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Circus Trip 2018: Carl Sandburg Birthplace State Historic Site

Day 20, Saturday, August 4, 2018

After I visited Knox College, I checked out another historic site in the small Illinois town of Galesburg.  Carl Sandburg’s birthplace home has been preserved and is now operated by the State of Illinois as a State Historic site.

Sandburg was born in 1878, served in the Spanish-American War, and won three Pulitzer prizes (including one for his biography of Lincoln) and the Robert Frost medal for his writing.  He left school at the age of 13 to perform manual labor jobs, driving a milk wagon, a bricklayer, farm laborer, hotel servant and coal heaver.  He did attend West Point for two weeks, and attended Lombard College, but never earned a degree.

Sandburg also worked for a time as a reporter in Chicago, and his writing is often about Chicago.  His poetry focuses on the common man and often features working class themes.  This focus on the themes of the common man allowed much of the American public to relate to his writing.

 

He moved to his estate in North Carolina, named Connemara, in 1945, and lived there and wrote until his death in 1967.  After his cremation, his ashes were interred underneath a granite boulder at his birthplace home – he remains there today.  Connemara is a National Historic Site now and I would love to visit there too!

Even though the Sandburg home was not a place I had on my list, it was certainly a worthwhile stop.  The guide was very enthusiastic about the poet and had a lot of knowledge to share.  I was the only one there when I visited and got to take my time looking at the exhibits.  I let him know when I was ready to visit the home, and he took me over; I got to spend as much time as I wanted looking at the little home.

I left Galesburg after my tour of the Sandburg home to drive even deeper into the Land of Lincoln.  I stopped by a grocery store to replenish my supplies and then I was headed toward Springfield!

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Circus Trip 2018: Amana Colonies

Day 19, Friday, August 3, 2018

After my second respite in just a few days, I was fully recharged and ready to resume the trip.  My destination for the day was the Amana Colonies.  Yes, that Amana, as in Amana appliances.

The Amana Colonies are the home of a group of German Pietists who fled persecution in their native Germany to settle near Buffalo, NY.  Eventually they moved to Iowa in 1856.  They brought their craftsmanship with them from Europe, and for over 80 years, they maintained an almost completely self-sufficient economy, with a division of labor among the community members.

Me in a German style hat

The society tried to maintain everything as equally as possible within the society by not using money, and not using products that came from outside the community.  Men and women were considered equal, but interestingly, marriage and child-bearing were discouraged, which obviously had an impact on future generations of colony members.

There are seven towns in the community – the total population of the seven is around 2,000 as of the 2010 census.  The colony founded the Amana Corporation, which manufactures refrigerators and other appliances to sell outside the community; it was this business that generated the money that the community needed to purchase land outside of the colony to support the members, as well as to buy supplies that could not be made by colony members.  (Amana is no longer owned by the colony).

An Amana home

All land was owned by the colony.  All jobs were assigned by the colony, and members ate communally in several communal kitchens.  Everybody who could work was given a job according to their abilities, but in general work was divided into traditional male and female roles, with men working in the factory and in the fields, and women working in the communal kitchens and gardens.

The Ackerman House – built 1856

I took the van tour of the Amana colonies.  It was fascinating; our tour guide was a former member of the colony so he had a lot of information on the inner workings of the colony and what it was like to grow up there.  He left the colony as a young adult, and later returned there to live, but he did not rejoin the religion.

Our guide outside the museum

On our tour, we went to several sites within the community.  We saw one of the general stores, a communal kitchen and a church.  At the church, a woman who was a member of the colony explained the way that they worship, with men and women separated during the service.  We also got to watch a video of the history of the community, with lots of historic photos of the community.  It was so interesting to see the cemetery too.  The premise is that all people are equal in the community, so the graves are simply laid in rows, with all the headstones the same, and simply arranged in the order in which people died.  It is certainly a departure from the concept of family plots.

 

 

The Amana colonies functioned well for over 80 years as an almost completely communal economy, importing almost nothing from outside of the colonies.  However, over time, weaknesses began to reveal themselves.  Colony members became unhappy that outsiders had technological advances, and began to make money on the side to support these purchases.  Other colony members then became jealous about what the Jones’ down the street had.  It is a familiar story whether or not you live in a community with a self-sufficient local economy, and sadly it eventually meant the end of the economic structure of the Amana colonies.  Members began to demand a vote of the society, to determine whether the group wanted to continue with their separate, communal society, or abandon it and join the capitalist economy of the people who lived outside.  I think you know how the vote went.

