Time for my second newsletter from Frankfort. I'll use the same format as before since that seems to go over well. Having a great time here and .. well, just read on.
Anyway, the caves. The tour was called the "Myst'ry River Voyage" (no, I didn't make a typo). Why "river"? Most caves tours, you walk into the cave, walk around for an hour or so ooohing and ahhing over the pretty formations (or not, as the case may be). This one was different. Entering the cave there was a short downhill walk and then the rest of the tour was by boat. Yes, that's right, by boat! Almost all of the cave system is flooded. There were hardly any formations, but that didn't matter. Every cave is different and this one certainly was different! And there's no lighting past the dock, just a small electric light at either end of the boat (which had an electric motor) and the torch carried by the guide. A very different atmosphere from the previous caves we'd been to. There's some 21 miles or so of river passages mapped, the tour covered 1.25 of them. The water was usually about 3 foot deep, tho' in places it was as much as 21 feet. That's normally - because it's a river, when there's a lot of rain, the level rises. In really heavy rains, the whole cave system fills with water (ie: no air) - one reason there's no wired lighting. Lots of wildlife there; we saw some albino fish, also an albino yabbie (crayfish) and a rather lost looking frog (not an albino). The trip was along a long winding channel with a few straight stretches, varying in height and width - at some points we had to duck or bend over to avoid hitting the walls and/or ceiling. An amusing thing about these caves was how they were discovered. In the 1940's a farmer walked out of his house one morning after a very heavy nights rain to find his pond had vanished, replaced by a deep hole. There was only a thin shelf between the pond and the cave below and the extra rain proved too much for it.
Back on the road again. Stopped for tea at Indianapolis, the state capital. Was late in the evening and the downtown area was pretty deserted. Walked around a bit, saw some of the architecture, both old and new. The old state Capitol (1888) is now the library and is pretty typical. The new one is most unlike any other I've seen here - it's functional rather than grand and elaborate. Saw a huge war memorial in the city centre. Continued north to Lebanon for the night.
22nd May, '98: Lafayette, Indiana
Arrived in Lafayette, county capital of Tippecanoe County - I jest not! Headed to the downtown and spent an hour or so walking around there, looking at the architecture etc. Guess it's pretty typical of most small US country cities. A few newer buildings, but most dating from the late 1800's to the 1920's or so. Spent quite a while going over the courthouse. Like most of its kind, a pretty imposing structure with lots of marble, the obligatory dome, statuary, columns and pediments. Ran into a guy who gave us a self-guided tour brochure and helped arrange a phone call to our motel from the previous night (left some stuff there). He turned out to be a superiour court judge. Goes to show not all legal types are slimeballs. Toured the building, from bottom to top - the top floor is reached only by hidden stairwells, was once an attic and now office space. Peeked into some courtrooms, tho' most were in use. The original 1906 lift is still in use, open and with lots of decorative iron grillwork. Still a very smooth ride after all those years. Built in the 1880's for $500,000, but the original budget was just $208,000. I guess government contract over-runs aren't anything new. Outside there's 100 columns, 16 nine foot statues and a neat looking fountain with blue coloured water. Also saw the "Red Crown", a restored 1928 petrol station (empty inside).
Saw Fort Quiatenon, built in 1717 by the French as an indian trading post and was the first fortified white settlement in the state. Wasn't opened when we got there so we just walked around the site. Each year they have an indian get-together there.
Spent two hours doing the walking tour of Purdue University, established in 1874 and undoubtedly Lafayette's biggest claim to fame. Actually was operating as a college from 1862 - a college in the USA offers only undergraduate degrees (bachelor's etc), a university also offers postgraduate stuff like doctorates. Purdue's one of the biggest, with over 64,000 students (36,000 at the main campus), an annual budget of a million dollars and one of the "Top 10" uni's in the country. Also has over two dozen graduates who've gone into space as astronauts. Even has its own airport! Saw lots of impressive architecture on the tour, both old and new. A lot of the newer seems to be vaguely Japanese in style. Lots of trees, beautiful fountains and small lakes/ponds. Two chemistry buildings which stand out from the others for their forest of fume chimneys on the roofs, the older also has names of famous chemists inscribed on the walls. University Hall (1877) is the oldest building on the campus, originally the only faculty building but is now (quite aptly) the home of the history department. The computer science building was once the gym, of all things. Two fountains deserve note; one in Founders Park has a fountain on a pedestal in the centre and several dozen jets coming from pillars arranged in a circle around it, about 5 metres away. The other is the Purdue Mall Fountain, a single jet going up about 50 feet with sculptured pillars around it containing coloured lights that come on at night. S'posed to be quite spectacular and it is on the front of the uni tour guide and the Lafayette tour guide as well. Near that fountain is the College Bell Tower, built from the remains of the old engineering building which blew up in 1894, days after it was built.
Last stop in Lafayette was the William Fowler House. He was a multimillionaire back in the mid 1800's - which meant a lot more back then than it does now. When he came to Lafayette the town was ridiculed as a joke and a folly by the residents of the regional centre, Crawfordville. Today Lafayette is home to Purdue Uni, lots of industries and 70,000 plus residents - pretty good for something that started out as a folly. And Crawfordville? It's now a small hick town in the middle of nowhere. The house (1851) was built in "Gothic revival style"; when Fowler was visiting some friends back east he picked up a book on Gothic Revival architecture and designed his own house from it. The entrance foyer is striking, done out to look like it's inside a castle, complete with fake stone block joints. He even had some Italian artisans brought in to do the fine work. It stayed in the family until the 1940's when it became a museum, so a lot of the original furniture remains. Several rooms remain as they were - very opulent! The remainder or the mansion contained exhibits on the Fowler family and life in early Lafayette. Impressive looking place, especially out the back with a huge patio with several tiers of stairs leading to the ground. Used to be extensive gardens, but they've gone now.
Impressions of Indiana? Very flat. Apart from a few low mountains in the south, the state is dead flat, from horizon to horizon nothing breaks the vista. Once out of the south, the only hills I saw were artificial. One amusing spot was an 8 mile stretch of roadworks. I said amusing? Yes, I did. Mile markers started off with encouraging messages and a frowny face :( then they turned into :| faces and finally into smiley faces :) as we neared the end of the roadworks. As well each has a funny message. The "no passing" signs were unintentionally funny .. just the single lane with nowhere to pass. Redundant signage! Also passed these mysterious concrete igloo's along the road - about 50 foot high. No idea what they were until we got to Chicago - they turn out to be salt stores for dicing the roads in winter.
23rd May, '98: Chicago - Day
Relatively quiet day - for a sight-seeing trip. Checked out the "WTTW Store of Knowledge", at nearby Vernon Hills, in the morning. Full of science stuff and toys of kids and adults. Sometimes it's hard to tell the two apart. The staff were certainly having fun playing with them. After lunch we saw the Chicago Botanical Gardens which is actually in Glencoe, about 12 miles north of the Chicago city limit. The 300 acre gardens are a beautiful display of floral colour and smell; with fountains, waterfalls, an english walled garden, a three island Japanese garden, a herb garden and even water lilies. Masses of colour. The whole thing was centred on a huge lake. Quite pretty. Some areas were quite bold in their layout, others subtle and delicate. Was a huge bronze statue of Paul Linnaeus, the father of modern botany (with several dozen "keep off the sculpture" signs). Spent 2-3 hours wandering around the trails. Was even an impressive bonsai display, one "pot" had a forest of six "bonzaied" trees in it, all about a metre tall.
After the gardens we headed to Long Grove, touted as a historic town full of antique stores and dating to the early 1800's. Even a real covered bridge there. By the time we got there the village had closed down for the day - it kept 9-5 hours even tho' sunset around Chicago was about 9:30pm (this time of the year). Hardly any signs of life at all. Quite a quaint little place. Was a main street, but most of the shops were on small, winding cobbled paths and plaza's off the main street. Even an old mill. Some looked old-fake, others seemed to be the genuine thing.
24th May, '98: Chicago - Day
2. Field Museum
Went to our host's church. Different in some ways but similar in others. Casual style like I'm used to, also familiar songs - even two from Hillsongs back home in Sydney. But not much participation: half an hour of songs, some notices and then a sermon and that was it. Still, it was enjoyable. A nice touch of home with the songs.
