Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why We Love Two Lane Highways

July 30, 2013
Day 3
We spend just about the whole day meandering from Richmond, Indiana to Holland, Michigan.   On expressways, we probably could have covered the distance in four hours or so, but look what we would have missed:

The road is lined with family farms.  Prideful barns, and barns that have been left to crumple.

 There are magic miles when the road becomes a path through green stalks of corn that tower above us on both sides.  Front yard tables hold summer squash, zucchini, and tomatoes for sale; a sign invites us up the driveway for brown eggs.  There are lots of farm implements, shiny and rusty--useful to the farmers and artful to us.

Our route is punctuated by small towns that proudly trace their heritage back to pioneers in the 1800s.  This is the Swiss clock tower in a lovely park in the center of Berne, Indiana.  The park commemorates the town’s founding by Swiss Mennonites in 1852.  

And the Mennonite heritage of the town lives on.

The crown jewel of the day is our chance discovery of the United States Vice Presidential Museum at the Dan Quale Center in Dan Quale’s hometown of Huntington, Indiana (population 17,400).

The Vice Presidential Museum--motto “Second to One”--traces the history of the Vice Presidency from John Adams through Joe Biden, with brief summaries of each Vice President’s individual contributions to the office or his special political circumstances.  A variety of historical artifacts document each Vice President’s accomplishments (or lack therof).

Since Dan Quale donated eight tons of records and artifacts, and no one else was so generous in endowing the place with stuff, he does get a bit more attention (and space) than the others.  And, he is accorded more respect here than he was by the press during his Vice Presidency. (Remember the extensive coverage of his misspelling of the word “potato” at a primary school spelling bee, and the derision spewed upon him for upholding traditional family values?) 

Forget about it.  He’s a hometown hero, and rightly so.  And, hey, Indiana is proud to boast of four other Vice Presidents, too--Colfax (with Grant 1869-73), Hendricks (with Cleveland 1885, he died eight months into his term), Fairbanks (with Teddy Roosevelt), and Marshall (with Wilson).   

Here are a few other things we learn that lead us to conclude that the Vice President was not really considered to be very important at all until pretty recently:  

There wasn’t a Vice Presidential residence in Washington until 1974, when the 33 room mansion on the US Naval Observatory Grounds was finally procured and adapted for that purpose.  One of the adaptations was the installation of bullet-proof glass in all the windows--a quality which we learn the Quale kids appreciated because they were able to play ball inside the house without fear of breaking a window.  

The first Vice President to actually have an office in the White House was Walter Mondale--who expanded the role of the Vice President considerably while serving with Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.   

The 25th Amendment of the Constitution provided a means for filling a Vice Presidential vacancy--the President appoints a replacement, who must be approved by a majority of both houses of Congress.  When this amendment was ratified in 1967, the office of the Vice President had been vacant for a cumulative period of 38 years.  Gerald Ford was the first Vice President sworn in under the terms of the 25th Amendment, and he has the dubious distinction of being the only holder of the Presidency not elected to either it or the Vice Presidency (recall he was appointed by Nixon when Agnew resigned amid scandal).

John Garner, Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt, described the Vice Presidential office as “Not worth a bucket of warm s*it.”  (Not willing to be Roosevelt’s Vice President for a third term, Garner tried to run against him in 1940 and we know how well that turned out.)

Enough already.

Time for lunch.  And where better to go than Nick’s Kitchen, the Huntington Restaurant where Dan Quale began all his campaigns.  The Vice Presidential Museum even has a chair from Nick’s that Dan stood atop to announce his (alas?) unsuccessful bid to return to his office of Vice President for a second term.  

Nick’s Kitchen is famous in its own right, a Huntington institution for over 100 years, and the proud originator of the pork tenderloin sandwich, invented here in 1908.  Of course we have to sample the signature dish, which turns out to be way too big to fit in a bun (and to provide way more than one person’s appropriate calorie intake for an entire day). 

In the afternoon, we drive around the charming lakeside art colony of Saugatuck, which we last visited aboard Starsong.  This ferry has been crossing the Kalamazoo River there since 1838.  The ferry pilot propels it by turning a crank which pulls the ferry along an underwater chain.  It is a lovely five minute ride, as we recall.

Our final destination is Holland, Michigan, where we climb Mount Pisgah, a 157 foot sand dune that towers over Lake Macatawa to the east and Lake Michigan to the west.  To preserve the sensitive dune ecology, the climb route is a series of switchback stairways--239 steps in total.   We are rewarded with panoramic views at the top.

Back in downtown Holland, we notice a crowd gathering around an outdoor performance pavilion in the park.  A band concert is about to begin, but we are hungry and too tired to add yet another activity to this very long but lovely day.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Large to Small, God’s In Them All

July 29, 2013
Day 2
The Vagabond Glovers hit the road for a day of utility driving yesterday, and clicked back into true road trip mode today as we approached Cincinnati, our old homeland.
Just over the river in Northern Kentucky lie two Catholic churches that are scant miles apart geographically, but unfathomably distant from each other in every other way.  And, until today, we had not visited either one, although we passed within less than a mile of each one hundreds of times over the twenty some years we called Cincinnati home.
Our first stop is the tiny Monte Casino Chapel, built by Benedictine monks in 1878.  Measuring a mere six by nine feet, it was declared the world’s smallest church by Ripley’s back in 1922.  Sadly, the monks abandoned the monastery after Prohibition’s passage in 1920 eliminated their livelihood of maintaining vineyards and making wine here.  The chapel fell into disrepair, and thieves and vandals took their toll. 
Nearby Thomas More College (which was established by Benedictine sisters in 1921) moved the petite chapel to the College campus in 1965, where it was restored and rededicated in 1971.  Now the cycle continues, and it is falling back into ruin again.  Saplings have taken root in the roof.  The front door and stained glass windows are long gone--a padlocked gate in the doorframe prohibits entry, but allows a view of the sad state of this little chapel that no longer welcomes the faithful. Inside two grey plastic trash cans sit amidst plaster that has fallen from the cracked and moldy walls.  A hammer lies on the altar.  Yet, somehow, despite its decay, the chapel retains an aura of grace and beauty--at least when viewed from afar.

We resume our notable religious architecture pilgrimage, and within five minutes are standing awestruck within St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, dwarfed by its 81 foot high arched ceiling, transfixed by the glowing stained glass windows which comprise over 80 percent of the side and front walls of the sanctuary. 

The cornerstone was laid in 1895, and the church as we see it today was completed in 1915.  Its blown stained glass windows are intricate and exquisite.  The north transept window remains today the world’s largest blown stained glass window--67 feet by 24 feet. 
The rose windows are immense jewels, 26 feet in diameter.  The stations of the cross are highly detailed Venetian mosaic masterpieces of ceramic and mother of pearl tile.  Outside, the façade is a replica of the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral (albeit in about one third scale, and without the bell towers and all the carved detail--numerous portals and niches “await the creative genius of the next generation,” in the words of the Cathedral’s walking tour).

In other words, they ran out of money before it was finished.  A deacon volunteering at the church while we were there told me that someone donated enough money to carve one more saint into the façade, but he is sure it will not happen in his lifetime, due to the complicated church politics of deciding which saint would be carved and which niche filled.
How little blue collar Covington managed to become the home of this extraordinary religious treasure remains a mystery beyond our comprehension--like so much related to religion.