Today people continue to practice their form of worship, but the communal society they built here is gone.

My mom had recommended my visit there; I was interested but I doubt I would have sought it out had she not mentioned it.  It was really interesting though and I was glad I did.

One last note on Amana.  They have a couple of wineries!  I stopped by Ackerman Winery, a family owned winery that has been in operation since 1956, and did a tasting of their mostly fruit wines.  They are sweet, but I found a few that I enjoyed, and purchased the Rhubarb wine.  And I learned that I do not like dandelion wine – who knew?  Now I do.

Ackerman Winery

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: The SPAM Museum!

Day 17, Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Austin, Minnesota is home to the SPAM Museum, and who wouldn’t want to visit there!??  Austin was a cute small Midwest town with a nice little downtown area, and after I packed up and got on the road, I checked it out.  The SPAM Museum is home to all things SPAM.  Did you know that the name SPAM actually is a contraction of the words Spiced Ham?  It was introduced by the HORMEL company in 1937 and the original SPAM is still produced today, although there are many other varieties in the line up now.  During World War II it was a popular ration item, due to its canned nature, and the fact that it was a shelf stable meat.  In the UK, soldiers began saying that SPAM stood for Special Processed American Meat.

SPAM is produced in Austin, Minnesota, so that’s why the museum is here!  Hormel has been in business since 1891, but SPAM took off during World War II, especially in the Pacific Island countries.  If you have ever been to Hawaii and had Loco Moco, you know what I mean…

The museum is free to visit, and has exhibits on all things SPAM.  The history of SPAM, worldwide SPAM recipes, SPAM in advertising, SPAM in pop culture.  They have a whole display of musical instruments made with SPAM cans.  I never knew SPAM was so influential!  Some of the exhibits explain the various regional SPAM preferences.  Varieties sold today include Classic, Hot and Spicy (Tabasco seasoned), Black Pepper, Oven Roasted Turkey, Chorizo, Cheese, Garlic, Macadamia Nut, and Classic in spreadable form…  There’s a SPAM for everyone – except vegetarians.

For Monty Python fans, the movie SPAMALOT plays on an endless loop.

When I was there, there was even a bacon-fueled themed Harley Davidson motorcycle parked in the lobby; even though it isn’t directly SPAM-related, it is powered by a Hormel product.

I admit I never knew very much about SPAM.  Besides trying it in Hawaii, I’ve never been a SPAM eater.  Somehow this iconic classic never made it to my dining table – I’m very disappointed in you Mom and Dad!  There are employees wandering around with SPAMples though, so you can try the various flavors of SPAM with no commitment!  I have to admit the Black Pepper one is pretty good.  I also learned that SPAM factories produce 44,000 cans of SPAM per hour.  And did you know that Hawaii eats more SPAM than any other state?  8 Millions cans per year!

My foray into SPAM lasted about an hour, after which time I selected a couple of SPAM postcards, and of course, a SPAM stemless wine glass.  There’s something awesome about drinking wine from a SPAM wine glass!  I must one day do a SPAM wine pairing night.  Now there’s an idea for a party!

If you have a chance to visit, check it out!  And be sure to pose with Jay Hormel outside.

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Pipestone National Monument

Day 16, Tuesday, July 31, 2018

I spent a lazy morning on my last day at Split Rock Creek State Park – I did some route planning and relaxed on the dock and got some photos of the muskrat who kept swimming by.  After leaving, I felt rejuvenated and ready to begin again.  I was off!  My destination was Pipestone National Monument, in Pipestone, Minnesota.

ME!

Pipestone National Monument is a sacred site for the plains Native Americans, including the Lakota, Dakota, and the Sioux, due to the red pipestone that is prevalent in the area, and is carved to create prayer pipes.  The Sioux took control of this land around 1700, but ceremonial pipes found in burial mounds show that this area has been quarried for centuries.  Pipestone is a type of metamorphosed mudstone, which is prized because of its soft properties, which allow it to be easily worked into the ceremonial pipes.  It is also known as Catlinite, after it was described by the American painter George Catlin in 1835.