After lunch went into Chicago proper. Parked at Grant Park (well *under* the park). Walked thru' the park a bit. Full of sculptures and the like. Right near where we entered there was two huge statues of indians on horses (in the buff). Behind them was two massive carved sandstone columns, perhaps once the gateposts? Plus a huge fountain, the Buckingham Fountain (1927). Lots of water sprays and in a constantly changing pattern. Quite pretty and photogenic - and controlled by computer all the way from Atlanta, Georgia! Walked for a while along the shore of Lake Michigan. If not for the lack of salt spray, one couldn't tell it was a lake and not the ocean. Couldn't see the far side. Was even a marina and a breakwater. But watch out for the insane cyclists - they are just as bad as those on the roads there: very aggressive and waaaaay over the speed limit, the slow lane on the highways was at least 30kph over the speed limit. The northern end of the park is surrounded by the "new" downtown, all the newer and higher skyscrapers. The southern end of the park is in the "old" section, where the buildings are only of "modest" height - for Chicago, that is, only about 20 stories and dating to the 1920's and earlier and covered with quite beautiful and intricate carvings and sculptures.
South of the park is the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium, all named after those who donated the money to set them up and housed in impressive buildings, the former two looking like Greek temples with huge columns out front. We just toured the Field Museum, founded in 1893 by Marshall Field, and spent three hours at it. You'd probably need three days to do it justice. As you enter you come face to face with a huge, reconstructed skeleton of a T. Rex - comforting - and beyond that was life sized models of two elephants and beyond that a three storey Maori totem pole (can't think off hand what they are called). Lots of permanent exhibits as well as temporary ones, including plants and animals, the history (natural and human) of various regions and races and more. The three most expansive sections were those on the American indians, the ancient Egyptians and "life over time" which included the dinosaur section. We went over just those three. The "Amerindian" exhibit was a traditional museum display with display cabinets filled with artifacts of those peoples; clothes, weapons, tools, artwork, jewellery and much more from indian tribes all over north America. Was also a recreation (full sized) of an indian smoke-lodge. A fascinating insight into a people given what most people know of them comes from TV westerns, not noted for their even vaguely realistic portrayal of the indians.
The second exhibit we checked out was the ancient Egyptian one and it was every bit as grand as the building. You entered at the upper level of the exhibit which was a partial reconstruction of a pyramid, mostly fake but it was a faithful "fake". Some of the corridors were covered with reconstructed carvings and paintings, which you could touch, others were covered with the real thing (and sealed behind plastic panels). Was even a few real relics found in Egyptian graves including a statue of a god and a sarcophagus. The second level of the exhibit was an amazing collection of Egyptian antiquity, pretty much some of everything you'd associate with ancient Egypt. In addition to the pottery and suchlike things of every day life there was jewellery, tablets, figurines, statues of gods and goddesses, a copy of a scroll of the Egyptian "Book of the Dead", a funeral barge from some Pharaohs tomb ... oh, and lots and lots of mummies, from Pharaohs to those of a more humble station in life. It was just packed full. And much of it was in a pyramid-like maze, the walls lined with blocks of sandstone and with subdued lighting to give a very striking atmosphere. Just that exhibit was worth the entry fee and more.
The final exhibit we went thru' was the "life over time" which traced life on earth from its genesis to the rise of humanity. We were after the dinosaur section in the middle - we'd heard they were due to exhibit the restored head of a T.Rex, the only complete one in the US. Alas it wasn't there yet. The first part of the exhibit was interactive and was the whole exhibit was the most popular one in the museum. Quite a nice collection of dinosaur skeletons, even a few body reconstructions. Also quite a few giant but extinct mammals like the mammoth and its contemporaries. Could've spent ages more there but alas closing time arrived.
Retrieved the car and headed to a lovely but busy Italian restaurant in downtown Chicago that went by the name of Scoozi's. A very Italian atmosphere (as if I'd know a real one from a fake ... but our waitress did have a strong Italian accent, least I think it was Italian) and the food was even better. Reasonably priced too.
25th May, '98: Old World Wisconsin
Left Chicago today .. left even the state (Illinois) and went to Wisconsin, to the north. Destination was "Old World Wisconsin" near Eagle. An outdoor museum on the pioneer settlers of that state, covering over 575 acres with a village and 10 outlying farms (plus other sundry buildings). All the buildings are originals (no reconstructions), collected from around the state - even the outhouses are the genuine things, tho' no longer in use (for sanitary reasons). The museum is set up in areas, each representing one of the main immigrant groups who settled the state (not the indians, they'd been driven out by then): German, Norwegian, Polish, Danish, Finnish and Yankee (native born european-americans). The village was a melting pot of all these and more. Wasn't just a static display; there were actors and volunteers dressed up in period costumes explaining things and also performing carefully researched period duties from the 1800's such as blacksmithing, farming, a washerwoman, farmers, an inn-keeper, maids, cooks, gossiping, wagon-making, store-keepers and more.
Carefully researched is actually the key to the whole thing - the houses were originals, but their furnishings and contents (down to the smallest items), the clothing the guides wore and the things they did were all carefully researched. They spent 12 years researching that and more before the museum was opened to the public (in 1976) with just 10 buildings. And they are still expanding - they are now in the process of setting up an afro- American section and have the land for many more. Each of the buildings in the ethnic sections were built by people of that origin, using their unique styles, it's not just a hodgepodge of old buildings and/or reproductions with little care to historical accuracy like I've seen in many other places I've been to. They also have special performances and events during the year - Christmas, civil war, harvest and the like. There's a 20 minute slide show explaining the history of the museum, its philosophy etc.
One warning - don't skimp on the small extra charge for the trolley-bus ride around the museum. Without it there's just no way you could see everything in one day, it's just so big - and you'll still get plenty of exercise between bus stops.
First stop was Caldwell Hall, built in 1874 as a farmer's co-op club for festivals, dances etc. Today it's full of 19th century toys and games for kids and adults. Moving on from there we reached the village itself. Harmony Town Hall (1876) from Rock County was a typical town hall of its time. Pretty bare inside, tho' an unusual feature was its heating system: near the entrance there was an iron stove with a flue that travelled to the back of the roof, hung from the ceiling. Arriving on a cold winter's day (and all winter's days are COLD in Wisconsin), one would warm oneself at the stove while the rest of the room was kept warm by the flue. Quite ingenious. The Sanford House (1858) was a typical "Yankee" style middle-class home. The Sanford's operated a successful grain farm and that success was reflected in the relative richness of the furnishings. Nothing posh, mind you, but certainly a step up from some of the others who were struggling farmers, not far from the subsistence level.
The village proper was huddled around a road intersection, which was typical of that time (and still is today for small country villages and towns in the US), and had several establishments. The Four Mile Inn (1850's) was originally set up by the Dodge Co. stage coach line. Despite having a bar and being an inn, it never served alcohol (brings to mind the Aussie folk song "Pub with no Beer"). In fact, by the 1870's it also served as the meeting place for the local temperance chapter (anti-alcohol movement). The Sinsel Shoe Shop had the shop in the front with a small selection of period footwear (all too small for me!), behind that was a workshop and to the side a small kitchen and an even tinier family room where the Sinsel family slept and did anything else they did together. Just enuf room to swing a cat - abiet a small one. The Thomas General Store was stocked with merchandise typical of the 1880's and was originally operated by a Welshman. Lots of stuff there including cloth, spices, nails, tea and coffee, smoked fish (stunk!) - pretty much anything the average pioneer couldn't make themselves. A very genial "storekeeper" there too!
Across the road from the store was the wagon workshop (a mix of a blacksmith and a woodworker) and a blacksmith. The former was closed - sadly not enuf staff for all the buildings, but this only affected a few buildings in the village: the wagon shop, a house and the church. The smithy was open and the blacksmith pounding away making "J" and "S" hooks, which were in huge demand back then. he seemed quite knowledgeable about his craft too. "Next door" was the house of Mary Hafford, a widow from Ireland who earnt her living as a town washerwoman - the lowest job in frontier America. Still, she managed to earn enuf to live a reasonably comfortable life and to see her daughters off into lives of their own. Was even a church in the town: St. Peter's, the first Catholic church in Milwaukee (1839) and the oldest dated structure in the museum, alas it was closed for repairs. At this point we stopped for lunch - which was at the Clausing barn (1897), an unusual octagonal shaped barn, the only one of its kind left. Even the restaurant and museum service buildings (offices, shop, etc) were in period buildings.
