Saturday, June 13, 2009

We Get Our Kicks on Route 66

June 11, 2009

We headed out of Springfield on Route 4, which traces the path of old Route 66. The road is lined with soybean and corn fields, and many fields that have not yet been planted, which lie puddled and flooded with rain.

Our first stop was Virden, a town with one traffic light—a flashing red—which is not working. Virden was the site of a miners' riot in 1898. A large bronze relief on the town square commemorates the Battle of Virden with a scene depicting police with drawn guns at the top, cowering miners at the bottom, and a poster recruiting "175 colored miners" from Birmingham in the middle. These are our clues. There are no further historical markers around to elucidate the details. A search of the internet fleshes out the story: the miners here joined a state-wide strike, and the coal company recruited 180 black strike breakers from the south. When the train carrying them tried to pass through a line of armed strikers, a shoot-out with the armed mine guards erupted. When it was over, eight miners and four guards were dead, and forty more were wounded.

We paused in Carlinville to photograph the Macoupin County's "Million Dollar Courthouse." Recognized as the most magnificent courthouse in Illinois, the Macoupin County Courthouse
was a $50,000 project when it was begun in 1867. By its completion in 1870, it had ballooned into one of the largest courthouses in the nation, with a price tag to match--over $1.3 million. At the opposite end of the luxury spectrum, Carlinville boasts the largest collection of Sears and Roebuck mail order houses in the country. Standard Oil Company built 156 of them for their miners in 1918, and 152 of them are still standing (although just about all have had additions and improvements made to them since they were built, so the sense of uniformity that the neighborhood must have had when it was built is lost in history).

Litchfield is home to the oldest café on Route 66, so we had to stop there for lunch. The Ariston Cafe has been family owned for over 80 years, and in its current building since 1935. It is a classic 50s restaurant, with a display case of sumptuous desserts greeting us at the door, a long lunch counter across the front, booths lining the walls, and tables in the middle covered with white tablecloths. We turned on the little yellow fluorescent light fixture on the wall of our booth to optimize the ambiance as we ate our lunch.

The union workers who died in Virden could not be buried in local cemeteries (the Lutheran minister didn't want "murderers" in his churchyard, and the person who owned the other cemetery objected to union ceremonies on his land), so the union purchased land in Mt. Olive where they could bury their martyrs and other miners. The entrance gates to the cemetery bear the words "Resting place of good Union people." Mother Jones, the diminutive grandmotherly woman who dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of union workers, is buried in the cemetery—she said she wanted to rest with her boys. A monument to her, "the martyrs of the Virden riot of 1898," and to about a dozen other named martyrs of the Progressive Miners of America "who have given their lives to the cause of clean unionism in America" during the 1930s dominates the cemetery. This monument added to our curiosity about the tough life of union miners around here. Some further internet research is in order.

Our next stop was Collinsville, where we snapped a picture of the world's largest catsup bottle
the water tower of the Brooks Catsup Company), then headed to a more meaningful stop on the other side of town.

Cahokia Mounds is the largest historic Native American settlement in the United States, containing the largest prehistoric earthwork in the country. Cahokia was first inhabited from about 700 AD to 1400 AD, and it covered nearly six square miles, with tens of thousands of residents. They built over 100 mounds for ceremonial and burial purposes, some of them quite large. Although farmers have been plowing them for years, some remain, and archaeologists have excavated to find clues to the lives of the people who lived there. Some of their discoveries are pretty gruesome, like hundreds of young girls buried in a mass grave area after serving as being sacrificed in sacred rituals, and young men sacrificed to be buried with an important leader of the community. Other discoveries are just the usual pottery shards and post holes.

We climbed 140 steps to the top of Monk's Mound (named for monks who came here long after the Indians with the intention of building a monastery at the top of the mound). We could see all the way to St. Louis, which, by the way, was once nicknamed "Mound City," because there were 26 mounds in downtown St. Louis before it was fully developed.

The Cahokia site also has an area they call "Woodhenge." It is a reconstruction of a solar calendar constructed on that exact spot in about 1100 AD. There are 48 poles arranged in a circle 410' in diameter with a center post about five feet east of the center of the circle, making its alignment with the solstice sunrise more accurate than it would be if in the center. When viewed from the Woodhenge circle, the sun rises directly over Monks Mound on the spring and fall equinoxes.

We noted that exactly one week ago today we were visiting Georgia's Stonehenge—the Georgia Guidestones--which were also constructed to mark the equinox and solstice positions of the sun.

That's it for Route 66 today.

But, there's more . . . we found a few more places of note after we left 66.

The first was the house in St. Louis where Dick lived 1970-71. Except for having bigger trees, the neighborhood looked just the same as Dick remembered it, a pleasant surprise.

The second was a monument in Howell, Missouri dedicated to several hundred families from Howell, Hamburg, and Toonerville who were forced to leave their homes prior to the declaration of WWII. The government bought 18,000 acres to build a TNT Plant, destroying homes, schools and churches, eradicating the towns. Now, part of the site is a nuclear waste dump from the cold war. There is a huge gravel mound covering 45 acres, and they are in the process of doing some kind of remediation. Funny we have never heard of this one, only the waste sites out in the desert far from population centers. This one is just 35 miles or so from St. Louis. They do some kind of tours here, we think, based on their sign, but it was too late to stop, so we will just add this one to our growing pile of things to look into more deeply when we get a chance.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, glad to know the old St. Louis house is still standing. If you pass any other houses we lived in please post a picture. Have fun. Jean