Heartland, Part 6 (Americana)

On June 25, 2017 · 1 Comments

All things must come to an end and eventually the Heartland adventure approached its natural conclusion. I enjoyed my brief sojourn through the American Midwest, captured some new counties, ran a few races, viewed some sand dunes and canyons, and drove through more miles of farmland than I could count. I still had a few things to talk about though. They didn’t fit neatly into my other categories so I collected them here at the end.

Mid-America Windmill Museum


Mid-America Windmill Museum

I mentioned the lack of attractions in northern Indiana that led me to the East LaPorte Street Footbridge in Plymouth. My search also uncovered the Mid-America Windmill Museum. This prompted a stop in Kendallville (map), which the docent at the museum pronounced as Kendaville. The first set of double-l’s seemed optional.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. How fascinating could a bunch of antique water-pumping windmills be? Actually I rather enjoyed it. Premium models filled a restored barn. Others stood sentinel in a field behind the barn, whirling in the wind as they’d done on farms decades ago. It was both hypnotic and wonderful. Windmills manufactured by the Flint and Walling company dominated the collection. In fact, the museum preserved an example of every Flint and Walling model ever produced. This company started making its windmills in Kendallville in 1866 and sold them for nearly a century. Amazingly, the company still existed and celebrated its 150th anniversary recently. It anticipated the drop in demand for windmills and switched to electric pumps.


Speaking of Windmills


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

Two days later we came across another windmill, a more traditional version like ones seen in the Netherlands. I saw a different windmill called De Zwaan last year in Holland, Michigan — which made sense — after all, they called the city Holland. It seemed rather out of place in Fulton, Illinois. However, I learned afterwards that a lot of Dutch settlers came to Fulton in the latter half of the 19th Century. A windmill fit within that cultural heritage. By the way, just because I’ve seen a few windmills lately doesn’t mean I’ve found another object to count compulsively. I don’t need any more lists.

This one had a name too, De Immigrant. It differed from the windmill in Michigan because of its contemporary nature. While authentic, it wasn’t old at all, having been dedicated in 2000. Artisans crafted the windmill in the Netherlands and shipped it in pieces to Fulton. Then they assembled the windmill on-site, atop a levee overlooking the Mississippi River (map). De Immigrant ran exactly like a vintage windmill. Visitors could purchase flour ground by the windmill in a nearby visitors center.


Thriller!


Michael Jackson House

I try to visit at least one place mentioned in Twelve Mile Circle during every trip I take. One article, Where They Lived as Children, featured the home where Michael Jackson grew up. It fell directly along our route. I had to stop there.

Gary, Indiana might lag only behind Detroit for urban decay. The United States Steel Corporation founded Gary in 1906 as a home for its workers. Gary thrived for decades until the steel factories started closing in the 1960’s. Nearly 200,000 people lived there then. Only 75,000 people live there now. We drove into Gary and it looked like a disaster site, with abandoned buildings collapsed upon themselves, empty lots filled with weeds and trash, and car-rattling potholes on terribly rutted roads. Even so, it seemed perfectly safe to stop at Michael Jackson childhood home and pay my respects. I couldn’t imagine how the Jackson parents and their ten children fit into that tiny house (map).


Presidential



I noticed the Jackson house sat on Jackson Street. That seemed to be a fitting tribute, however it turned out to be just a coincidence. The Gary street grid aligned to Presidents of the United States in order of their administrations. This particular Jackson got its name from Andrew Jackson, not from Michael or any of the other musical Jacksons. Right around this same time I got an email from reader "Steve" curious about presidential street names so I took it as a good omen. He also wondered if any street had been named for Donald Trump yet. Oddly, I’d encountered a Trump Avenue in Canton, Ohio only a few days earlier even though I doubted it correlated directly to The Donald’s time as president. It seemed to predated his nascent Administration.


American Pickers


American Pickers

Do any 12MC readers watch American Pickers on the History Channel? The premise is pretty simple. Two guys drove around rural America from their home base in Le Claire, Iowa in search of antiques. They hunted through basements, barns, abandoned buildings, and any other place where valuables might be hiding within junk and debris. Gary, Indiana might be a good place to try. They haggled with owners over a price and hopefully got a few treasures to sell through their company, Antique Archaeology. I noticed we could get to Le Claire in about a half hour from Clinton, Iowa where we’d raced earlier that morning.

Those of you familiar with the show probably recognized the derelict Nash Statesman automobile and the shop behind it. Those appeared on the show fairly regularly. Of course we stopped for awhile (map); that’s how I got the photo. One thing surprised me. The magic of television made it seem like the shop must be located way outside of town all by itself, maybe surrounded by cornfields or something. That wasn’t the case. It sat right in the middle of Le Claire just a short block away from the main road. I could walk to a brewery, a distillery and at least a dozen shops in about two minutes from there.