After lunch we headed to the German-Polish section. A lot of Germans settled in the state - almost a million by 1900. Three german-style farms, complete with out-buildings and farmland. The Schulz (1856) and Koepsell (1858) were built using the traditional "fachwerk" method - half timber, half mortar. Quite distinctive from the outside. At the latter farm "farmers" had just loaded up some piglets onto a horse-drawn cart as we arrived. Not long after one of them streaked past us headed back to its mum, closely followed by a frustrated farmer. The other german farm was the Schottler farm (1847), built in the "blockbau" or log style, another traditional german form. One different feature of the Schulz farm was the smokeroom inside the house, where all the cooking was also done. While most roofs were shingled, some of the german buildings had thatched ones, such as the Koepke Barn at the Koepsell's farm. The Kruza House (1884) was built by a polish family and was unusual for having just two unconnected (by doors) rooms, one for the living quarters, the other for chickens. Also a different construction style - most log cabins were made by laying long logs along the line of the walls, in this house short lengths of wood were stacked at right angles to the line of the wall and secured into place with mortar; all you saw of the logs were the ends.
Next up was the Scandinavian section. The Rasberry School (1896) was built by three families for this kids schooling. 'Cuz of their remoteness, the harsh winters and an unusual US law that forbid married female teachers, they pretty much had a new teacher each year. The Fossebrekke Farm (1845) was a comparatively primitive log cabin compared to the much more elaborate Kvalle Farm (1848), tho' it too was just a log cabin. The Danish part of the museum was the Pedersen Farm (1872), and that exhibit was dedicated by the Queen of Denmark! The final section was the Finnish one, represented by two farms, the Rankinen's (1890's) and Ketola's (1910). The latter had a lot of outbuildings including a sauna - with a very low ceiling.
26th May, '98: Chicago - Chicago
Historical Museum, bus tour, Hancock Building
Spent the morning going over the Chicago Historical Society's Museum, not as big as the Field museum, but still quite impressive. The first floor had a display on Fort Dearbon and Chicago's birth. In the 18th century it was a French trading post and the region very much indian territory. A treaty in 1795 gave the area around Chicago to the US and in 1805 they built a fort there. In 1830 Chicago was born. There's relics from those days as well as a wall assembled from logs of the original Fort. Next to it is the Illinois Pioneer Life Gallery with exhibits depicting the life of the times. Working exhibits - weaving, candlemaking, a covered wagon (for a family to head west), a printers shop, a kitchen and more. Several of them had guides to explain and demonstrate the stuff in the exhibits. Upstairs, in addition to the two permanent exhibits on Chicago and US history, was a mostly photographic history of Chicago's West Side. One notable thing in the real West Side story was back in the 1960's when a large chunk of the area was demolished for the University of Illinois and which caused a lot of riots. Even Martin Luther King Jr. got involved with it - to no avail in the end.
The first of the major exhibits was on Chicago's history, from its birth to the present. Photographic displays, artifacts, documents and a few surprising things such as a complete steam train engine and an 1800's fire engine. Also a video on the fire itself (incidentally, they had to remove a wall to get the train engine in). Some of the other exhibits included pieces of decorative building facades and the story of the birth of the skyscraper (which was born when downtown Chicago was rebuilt after the fire).
The second permanent exhibit was on the two wars that shaped the US - the revolutionary and civil wars. The artifacts in this section on the personal - clothing, letters, toys etc - which were used to tell the story of the people who made the history. Also some displays on the events leading up to the revolutionary war and latter the civil war. Some of the revolutionary war artifacts include copies and originals of indian treaties (quickly broken by the US), one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence (22 others exist), the first US flag, one of less than 20 copies of the original US constitution and a 1789 version of the Bill of Rights. One thing apparent from the exhibit was that contrary to popular belief, the revolutionary war was not a "war of the people", in fact the indians, the poor, the slaves - the common people - preferred english rule since that kept the predatations of the rich "yankee" landowners within some degree of control. Instead it was those same landowners - the rich - who pushed for and carried on the war. Also that "we the people" was a rather hypocritical claim - "we" did not include women, slaves, the poor, the indians or even the "average" man. In fact in the early decades of the "land of the free", only the wealthy were allowed to vote. No wealth, no vote. That's something you don't hear about in the history books. I was amazed at the frankness of this part of the exhibit. Mind you, listening to the news here one suspects nothing really has changed from those early days.
The civil war exhibit was quite different from ones I'd seen in the "south" - predictably enuf. While Southern museums emphasised the political and economic causes and being paramount (and hardly mention slavery at all), here one gets the impression that it was only about slavery. Given there were slaves in the "north" as well, I suspect the issue of slavery was just a convenient cause to catch the support of the "people" - in this case "people" being the so- called "average person". Anyway, small surprise that it focused on the Union side of the war. had stuff and displays on Lincoln including the furnishings of the room he died in. Still, the exhibit did demonstrate the wrongness of slavery and the horrifying bloodiness of war. Over 600,000 died in the war, almost as many as have been killed in every other war the US has fought combined, before and since. 50,000 died in POW camps and almost half of those who died did so from disease or infection. Kinda removes any hint of glory from the war.
Had lunch in the Cheesecake Factory, a rather unusually decored restaurant at the bottom of the Hancock Building. You pay a bit more for the food, but it more than makes up for it in quantity and quality. Delicious! After lunch checked out the Water Tower, built in 1869 and the only building in downtown Chicago to survive the water. To look at it in all it's Gothic finery, you'd be hard pressed to believe it was built as a water pumping station! Oh, and 193 feet tall.
Went on a 90 minute bus tour of the downtown area on a special Chicago Motor Co. bus (yes, that's a plug for 'em). The bus was a double-decker, but with the roof of the top floor gone, so sitting on the top level you had an unrestricted view of the city. None of the other tours I saw offered that - apart from the very expensive horse-drawn carriage tour, which while quaint, was a lot less comprehensive. During the tour a guide gave us the history and local gossip on many of the places we went past and pointed out many unusual features, both old and new. Some of the things he pointed out were the Union Carbide building - gold plated at the top; the 15 bridges spanning the Chicago River, all of which could open up for river traffic; Marina City, twin cylinder shaped sky- scrapers with apartments, shops, a park (!), entertainment and sporting facilities, car park and a marina at the bottom level, all built pretty close to, if not on the site of Fort Dearborn; the House of Blues where you can catch some great blues music; the Criminal Court (1892), which used to have gallows out the back; the AMA Building, mirrored finished and with a "hole" (for lack of a better term) near the top; Bloomingdales with a castle-like top; a building built by the Kennedy family which, while not all that tall by Chicago standards, covers so much area it has its own postal code; the nicknamed Jukebox Building which is covered in mirrored glass and offers a light show at night - even has a penthouse at the top; Sears Tower, which at 106 storey's (110 according to the Guiness Book of Records) is the tallest in the world; a skyscraper with a church built on top, looking as if it'd been lifted off the ground and dropped there; Lasalle St, nicknamed the Canyon because of all the crowding skyscrapers along its length; the Chicago Hilton with 1,500 rooms, a helicopter pad on the roof and rooms starting from $5000 a night - mind you coming with a limo and driver, a maid and a butler ... should at that cost! The Chicago Tribune Building has a most unusual architecture, lots of flying buttresses and very Gothic looking - its design actually the result of a competition! There was much more, Chicago's a big place after all.
After the tour we headed to the Hancock Building. For $8 you can go up to the Observation Deck on the 94th floor or you can visit the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor and catch the same view - for the price of a drink. Expensive drinks tho' - a soft drink costs $4. Still, the view was worth it. Fantastic. You could see all of Chicago - in fact on a clear day you can see four states. Very panoramic. A must for any visitor to Chicago. The Sears tower is taller, but all the locals said the view from Hancock is better 'cuz of its location (Sears is in the middle of the downtown, Hancock is at one end). Thru' one window you could see all of downtown Chicago, thru' another the West Side, thru' another the wharfs, shore frontage and Lake Michigan. Even from the 96th floor you couldn't see to the other side of the lake.
