated exhibit. (It might not be his calling as he crashed into the wall three tries out of three!) We toured the Melvin Price Lock & Dam, one of the largest on the Mississippi and were able to be in the observation room as a towboat and barge passed just below us. It looks even bigger from that perspective than it did from the towboat!
We visited a flock of White Pelicans who just arrived last week for their annual visit to the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary. We had some great food, including a lunch at the lively Grafton Winery, full of folks enjoying live music inside and views of the river and the parade of traffic passing by on the outside decks. We also scoped out a few spots to hit on a return trip at some point, like the Tara Point B&B, where the view of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi took our breath away.
It was glorious to have Mike with me for the weekend. I’m thankful to him for coming and for his sweet, supportive, loving presence in my life. I am one lucky woman!