Buffalo Bill


Buffalo Bill Cody

Le Claire included other surprises such as the Buffalo Bill Museum. I didn’t know that Buffalo Bill Cody hailed from Iowa. I figured he must have come from somewhere much further west. No, indeed, he came from Iowa. The museum included an exhibit on Buffalo Bill, as one would expect, although the largest space featured a ship called the Lone Star. This paddle-wheeled towboat operated under steam power on the Mississippi River for a century. The Coast Guard finally forced it out of service in 1968 when it couldn’t meet safety standards anymore. Fortunately preservationists managed to save the Lone Star and constructed an entire building to show it off.

Le Claire and surrounding Scott County thought highly of its most famous son. In addition to the museum, we visited the Buffalo Bill Homestead a few miles outside of town (map). He grew up there from the time of his birth in 1846 until about the age of seven.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Where They Lived as Children

On August 30, 2015 · 2 Comments

My recent trip to western North Carolina was like the gift that kept on giving of Twelve Mile Circle article ideas. Sadly I’ve reached the end of the line on that thread so this will be the last article that contains a connection to that earlier adventure. As noted in a prior installment, I enjoyed walking around Asheville in the early morning before the town woke up. I discovered all sorts of interesting nooks as I wandered aimlessly down deserted streets. One was the Thomas Wolfe House on Spruce Street, included as part of the museum complex at 52 N. Market Street (map).


Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Thomas Wolfe Memorial (my own photo)

This inviting structure has been designated as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site, the childhood home of the author. The Queen Anne style home served as a boardinghouse operated by Wolfe’s mother. He used it as a backdrop for his thinly veiled 1929 autobiographical novel, "Look Homeward, Angel." That distinction certainly made it a property worth preserving. It occurred to me that oftentimes a famous person’s adult home might be preserved while his or her childhood home might be neglected, with notable exceptions of course. Certainly preservation made sense here.


Mark Twain


Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Properties
Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Properties by Missouri Division of Tourism (cc)

Another place where I thought preservation made sense was the Mark Twain Boyhood Home at 206-208 Hill Street, in Hannibal, Missouri (map). Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, drew upon his youthful memories from Hannibal for some of his novels. These included actual locations associated with people who inspired major fictional characters such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher.

That was all fine and appropriate. However I wanted to bring the concept into the present. I wondered if there were people of more recent vintage whose childhood homes might someday become national historic landmarks. Where would tourists flock and stand in line to walk through rooms where a notable person once lived as a child? The big one of course was Elvis Presley, and for him that distinction had already been achieved. I wrote about Elvis’ early childhood shotgun-shack in Tupelo, Mississippi in The Cult of Elvis back in 2009. After Elvis, then the next logical choice might have to be…


Michael Jackson


Michael Jackson first house
Michael Jackson first house by Paolo Rosa on Flicker (cc)

What would be a bigger Thriller than driving down to the corner of 23rd and Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana (map)? The Michael Jackson house probably stood a solid chance of becoming an historic landmark to rival anything from Elvis. It already seemed to be generating cult-like status barely five years after Jackson’s death judging by the numerous photos I saw on the Intertubes. Invariably images showed throngs of people, piles of tributes, a large granite marker and a generally celebratory environment courtesy of pilgrims and devotee that converged there.

Another question remained. Will tourists ever be able to visit Neverland Ranch like they can Graceland?


Kurt Cobain


Kurt Cobain's Childhood Home
Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home; Aberdeen, WA
via Google Street View, October 2012

I moved on to another music icon, albeit from a different genre. Kurt Cobain passed away at the height of success while fronting the band Nirvana, in 1994. One would think that his childhood home might attract the attention of some of his fans, and yet it didn’t seem to resonate much. The real estate website Redfin featured his mother’s property at 1210 East 1st St., Aberdeen, Washington (map) in August 2015, "Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home Drops in Price, Again."

Kurt Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, just shaved off $71,000 from the price of his childhood home, bringing the new price tag to $329,000… His bedroom, which looks like a converted attic, still has Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin logos that he stenciled on the walls, and holes from where he punched the walls as a teen.

It would seem to demonstrate great provenance and even some residual historic significance given the doodles and damage. It remained unsold as of a few days ago.


Sandra Bullock


Sandra Bullock's Childhood Home
Sandra Bullock’s Childhood Home; Arlington, VA
via Google Street View, July 2014

A childhood home might have historical significance even if the celebrity who lived there happened to still be living, right? I selected Sandra Bullock solely because she lived fairly close to where I live today in Arlington, Virginia. In fact my children will someday attend the same high school that she attended during her formative years, Washington-Lee. Bullock spent most of her childhood at 2925 26th Street North in the Woodmont neighborhood (map). The Arlington County property search website valued the home at $1,241,900 for the 2015 tax year. It also noted that "Bullock John W & Helga M" purchased the property originally in 1966 for $40,000 (and it sold for $1,115,000 in 2005).

Kurt Cobain’s childhood home would be a lot more cost effective for, you know, creepy people who need to own one of those kinds of places.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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