27th May, '98: Chicago's Southside;
Time to head back south. Took about 90 minutes to get thru' Chicago, thankfully not much traffic. Crossed the border into Indiana and ran almost right away into some major roadworks and some even more major traffic. It was literally inching along. After a few miles of that we took a side road ... only to run into more roadworks there! Took a detour for that and ran into yet more roadworks. Least the last lot weren't making too many traffic hassles. Some nice country road driving tho' near the end of the detour we passed thru' the suburb of Calumet - actually part of Chicago that had spread over the border. It was a slum. Full of ramshackle homes and tenements and as for the business district, at least 80% of the shops etc were closed and boarded up or, as in a lot of cases, burnt out shells where the rubble hadn't even been cleared away. Not a very pleasant or safe looking place. Thankfully we got thru' there pretty quickly. It was like nothing I'd seen or heard of back in Australia .. the kind of thing you expect to see in poor third world countries, not in the world's richest country!
Stopped again at Lafayette for lunch and then headed east to Battle Ground - odd name for a town. There's a museum and memorial there which marks the Tippecanoe battlefield, the last big yankee- indian battle east of the Mississippi. Also marked the death-knell for indian chief Tecumseh's hopes of an indian confederacy to halt the "whites" or at least deal with them on equal terms. The museum had a brief history of the indians of the area but mostly dwelt on the factors and events leading up to the war and its aftermath. Tecumseh was well on his way to achieving his goal, thanks in part to some undeclared english support from Detroit - which was in Canadian hands at the time. Alas, while away looking for more tribes to follow his lead, his brother, an ex- alcoholic turned religious fanatic, shanghaied his "army" and attached the yankee's and lost badly. That was the battle of Tippecanoe (in 1811). Tecumseh's reputation and his hopes for an indian confederacy were destroyed and he retreated to Canada where he joined the english in the 1812 war between England (via Canada) and the US. Tecumseh and his irregulars were instrumental in helping beat off US attacks (he was made a general), but he was killed in battle in 1813. Still, without his help, it's conceivable that much of Canada would today be part of the US. Coincidently, in 1812 he attacked and burnt down the original Fort Dearborn, which latter became Chicago. By 1830, the last of the indians in Indiana and the mid-west had been forcibly removed to Kansas on the "trail of Death", a harsh 660 mile march, where one in eight died - an all too common tale. The battlefield itself is marked by a large granite monument, erected in memory of the "whites who died in valiant battle". No mention of those who died trying to save their homes, their families, their land. Still, the park itself is almost 130 years old and the monument not much younger, so I guess that's not surprising. There is a much smaller monument *outside* the park dedicated to Tecumseh and his people - apparently a child of his people was adopted by a white couple, given their name and his descendants still live in the area today, so I guess Tecumseh's hopes that the land would stay with his people was fulfilled, in a small way. Those descendants put up the smaller memorial.
Headed on to Corydon, near the Kentucky border. Couldn't find any reasonably priced accommodation, so after a long search ended up at a quaint little place somewhere near Brandenburg, Kentucky. "Abe's Log Cabin's and Motel". Really were log cabins. Quite a bit of luxury - even had a microwave and a verandah out back with a southern style swing. Quite a nice place actually, tho' a bit run- down. The office was a country style general store, a very eclectic collection: souvenirs, food, some bottles of coke that look like they'd been there for decades, masses of that "junk" you find in offbeat tourist shops, then there were videos and computer game and even furniture, all crammed into the shop. Certainly had atmosphere, one has to give it that!
28th May, '98: Corydon, Wyandotta
Caves and Leavenworth, Indiana
Headed back north to Corydon. Spent almost two hours doing the historic walking tour of the town, which was Indiana's second capital from 1813 to 1825 when it moved to Indianapolis - the capital, not Corydon moved, that is. Saw the Branham Tavern (1800), now a country clothing store; Constitution Elm, under whose shade on a hot summers day the final draft of the Indiana Constitution was worked out and signed into law (the desk that was used was on display in the museum we latter toured), alas the tree fell victim to the elm beetle and is now just a preserved stump. The Westfall House (1807), a log house and one of the oldest in Corydon. The railway station offers scenic train rides - on Fridays and weekends. Oh well. The train itself was a museum piece from Maryland. The Corydon Democrat is housed in an 1842 federal style building. The Kinter House served as the HQ for General Morgan, who captured Corydon during the civil war before marching onto Ohio. Had lunch at Jock's Lunch, a nice little place reminiscent of english (or Aussie) "fish 'n' chip" shops. You don't see many non-chain fast food stores here any more. Corydon is also the site of Indiana's only civil war battle.
Then toured the Governor Hendrick's HQ Museum (1817), the rooms of which were furnished to represent the various people to live in the house up until when it became a museum. The original owner went bankrupt and Gov. Hendrick, Indiana's second elected governor (his predecessor wasn't elected but took over when the first gov. died in office), rented it from 1822-1825. In 1841 Judge William Porter bought the house and it remained in his family until 1979 when it became a museum. Two of the rooms are done out as they would have appeared in the days of Gov. Hendrick, mostly with period stuff, but some items belonging to the governor, including his portable desk where he drafted the constitution under the elm tree and an Eli Terry clock, which has a reverse painting on the front so it could be claimed as a piece of artwork for tax purposes - clocks were taxed, artwork wasn't. From 1825 to 1840 the building served as offices and the like, housing a doctor's surgery (there's still a blood stain on the wooden floor) and Corydon's first hospital. One room represent's that period. The remainder of the house is furnished depicting different times in the Porter residence there. Porter had 7 daughters, all but three died young. His married daughter married and stayed in the area and when his wife died, moved into the house with her family. Unusual for the times, of her seven kids, only two married and only one had children. One of the unmarried kids was the last resident in the house and was a history buff, so upon their death the house was richly furnished and well kept. Outside there's a sculptured garden and a bathhouse - a rare luxury back then.
After that quickly went thru' the Capitol building built in 1816. No gleaming dome here, it was only ever a temporary Capitol. A two- storey brick building with what looks like a small bell-tower at the top. After the capital moved it was used as the county courthouse until the 1920's when a new one was built and the old one restored as a museum to how it looked back in it's brief days of glory as the state Capitol. The lower floor was the representatives chamber, the upper divided into the superiour court and the senate chambers. All rather sparsely furnished. The move of the capital to Indianapolis was planned from the start so everything was rather "temporary", in fact one land speculator went bust in a big way when he bought up big in and around Corydon hoping people would buy when it became the capital, alas the "powers that be" rented instead. The Hendrick's Museum was actually built as his family home but was then rented out.
Corydon lies within 30 minutes drive of three tourist caves - the Marengo Caves, famed for it's formations; the Squire Boone Caverns, discovered by Daniel and Squire Boone, the latter is actually buried in the caves and there's also a pioneer village there; the third is the Wyandotte Caves. We ended up visiting the latter. Lots of history there: was used by the indians both as a flint mine and cold storage for food (it's 11 Celsius all year 'round), during the civil war it was mined for saltpetre (tho' thankfully only at the entrance), some workers in the 1850's who were digging out passages were also counterfeiting during the nights. In the 1880's a businessman cornered the onion market and used the cave as storage - heavy rain followed by a drought ruined his investment. Also *very* heavily graffited, even advertisements! But that's historic in a way since it pretty much all dates to the 19th century and thankfully it's only in the more accessible sections. In addition to the graffiti, up until about the 1940's explorers in the caves built cairns all over the place, one cave has dozens of them, inscribing names and dates. From 1867 until the 1970's a mysterious group known as the Odd Fellows used one of the caves as their meeting and feast hall, still contains all their furnishings.