Types of Pipestone

The land that the monument occupies was acquired by the federal government in 1893, and the last tribe to quarry there, the Yankton Sioux, sold their quarry rights in 1928.  On August 25, 1937, Pipestone National Monument was designated, and Native American quarrying rights were restored.  Today, approximately 67,500 people visit the monument each year.

The nature walk at Pipestone National Monument

The monument has restored over 250 acres to the native prairie grasses; there is a 3/4 mile nature walk where you can see some of the historic quarries and a waterfall.  It is beautiful and peaceful.  Another section of the park, that is not open to the public, contains lands that are currently being quarried.  You have to be Native American from specific tribes in order to obtain a permit to quarry pipestone there; many of the artisans who dig for the stone are third of fourth generation carvers.  There is historic evidence of the visitors here over time; some graffiti is from the 1800s.

Me at Pipestone

 

Historic graffiti

One area on the nature walk contains The Oracle; you can peek through a hole in a sign and see the face of an elderly man jutting from the quartzite stone cliffs. Unlike in The Neverending Story, The Oracle did not open his eyes or shoot laser beams from them.  Whew!

I enjoyed Winniwissa Falls, and even captured “Bigfoot” in one of my photos there – you be the judge!

I found Bigfoot!

I also saw a Green Heron, and my first ever Thirteen Lined Squirrel!

Inside the Visitor’s Center I checked out the exhibits of petroglyphs and the history of the site, and I watched a man carving pipestone into pipes.  They are truly beautiful; the finished product is rusty red with a smooth finish.

A carved pipestone pipe

After leaving Pipestone National Monument, I stopped by Blue Earth, Minnesota for selfies with two iconic figures from my childhood – the Jolly Green Giant and Sprout!  The Jolly Green Giant is 55 feet tall and has been here since 1978.  What a fun, quick stop!

The Jolly Green Giant! Him, not me…

 

Sprout!

 

I stayed the night at Oakwood Trails, in Austin, Minnesota.  It is a family owned campground on the back 40 of a farmer’s soybean and dairy farm – they were such friendly, kind people!  It was a nice campground with very few mosquitoes, which of course I really enjoyed.  The bathrooms were nice too!  Highly recommended!

 

Circus Trip 2018: 1880 Town

Day 13, Saturday, July 28, 2018

South Dakota is a bit monotonous once you get east of the Badlands.  I apologize to those of you who think eastern South Dakota is incredible, if there are any of you out there.  For me, I found it to be a long and boring drive.

It must be that the guy who founded 1880 Town thought that this stretch of the South Dakota prairie needed some livening up too; he started collecting historic buildings and moving them to this patch of land in the middle of nowhere – otherwise known as Murdo.  (Again, I must apologize to those of you who live in Murdo and don’t think it is in the middle of nowhere.  I think you are wrong, but I’m willing to be proven otherwise.)  Actually, the real story is pretty interesting.  A film was shot near Murdo in the 1970s, that was set in the 1880s; the filmmakers constructed a movie set with a main street made from historic buildings and wooden sidewalks.  After the shooting ending, they gave the set to Richard Hullinger, and 1880 Town was born.

1880 Town now has over 30 historic buildings, ranging in time period from the 1880s to the 1920s, and which include a church, school, printing office, a couple of hotels, a barn, a general store and numerous other businesses that once lined the main streets of small prairie towns.  He has them packed to the hilt with memorabilia from days gone by.  And Dances with Wolves.  Yep you got that right.  Dances with Wolves was filmed near here, and 1880 Town is now home to a gigantic collection of movie memorabilia, including set props, costumes and signed photos of the actors who starred in the film.  Everything from war drums, Costner’s sod house, Civil War operating tables and even the “dead” Cisco (Kevin Costner’s horse), is on display here. It was fascinating, if not a bit dusty.

Sod House from Dances with Wolves

 

Dances with Wolves – “dead” Cisco prop

I enjoyed wandering from building to building, checking out the artifacts, and posing inside the Wells Fargo Stagecoach.  The site is big enough that it takes a couple hours to check it out, and there are a few shops inside the buildings that serve snacks, sodas and ice cream.  You can see what a prostitute’s room would have looked like, check out the frontier jail, or experience what it was like to do your learning in a one-room schoolhouse.  This town has everything you would have been able to find in a prairie town in the late 1800s.  There is even a 14 sided barn!