Not many formations and the cave system is pretty dry, but there are some pretty amazing sections in the "new" part of the cave system. New as in more recently discovered. One narrow section of the cave is simply packed chock full of small white formations called helicites, growing in every direction, seemingly ignorant of the laws of gravity. Looks like a forest. The experts have not the slightest idea how they formed. They don't even look like the usual cave formations, but they are still "alive". Just goes to show that no two caves are the same. Most of the caves there were dry and full of dust, a mix of dried mud and bat guano. Actually a fair bit like Blue Springs Caverns, but without the water. One other unusual feature is that there's a lot other other mineral formations, lots of gypsum needles, small delicate things scattered over much of the cave and also a lot of epsomite (epsom salt), tiny powdery crystals on the walls and ceilings. One last thing of note is the Monument Mountain Room. In the centre of the room is a huge pile of rockfall, at the top of which is a 12 foot tall stalagmite. The ceiling above it has a huge circular hole in it with formations around the edges, but the room is so large it's hard to get a perspective. The strange thing about the recess in the ceiling is that it changes shape depending on where you view it from and except from directly underneath, it actually looks like it's part of the wall. Weird.
Headed west to Leavenworth. The Overlook Restaurant offers a magnificent view of a bend in the Ohio River and the surrounding countryside, a fair height up too. Also at Leavenworth is the Stephenson & Co. General Store. Was originally built on the river bank in 1896 along with the rest of the town. With the flood of 1937 the whole town was moved up the hill. The store's guest book dates back to 1896 and is a pretty hefty tome! A bit like the store at Abe's Cabin's from yesterday, tho' without the "packrat" atmosphere that one had.
Last stop on the trip was the Falls of the Ohio at the twin city of Louisville, KY and Clarkesville-Jefferson, Indiana. Used to be a 26 foot drop of rapids over a mile or so but all but a few feet have been replaced by a dam. Must've once looked really impressive. The dam did expose a lot of fossil beds, which is now the attraction of the area. Also a nice nature trail. Walking along the trail, it's hard to believe you are surrounded on all sides by a large city. Further up there are some pretty neat views of Louisville across the river. Some pretty good canoeing on the rapids from what I saw.
Arriving at Lexington, we first stopped at the Mary Todd-Lincoln house (1803). Originally a stagecoach inn before the Todd family moved in. Mary Todd was the wife of Abraham Lincoln; she had 12 years of formal schooling, more than most of Lincoln's cabinet! She didn't have a good time of things during the Civil War - her husband was the Union president while her family was staunchly confederate. She was seen as a spy by the unionists and a traitor by the confederates. After Lincoln's death, her surviving son tried to get his hands on her money by having her committed to an asylum - she was soon able to "prove" her sanity and regain control of her wealth. The house contains some Todd and Lincoln family pieces, but it's mostly "period", and fairly upper-crust stuff at that. One piece that caught my eye was a vase which had two dragons entwined around the outside. Todd had a library of some 350 books, which was sizable back then and was what attracted Lincoln to the family. It's a three-story house, the daughters slept on the 2nd floor and their rooms were pretty luxurious, the boys were stuck up in the attic and their quarters looked little better than those of the slaves! Whether that instilled in them a spirit of hardiness is hard to say, but they certainly had the reputation of being the town terror's in their teenage years.
Did the downtown walking tour. Big difference from some of the other "big" cities I've been to this trip, Lexington has just the one skyscraper at a modest 30 story's. Triangle Park has a 100-foot long fountain with 100 jets of water. Was a bit windy while we were there and it was blowing the water onto the road. Across from the park is Victorian Square, a block of Victorian style shop-fronts. St. Paul's RC church (1868), in Gothic style, has a 220 foot tall spire and some lovely stained glass windows inside as well as lots of columns and a high, arching ceiling. Transylvania University, founded 1780 - the first west of the Alleghenies (in Virginia). Had a look at some of the buildings there - even a log cabin from one of Lexington's founders. Cassius ("I am the Greatest") Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, was a student there. Across from the uni is Gratz Park, cool and shady with a rather unusual fountain and fronting onto a street full of the homes of the upper-crust from the early 1800's.
One of these homes is the Hunt-Morgan House (1814), built by Kentucky's first millionaire, John Hunt. His grandson was the famous (or infamous) confederate general, John Hunt Morgan. His grandson won the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his work in genetics. Despite being the richest man in town, it wasn't all that elaborate. Rich, yes, but not opulent. Unlike many such places, the house wasn't filled up with period pieces, but is furnished as it would have appeared in John Hunt's day. Quite a lot of family stuff too. The guide was very thorough, he certainly knew a lot about the place. He even exposed some common tales one hears in such places as urban myths - there were few closets not because they were taxed but simply because they weren't needed. A common door design often called the "cross and bible" because of the layout of its six panels was not, rather it was just the most structurally sound way to build the door - in fact it came from the Puritan's who would have been very much against the idea of a "cross and bible" door. The other myth was about the so-called "petticoat tables" which had mirrors underneath, supposedly for ladies to check their petticoats. In fact they were "pier tables" and went between windows. Not only were many of them too short to serve as "petticoat tables", but they predated petticoats! At least every second house-museum I've been to here, a guide has given me one of those myths as "gospel". I daresay there are a lot more. Anyway, the guide gave us a very detailed history of most of the pieces in the house.
Also was a civil war museum in the house, one room on General Morgan, the other containing artifacts from both sides. This little museum doesn't try to tell a moral story, doesn't even try to tell the story of the war, just the life of one man. The guide said (in his view) that the reason for the war was economic and slavery. Much of the wealth was in the north, but the south had the resources. Also slavery was, by then, becoming uneconomical in the north - with changes in farming practices and the crops being grown, it was more economical in the north to hire workers at need, rather than keep slaves (they had to be fed and housed, workers don't). Southern farm practices were ideal for using slave labour and so it was not only economical, it was "essential" for the economy. Also some interesting things about Kentucky and Lexington. Jefferson Davis, the confederate president, and Abraham Lincoln, the union one, both lived in Lexington at the same time before the war. During the war Kentucky was really neutral and made a huge fortune selling food, arms and horses to both sides. While the war impoverished the rest of the US, Kentucky went thru' a boom time. Not too surprising, since the Union and Confederate presidents were both locals - talk about sitting on the fence and milking both sides. And even tho' Kentucky eventually "sided" with the north, after the war it became increasingly southern-looking and today it is more "southern" than some of the "real" southern states.
Continued the walking tour. Saw the Carnegie Hall (once the city library) and the County Courthouse, a huge building with all the obligatory columns, Greek stuff and a dome. A bronze statue of General Hunt out the front. Henry Clay's Law Office is nestled in a crook of the Presbyterian church - Clay is considered by many historians to have been the US' greatest senator and he settled in Lexington in 1797. Lots of other things on the tour, but that's all we had time for.
On the way back to Frankfort we stopped to have a look at the Pisgah Presbyterian Church and the Castle. The church is a small, shaded limestone building while the latter actually is a castle in the traditional sense, tho' the walls are a bit low. Has turrets, 70 foot high corner towers and the works. Was intended as a private residence back in the early '70's but the owner went bankrupt before it could be completed. Now for sale, tho' I'd hate to think what the price tag is!
19th June, '98: Shaker Village,
Went to "Shaker Village" which is at Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg - Kentucky's first white settlement. The Shaker's were an offshoot of the Quaker's, founded by Ann Lee in 1774. In 1805 three Shaker's travelled to central Kentucky and established a mission. By 1830 their village had 500 people - one of the largest settlements in the state at the time. Dwindling converts and the economic depression in the south after the civil war saw the settlement dwindle and by 1910 there were just 12 left when they formally disbanded and sold off the property. The last died in 1923 and within a year everything had been auctioned. From 1924 to the mid 60's the buildings formed the town of Pleasant Hill when it was restored to its original state in the form of a "living museum".
The Village is a living museum, that is, the guides are dressed in period costume and perform duties that were done when the Shaker's were living there. Throughout the year there are religious festivals held as well as demonstrations/workshops on the craftwork that the Shakers were famous for - spinning, chair making, rug making etc. They saw work as being worship and worship as work so their craftwork was of an exceedingly high standard, but simple, elegant and durable. What the Shakers crafted, they made to last forever - they built their buildings with the intent that they'd last a millennium. Not afraid of innovation, it was the Shaker's who invented clothes pegs, the straw broom, the packets of seeds you can today buy in the store, among other things. There are also permanent displays of broom making, carpentry, coopering, spinning, weaving and the like. There are also daily sessions on Shaker music and theology as well as guided tours.
The 30-odd buildings in the village were split into three essentially self-sufficient sections, the West, Centre and East Families. Each with its own dormitory, wash house, workshops and sundry buildings. "Families"? The Shakers did not believe in the traditional "nuclear family" or marriage (they were celibate), instead converts joined one of the extended families, where they lived, worked and worshipped. The East Family was for those young in the faith, new converts and the like. The Centre Family was for those of a more mature faith - it was here that the village's leaders lived, where most of the skilled workers (such as the doctor) lived. In time one graduated to the West Family, where those of more mature years lived. West of the West Family lay the Shaker's cemetery. A Shaker's life was a steady progression from the East Family westwards until they reached the cemetery. This typifies Shaker life, which was highly ordered, with rules regulating all facets of life such as having to start up stairs on the right foot! Most of the buildings have been restored to their state in the mid 1800's, although the Trustee's Office is now a restaurant and some of the buildings provide somewhat pricey accommodation for guests.
We started off with the guided tour which took us through the Centre Family dwelling house, then to the Meeting House and along the village street to the East Family section. The dwelling house is a huge four-story building built in the 1820's and it typifies Shaker life. Being celibate, the dwelling was split down the middle, one side for the sisters, the other for the brothers, each almost mirror reflections of the other. Each had its own doorway, its own stairways, sleeping rooms, closets and so forth. The dining room was likewise split into two by a row of columns. During the day the women would be in and around the Dwelling, the men in the fields and the craftshops. The ground floor was the basement, for storage and also the summer kitchens. Now houses an exhibit on Shaker life and customs. The first floor contains the kitchens, dining hall and sleeping quarters - they slept several to a room. Above that was the infirmary, more sleeping quarters, some workshops and the meeting hall where both sexes met - to debate such things as religion and politics. Above that there were more storerooms and bedrooms. Everything was very plain and functional, but at the same time with an air of simplistic elegance and permanence that characterises Shaker work (and comfortable!). At its peak, the Centre Dwelling had 40 rooms and 100 inhabitants.
There were many things on the tour of the Dwelling that stuck out, both the dwelling and its furnishings and also the tales and background that the guide provided. The Shakers ate in silence, they provided a vegetarian fare as well as the traditional "meat and veggies" (in fact the Shaker's pioneered the concept of vegetarianism, tho' for them it was a matter of choice, some were vegetarians, others were not). They got up at 4am, started work at 6am and went to bed at 9pm, had piped water and every room had had a row of pegs in the wall at head height for holding lamps, chairs when not needed and so on - both for decorative and functional uses. They also believed in daily bathing, segregation of the sick, rotating jobs and sexual and racial equality. They must've had something - in a time when the average lifespan was not much more than 40, the Shakers averaged 71! Their belief in sexual and racial equality did lead them into trouble quite a few times in racist and sexist 19th century America. I guess in a lot of ways they were 100 years or more ahead of their time. At a time when women had few rights and were not allowed to own property or hold public office, many Shaker settlements were run by a woman and quite a few Elders were "black".
Facing the Centre Family Dwelling was the Meeting House where the whole community gathered for worship. Unlike the Quakers, from whom the Shakers were an offshoot, Shaker services were not staid, conservative affairs. They were wild and charismatic. The Shakers would have been right at home with the more "sensational" Christian churches (such as those into the "Toronto Blessing" and similar styles). Very spiritualistic. Wild dervish-like dancing and "spirit-led" things such as speaking in tongues and frenetic shaking (hence their name) - saw a news item on a church in Florida recently where exactly those things happened this year. But they weren't really "Christian", they were into a lot of spiritualist stuff, communication with the spirits of the dead, channeling and the like (Napoleon was a frequent "guest").
After the tour we went to a lecture on Shaker theology. Shaker belief and society was based on four principles, separation from the world, daily confession of sin (if you didn't confess, someone would do it for you!), celibacy and communal living - there was no personal property, everything belonged to the "family", a very Marxist philosophy that pre-dated Karl Marx. They believed in a dual nature of God, both male and female, that the second coming of Jesus had already happened and he came as a woman (tho' they drew short of claiming he .. her .. was their founder, Ann Lee), that all people were children of God and everyone was a brother or sister - hence any marriage or sexual act would be incest. One surprising claim was that Ann Lee was said to have been "intimate" with Jesus - and intimate means what you probably think it does. Of course, since she forbade the writing down of any of her teachings while she was alive and it wasn't until the third generation of Shakers that their beliefs were written down, it's a bit hard to be sure just what she actually claimed and what was added by latter "generations". Incidentally, there is still a Shaker community - in the state of Maine in the US north-east. The Shakers were also pacifists, which got them in a lot of trouble during the civil war when they refused to fight for either side.
After lunch we went over the rest of the village. The West Family has several workshops, a Wash House and the Dwelling - all of which are now for guest accommodation. Running east-west thru' the village is a gravel road, along which you can take a carriage ride. Up until the 1960's it was a state highway. West of the West Family lies a pond, fields and the cemetery. Most of the graves are unmarked and most of the marked ones just have plain headstones, bare of any inscription. Only the graves of the last residents have inscriptions.
Heading back to the Centre Family area we checked out the rest of the buildings there. The Farm Deacon's Shop (1809) was the first building in the village. Originally housing the first Shaker families, it then was a tavern and then a residence for farm deacons - a "deacon" was the title given to any supervisor, a kitchen deacon(ess) had dominion in the kitchens, a farm deacon supervised the fields. The Old Ministry's Shop (1812) was first a workshop, then a school and finally a hostel for transient workers. In addition to the Dwelling and workshops, the Centre Family area also housed the Trustees' Office (1839). This was where the trading deacons lived and where the village met the outside world. Prospective converts were also interviewed there. Next-door was the village post office - while they believed in withdrawal from the world, they still acknowledged its existence and the need to interact with it, unlike many other "utopian cults" of the 18th and 19th centuries. The last two buildings in the Centre Family area were the Bath House (important in Shaker life since they bathed daily - in a time when the rest of America was lucky to have a weekly bathe) - and the Water House; here there is a huge water tank on a second floor, which was filled from the nearby Kentucky River and then piped to the Dwellings.
The final section was the East Family. Here lived the newest converts (and some elders to shepherd them) along with some crafters. In addition to the Dwelling there are three workshops and a Wash House. The workshops have demonstrations of broom making, woodworking and coopering (buckets etc). The Dwelling has a small museum and a theatre with a 20 minute video on the history of the Shakers and the Village.
That was the end of the village tour itself. A 5-10 minute drive from the village brought up to the shoreline of the Kentucky River. There the Shakers owned and operated a ferry and a riverboat landing (most trade back then was on the rivers, via paddle- steamers). There was also mills, stables, orchards and warehouses, tho' now only a barn and some foundations remain. Part of the "Village" tour includes an hour ride on the Dixie-Belle, a replica paddle steamer. The tour goes upstream for about 40 minutes with spiel on its history and nature. Very steep cliffs both sides of the river, much of it thru' virgin land. Very green and lush. Part-way thru' the out-leg there's a small cave in the high up in the cliffs. Obscured by the trees, but one can see a lovely waterfall that descends from the mouth of the cave. At the landing itself, a short trail takes one to another waterfall, this one small and delicate. For most of the cruise there was a steady breeze, which was most welcome on the hot and humid afternoon. One of the more striking features of the trip was the High Bridge. A railway bridge built last century which, at the time, was the highest in the world. Was replaced in 1909 with a bigger and stronger bridge which was built around the old one, and done so that train service was halted for just one day! The bridge is 316 feet above the river, which is pretty much the average height of the cliffs along the whole cruise.
Heading back home, just past Pleasant Hill, we went past Boone's Cave, where Daniel Boone once spent a winter. Alas, it's not open to the public.
22nd June, '98: A bourbon distillery
in Frankfort, Kentucky
There were thunderstorms forecast for the arvo so we decided to spend the morning doing some local sight-seeing. Went to the Leestown Company, home of the Ancient Age Distillery. If you haven't heard of Ancient Age, don't worry - I hadn't before I visited Frankfort. And it is s'posed to be the largest bourbon distillery in the US (and hence in the world since bourbon is only made in the US) as well as having the largest share of the market. Not marketed back in Australia, which is probably why I'd never heard of it. It was founded in 1869 and is the oldest continually running distillery in the US - virtually all US distilleries (and breweries for that matter) were closed down during the Prohibition years. A handful of licences were issued for the production of bourbon for "medicinal purposes" and the Leestown Co. was one of the lucky few. I daresay most of the medicinal bourbon wasn't used for medicinal purposes.