 

 

 

There is a spot where you can get sodas and ice cream, and one of the hotels has a show periodically.  There are also wagon rides around the town, and you can ring the bells at the church and the school!  I bet kids really love that.

 

 

The display is a bit tired and dusty though – with a fair number of dead flies and mouse droppings in the windows and corners – the buildings need a good cleaning and a bit of maintenance.  That was a little surprising, since with the $12 admission and the number of people that were there, it seems like they could have afforded to spruce the place up a bit.  Perhaps most unusual was the gift shop, which was a mix of your typical souvenir items in an antique store with antique and vintage items.  It was fun to browse and see what they had, but nothing suited my fancy that day.

I stayed that night at Al’s Oasis campground, in Oacoma, South Dakota.  I had wanted to get a bit further on, to Mitchell, SD, but did you know that the time-zone changes in the middle of eastern South Dakota?  Yeah, me neither…  The tent area at Al’s Oasis was an open field, with water spigots marked non-potable (huh?).  It wasn’t too far to go get water though, and the grass was nice, if not totally exposed to all the RV campers nearby.  I talked to my parents on the phone that evening, and just relaxed a bit.  The main gripe I had with this campground was that the sound from the freeway carried right into my ears, and was loud and constant all night long.  I didn’t sleep well, and was crabby as a result.   Not all road trip experiences are good ones!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Ellsworth Air Force Base

Day 12, Friday, July 27, 2018

Box Elder, South Dakota is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base.  Ellsworth Air Force Base is home to an aviation museum called the South Dakota Air and Space Museum that is well worth a visit.  It is small, but they have exhibits about the base, the history of barnstorming in the area, satellite photography and other aviation related information.  They also discussed some of the local men and women who served in the Air Force here.  It was all really interesting.

When I got there, they were signing people up for the 3 pm bus tour of the base, which lasted 90 minutes.  Unfortunately, it was only 2:10 pm and I hadn’t planned to stay there until 4:30 pm.  I was tempted though!

Most of the display planes at the base were outside; I wandered among them at my leisure and took a lot of photos.  It was such a great museum, and free!  The base tour is $10, which is still very reasonable.  One day I’ll get back there and check it out.

As I was finishing up my wanders around the airplanes outdoors, it started to rain.  Big, fat raindrops of a type we rarely get in Washington.  I even needed my umbrella and made sure to get back the car in a hurry before I got soaked!

 

Circus Trip 2018: The Rockpile Museum

Day 11, Thursday, July 26, 2018

After I hiked at the Fetterman Fight site, it was time to get back on the road.  Rain had been threatening and as soon as I got back to the car, it started raining just a little.  I headed east on I-90 and drove for a bit before arriving in Gillette, Wyoming.

The Rockpile Museum, Gillette, Wyoming

Gillette has a small museum called the Rockpile Museum – it is free!  I stopped there and ate lunch at the picnic table that they had out front.  After lunch, I went inside and checked it out.  The Rockpile has exhibits on Wyoming’s history, from the fossil record up through present day.  Wyoming has some pretty incredible fossils; even some fish fossils with some really impressive teeth!

Other exhibits included a display of quilts, and other artifacts associated with pioneer life in Wyoming.  There were artifacts on the mining industry, as well as farming and ranching.  Outside museum there were two historic one-room schoolhouses that have been moved to the site.  It was such a fun little museum!  I didn’t check out more of Gillette, as my mom and I had spent a little bit of time there a few summers ago, but one day I would like to see more.

Back on the road, I crossed into South Dakota!  My 5th state! Soon, I arrived at my destination for the evening – Spearfish, SD.   Spearfish was such a cool town; I would love to spend more time there.

I arrived in South Dakota!

It was about 5 pm when I got into town, and I went downtown and found the Spearfish Brewing Company.  It had a modern, eclectic vibe; I had The Schwa beer – it was a blonde ale with pink guava added in.  It was so delicious, with a light citrusy flavor – perfect!  I sat at the bar and talked to my neighbors and journaled a bit – it was a nice chance to just relax.

My view at Spearfish Brewing Company

Afterwards, I went back to camp at the Spearfish KOA and made dinner; taco rice and sausage with a Huckleberry Lager that was brewed in Whitefish, Montana.  It was a nice evening!