The free tour went for 30 minutes or so and covered some of main aspects of the bourbon making process, as well as a 10-15 minute video on the history of bourbon and the Leestown Co. As you may know, bourbon is a variety of whiskey. While whiskey is made from fermented grains (rye, wheat etc), bourbon is made from a mixture that contains at least 51% of corn. It's not known for certain who invented it, but legend holds that a baptist priest, Elijah Craig, was the first to make bourbon at Georgetown, a dozen miles or so east of Frankfort. The drink was given the name "bourbon", aptly enough, in neighbouring Bourbon County. Not only was bourbon invented in Kentucky, the state was also the birthplace of the most famous (or infamous) of the prohibition leaders. That contrast still exists today, 95% of bourbon is produced in the state, but 2/3rd's of Kentucky's counties are dry, that is, the sale of alcohol is prohibited. Amusingly enough, Scott County, where Rev. Craig invented bourbon, is one of the dry counties.
Back to Ancient Age. Saw the fermentation tanks, in a building full of huge tanks, several story's high where they ferment a mix of corn, sour mash and local limestone-rich water. "Sour mash" is a mix of yeast, corn, grain, malts and the residue of a previous fermentation batch, which has been pressure cooked for several days. After fermenting, they distil the "beer" several times to give a colourless 130 proof liquid which is then stored in wooden barrels which have been charred inside. Why charred? That's where the bourbon gets its flavour and colour from - burnt wood, slowly leached by the alcohol. From there the barrels are stored in a Barrel Warehouse for up to ten years. We got to go inside one of them and they are packed of barrels. Cool and dark and with barrels stretching almost as far as you could see - some 400,000 just in one 9 story warehouse. A fairly strong (but mellow) bourbon smell too - over the course of 10 years, half of the liquid in the barrel will evaporate. That still leaves a LOT of Ancient Age. After maturing, the barrels head to the bottling room where they bottle everything from bourbon to whisky, gin to vodka, even snapps. Some fairly well known brand names too. But they only made bourbon on-site. 10,000 bottles an hour - that's a lot of booze!
The whole process was a curious mix of both modern and old. High-tech distillation units (the one at the nearby Jim Beam distillery looks like an oil refinery) and modern bottling facilities, but that's combined with fermentation tanks little different from those used in the 1800's and the maturing process is done exactly as it was back then. Some parts of the process are quite well understood, others such as the maturing are a complete mystery. Why does the "proof" of a barrel of bourbon increase during the maturation when it's in Kentucky, but drop when it's in Scotland? Two barrels taken from the same fermentation batch. Whiskey does the same thing. Maturation works, but they don't know how. There's still magic left in the world.
Ancient Age also pioneered the idea of single-barrel bourbon. Bourbon is normally a mix of a large number of barrels designed to give a uniform flavour. Single-barrel bourbon is just that, it's bottled from one carefully selected barrel - each barrel has a different taste. This stuff is pretty expensive, wins lots of prizes (voted one of the top 5 every year since it was first sold in 1984) and it bottled by hand. Oh, and each bottle comes in a velvet pouch. Says it all.
The tour ends at the "Clubhouse", a two-story log cabin built for the staff by the son of the guy who founded the Leestown Co. (his mansion overlooks the site), which is sited in the middle of a sculptured garden with a waterfall and stream.
Oh, and Ancient Age is a very nice drop, if I say so myself. :)
3rd July, '98: Bardstown
One of the oldest towns in Kentucky - it was already thriving in 1785 when the first courthouse was built, but there are still many buildings that predate that. Up until the mid 1800's the town was the biggest in Kentucky, but then time passed it by and today it looks little different than it did then - even the almost ever-present cable-tv and power lines are underground. Most buildings and homes date to the 18th and 19th century and those few that don't are carefully designed to blend in with the "scenery". An amazing place - but small, less than 8000 people live there. So rich in history and things to see, we only scratched the surface. Historic homes? There's Federal Hill, Wickland, The Mansion and many more. Museums? There's a civil war museum, a museum devoted to the history of whiskey, the Bardstown Historical Museum, Heritage Hall, a railway museum and even a doll museum. Distilleries? There's five in the area. There's a cathedral an abbey and a monastery. You can take a carriage ride around the town or ride the "tourmobile" for free. And that's just a rather brief summary.
Bardstown's "biggest" attraction is Federal Hill (built from 1795 to 1818), also known as "My Old Kentucky Home", in memory of Stephen Foster who wrote that song while staying there. The song itself is now the state anthem. Foster is said to be the most famous composer of popular music in 19th century America - he also wrote "Oh Susannah", "Swannee River" and over 200 more. I'm no music expert so I can't judge that, but he did write two state anthems, so he must've had something. The plantation mansion was built by the John Rowan and stayed in the family until the 1920's when it was sold to the state, complete with furnishings, to be a museum. In addition to the 300 acres of gardens and park area and several buildings there's the mansion itself. A huge, sprawling 3-story house, chock full of antiques, family memorabilia and the like. The tour guides are dressed out in period costumes, but no rough working clothes, here the ladies are dressed in elaborate and colourful hoop-dresses and the gentlemen in tails. Very formal, very posh. After dark a musical based on Foster's life is put on many times in the year. Very large rooms - the ceilings were 13 feet high; in fact the architect seemed to have some fascination with the number 13 - the walls were 13 inches thick, there are 13 steps on each flight of stairs and there are 13 mantles in the mansion. If it was for some hoped for mystical influence, it didn't work - in 1833 eight members of the family died in one day in the house from cholera (as well as another 8 servants), many others died young and Foster (a cousin) died in his 30's. I also remember reading an apocryphal tale of a writer falling asleep on a window sill and, upon being startled awake, fell to his death. That was exactly what happened to John Rowan Jr. Oh, and the mansion was badly damaged by fire in 1840.
After Federal Hill we went to the tourist centre where we saw a 15 minute video on Bardstown, it's history and it's current attractions. Then it was time for the walking tour, which goes past many of the town's historic sites, from taverns to churches to homes. The courthouse is in the town's centre but looks more like a huge church than a courthouse. The Talbott Tavern is the towns oldest building, dating to 1779 and has seen presidents and kings go thru' its doors. Alas it was recently badly damaged by fire, tho' it is now being restored. Main St. is full of early 1800's shops, many with Victorian facades. Then there's Flaget Ave, upon which every single house bar one are registered national landmarks. Loghouses, brick and stone, tenements, mansions and simpler homes .. only one house is less than 100 years old, most much more. And that's pretty typical of the whole town.
In addition to all the places we walked by and admired for the outside, we also stopped "to smell the roses" at a few places. The Pioneer Cemetery is small and rather dilapidated. Most of the markers and stone sarcophagi were in pieces. We latter heard that a recent earthquake had dome damage to the town, so I guess that may have been partially to blame, tho' most graveyard damage I've seen has a more human source - vandalism. Still, a fair bit of history there, a few of the graves date to the 1770's.
There isn't a church adjacent to the cemetery, but there is the county gaol, built in 1819 it's now a Bed & Breakfast with some of the cells converted to rooms, the rest turned into a small museum. Most people in gaol are there for a good reason, I'm not sure tho' of the idea of paying to stay in one! Still, they are usually booked out, so the idea must appeal to a lot of people and it's certainly more comfortable than it once was. The next "rose" we stopped to smell was the St. Joseph proto-cathedral (1816-1819). "Proto" means that it was once a cathedral. In the early 1800's the US was consisted of four dioceses: Bardstown, Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The diocese of Bardstown was the largest and stretched from the Canadian border south to New Orleans, on the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to the huge open space inside, the most notable features are the columns which are tree trunks surrounded with a sheath of plaster and the huge oil paintings hanging on the walls, donated by the then pope and European kings. Why Bardstown, which was then in the middle of the wilderness? In the 1770's there was a huge exodus of catholics from the New England region and many of them settled in the then tiny town of Baird's Town. In one of those tragic ironies that history loves to dish up, they were fleeing persecution by the Quakers, who in turn had fled to the America's to escape persecution by more mainstream English denominations.
On the church grounds is Spalding Hall, originally a Jesuit seminary and now home to the Bardstown Historical Museum (closed for renovations) and curiously enough, a museum devoted to the history of whiskey! The Oscar Getz Museum has exhibits on whiskey covering it's preparation, both legal and bootleg, all the myriad variety of bottles and jugs in which it was sold, a replica bar and a exhibit on "prohibition". Even had a bottle of whiskey bottled in 1843! Lots of artifacts and documents including Abraham Lincoln's liquor license from his days as a tavern keeper in Illinois in the 1830's, a moonshine still confiscated during prohibition in the Kentucky hills (yep, the infamous Hillbilly moonshiners) and over 200 antique bottles and jugs - including several examples of the original "Booz Bottle", from which the term "booze" comes (named after it's inventor, E. G. Booz). A Booz Bottle is now worth over $10,000! A "bootlegger" was once something very different, originally it was a small, flat flask that stuffed in a boot and was a favourite of stage-coach travellers. Hmm... I wonder what 155 year old whiskey tastes like?
4th July, '98: 4th July in Frankfort,
A national holiday here, full of fireworks and loud parties going to all hours of the morning. Not being big on such things, we spent the day out in the country at the cabin a friend of ours owns. Had a wonderful meal, watched a thunderstorm, walked around a bit, chatted and played some games. Quiet and peaceful, which fitted in very well with the scenery. Quite beautiful walking around after the rain, listening to the water dripping off the trees, the beams of sunlight streaming thru' gaps in the clouds and glittering on the millions of water droplets caught on the fir tree leaves, along with the occasional glimpse of wildlife - wild turkeys, birds and deer.
10th July, '98: Bardstown Reprise
Back to Bardstown to check out the rest of the things we didn't get to see on the first visit - well, most of them anyway. Got there just in the nick of time to catch the morning free bus tour of the town. Pretty crowded too - we got the last few seats (the lunch- time tour, in contrast, was almost empty). I have to confess I was somewhat disappointed in the tour, given its write-up in the local tourist brochures. But on the other hand it was free, so shouldn't complain overmuch. We drove around Bardstown for a bit, with the guide telling us what the various sites of interest were and giving a bit of their history. The first stop was the Heaven Hill's Distillery, which sponsors the tour. There we got to tour a bottling plant and with a lot more detail and information that we got at the tour of Ancient Age. Out the back we saw where the trucks offloaded the barrels and they emptied them into troughs containing charcoal to filter out all the sediment and from where the booze was pumped into holding tanks for bottling. While we were there they were emptying out a stack of barrels containing vodka. It was fairly warm and the room was very thick with vodka fumes, not the most pleasant smells in the world (vodka smells and tastes like raw ethanol, after all). Several of the tourists were overcome by the fumes. Hard to see how people could work in there and not get drunk! Unlike other distilleries, Heaven Hill keeps it's bottling plant, distillery and warehouses at different sites. Would have liked to have seen some of the other parts of the process but in 1996 their distillery and several warehouses were destroyed by fire. They currently rent a distillery. The fire destroyed $10 million in whiskey and burnt for two weeks before they could put it out. Oooch, what a waste. Bourbon is good for the economy too - just this one company pays $2.5 million in federal taxes a *week*.
On the way back from there the bus paused at Wickland, an old mansion dating to 1813 and then drove thru' the park area of Federal Hill, site of "My Old Kentucky Home". Went past lots of other historic places as well, but I've already mentioned those on the last visit to Bardstown.
After the bus tour we arranged a tour of Wickland. Has the unusual distinction of being the private residence of three governors (state premiers in Aussie terms) and is considered the finest example of Georgian architecture in the country. Still owned by the family who built it, tho' now the sole occupant is a rather lively 82 year old widow. She gives tours of her home by appointment (made at the tourist centre). She lives in a flat out the back and the mansion itself is virtually unchanged from how it was when she inherited it some 50 years ago. No "period furniture" here, nor is it furnished with what was thought to have been there - the mansion is exactly as it was 50 years ago and little different to what it was 100 years ago. Or likely 150 for that matter. Some of the furnishings and the rugs are showing their age, but that's a minor detraction given that everything is original and the furnishings are probably a more accurate depiction of upper-crust life back in the 19th century than most house museums where the curators have filled them up with what they think may have been there. Two things were most apparent with this - the rooms were a lot less cluttered with furniture etc compared to other places and that there was a variation in the quality. Just as if you walked into the home of someone rich today - there'd be expensive stuff as well as "kitsch" stuff. Everything is on the grand scale - the ceilings are 14 feet high, the interior walls 14 inches thick, the doorways 12 feet high and in the centre of the mansion is a huge, unsupported three story staircase, which goes up 34 feet. There's furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries including Louis XIVth and XVth furniture, much of which has been there as long as the house. But I guess the most amazing thing about the place is that the family that built it still lives there and guests are still regularly entertained in the dining hall. Outside was another sign of wealth and luxury - a heated brick out-house.
After that we headed off to the home of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, a catholic order of nuns that was founded in 1812. There are a number of orders called "Sisters of Charity of ..." and Mother Theresa belonged to one of them. At times there has been an abbey, a college, an academy, a school, a hospital and a retirement home at the site. The order still thrives, with over 1000 nuns, numerous schools, hospitals and missions in the US, India, Nepal and Belize. Heritage Hall, St. Vincent de Paul Church (built 1854) and the grounds are open to visitors. Heritage Hall contains a museum on the history of the order and the area, lots of interesting exhibits, both religious and secular. Just after we arrived at the (free) museum, a nun came out and she proceeded to give us a 2-3 hour tour of the museum, O'Connell Hall, the Motherhouse and the church. Sister Mary Victoria was a wonderful guide, explaining not just the exhibits but giving us a lot of history and bringing alive the people who had lived and worshipped there. Going thru' O'Connell Hall, she showed us the many stained-glass windows, the guest and reading rooms, some with nice looking antiques, including a really elaborate mirror with lots of carved wood making the frame. St. Vincent's is built of limestone (from Bedford, Indiana - small world) and marble in the Gothic style and has two tall towers at the front. Inside there are lots of stained glass windows and a very high ceiling with lots of arches - typically Gothic. To give you an idea of the height of the ceiling, there were two levels of balcony's on the north side in addition to the ground floor. Rather dim inside after the brightness of the sunny day. The windows have an incredible amount of detail and some of them were brought in from Europe. Even along the stairwell leading up to the belltower there were narrow stained glass windows. At the front of the church was a huge white marble altar. In the basement there's even a natural spring.
On the other side of Bardstown is another abbey, of monks - the Abbey of St. Gethsemani. While we didn't go there, according to the brochure, they also maintain a long monastic tradition with involvement in the bourbon industry.
And that brings things up to the present. Coming up next will be a trip to southern Kentucky and the Mammoth Caves area. Mammoth Caves is said to be the largest cave system in the world and the area around is literally riddled with caves. After that a trip to Florida.
13th July, 1998.
Some web links of interest: The following is a list of web pages that have some connection with the above sites and activities. I've not checked most of them, so I can't guarantee that they'll all work or be current. For the most part they have been taken from tourist brochures etc connected with the above sites I've visited. Links are listed in the order that the attractions appear above.
Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana
Field Museum, Chicago http://www.fmnh.org
Chicago Botanical gardens http://www.chicago-botanic.org
Chicago Historical Society/Museum http://www.chicagohistory.org
Old World Wisconsin, Wisconsin email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Southern Indiana Tourism http://www.explore-si.com
Indiana Tourism http://www.indianatourism.com
Bardstown, Kentucky http://www.win.net/bardstown
Harrodsburg Tourism Comission http://www.harrodsburgky.com
Shaker Village, Harrodsburg, Kentucky http://www.shakervillageky.org
Lexington, Kentucky Visitors Bureau http://www.visitlex.com
Kentucky Tourism Comission http://www.kentuckytourism.com
Kentucky Travel Guide http://www.kytravel.com
Frankfort, Kentucky Visitors Centre http://www.frankfortky.org
Return to The travel page
Return to My home home page