On the Road Again: In Search of the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania, part one

I can still feel it–the exhilaration of flying along the two-lane highway through the Alleghenies: the Lincoln Highway, once touted as America’s Main Street, in Pennsylvania! 

This was the year, you see, that I was going to do the Lincoln Highway, the nation’s first coast-to-coast automobile highway, eastward from Indiana. I had always planned to take a week; I was sure I would need it. But life intervened as it will. I broke my leg, so I could not drive for a month (I have a stick, of course!) and even if I could, I was not getting around all that well for clambering in and out of a small pickup truck. The year grew late, but miraculously–one might say tragically, since climate change is the cause–autumn lingered and with it, lovely weather and the most beautiful light. I found four free days. Not enough, as I soon proved.

Since I do not live on the Lincoln Highway I had to start out early to catch it about halfway through Ohio, east of Mansfield. I have done the routes in this state before (and written about them, see past blogs), but only a couple of times past Canton. Wooster is a favorite town, though, so I did drive through, past its over-the-top courthouse, oddly placed on a corner lot with no surrounding grounds. Passed through Massillon, with its fantastic library overlooking the town–a 1930s WPA project that adapted a mid-19th century mansion into a stunning repository of books. Reached Canton, with its over-the-top courthouse.

ca.1940 postcard

From there the highway meanders in a slightly southeasterly direction through ever-higher hills. At Robertsville, where parts of the original brick road that I saw several years ago are now paved over, I took a marked Lincoln Highway bypass and become hopelessly lost on beautiful rural roads. If I’d had more time it would not have mattered, and I would have further explored the charming little town of Malvern, where I wasn’t supposed to be. There I found myself on a highway where a sign informed me I was going both north and south at the same time. It’s true! Routes 43 and 183, North and South, respectively. Get off the Lincoln Highway and enter the Twilight Zone

Found my way to Minerva and back on the Road, on to Lisbon (“oh no, that cute little drugstore with the fresh roasted nuts is gone!”) with its lovely square and 1871 courthouse.

Columbiana County Courthouse, Lisbon, Ohio

And the Steel Trolley Diner, a classic, was also, sadly, closed–permanently? Signs were unclear. It was for sale–and I never got to eat there.

interior, Steel Trolley Diner, Lisbon, Ohio

East Liverpool on the Ohio River at last, once home to scores of pottery manufacturers, now home to the Museum of Ceramics, located in the former downtown post office. 

Museum of Ceramics, East Liverpool, Ohio

Late afternoon and it was November, after all, with earlier sundowns, plus I was heading east, into even earlier sundowns. I had miles to go before I slept and the prospect of driving through unfamiliar mountains in the dark. So I chose a later, shorter iteration of the Lincoln Highway route that crossed into West Virginia for a short stretch. I found the US30 bridge across the Ohio River much blocked by construction.

US 30 bridge over Ohio River

Erected in the 1970s, the massive steel truss bridge resulted in a reconfiguration of the Lincoln Highway’s crossing and routing on both sides. The route now skirts the north edge of Chester, West Virginia, where, along with Newell just to the south, most of the rest of the pottery factories were located (and Homer Laughlin still is.) A box truck that had pulled in front of me resolutely remained, so my enjoyment of this hilly, winding two-lane road was greatly diminished–and slowed! Pittsburgh was less than 50 miles away, but would I get beyond it before dark? 

It was not to be. I reached an interstate bypass and determined to take it in order to get around Pittsburgh quickly, but that was not to be either! There were hopeless jams and tunnels with major construction projects. Foolishly I briefly got off downtown–straight into the traffic of that evening’s football game (what do I know about Monday night football?) I saw the Lincoln Highway route through downtown, the Boulevard of Allies, but it was a sea of cars. Frantically I managed to return to the bypass as the sun dipped behind the mountains. One more tunnel (also under construction) and I got off the bypass into a very tony forested suburban area.

Westinghouse Bridge northeast of Pittsburgh, 1940s postcard

Unknowingly in the twilight I crossed the stunning George Westinghouse Bridge built in 1932 and soon was driving through every type of sprawl imaginable. Fancy lifestyle centers. Auto dealerships. Strip malls. Fast food. Ugh. Not for me. Given the distance I had to cover, I had earlier opted to stop for food I could eat on the road: cheese curds and dried cherries purchased at Shisler’s Cheese House back in Ohio, west of Massillon. I was getting hungry and had hoped to have supper at some sort of diner or cafe. Though dark, it was still early, and I figured that soon I would be free of all the sprawl and in the mountains. But the sprawl went on and on and on.

Then suddenly all was dark. Very dark. All at once the mountains seemed to loom all around me. The narrowed road curved and dipped like the wildest roller coaster. I was climbing and descending in third gear, even second–once even in first. I kept passing signs–jumping into my headlights like scary mannequins on an amusement park dark ride–warning trucks to stay in low gear and other signs telling them to stop (and let things cool, I assume?) There were several runaway truck slopes, too, heading off into the darkness. I had no idea how close to the edge I was, nor much “down” was beyond it. Apart from those truck ramps, there were no places to pull off to the side. Harrowing? You bet. The mountains were heavily forested and I could see no lights. Rarely, I slipped through tiny stringtowns with no apparent businesses, only a few precarious houses hanging onto the edge of the road. No diner beckoned; I stopped for some gas at Jennerstown, which was supposed to have one, but I did not see it and I did not know how far I still had to go. Finally I rolled into what I later learned was Schellsburg and saw a most welcome grocery and deli! The folks inside blinked at me as if I were a Martian, but a sign advertised any deli sandwich $2.75. Fantastic! I ordered, fell gratefully into a chair along with my maps and route books and discovered I was less than five miles from the Lincoln Motor Court, my destination for the night. Hallelujah! I packed up my half-eaten sandwich and headed east; an oasis in the desert could not have been a more welcome sight. The owners, who, alas, have the place up for sale (but hope to sell it to someone who will continue its 80 years of tradition) were lovely and “old shoe,” as my mother used to say. They handed me the key to cabin 12 just across the driveway. I opened the door and exclaimed with delight.

Cabin 12, Lincoln Motor Court

There was a shimmer and I was in the 1940s, and my vehicle parked outside was not a Ford Ranger but a sturdy Model A, resting from its extreme endeavors just accomplished. The Lincoln Motor Court is said to be the last collection of tourist cabins still open on the Lincoln Highway. The rooms appear as they did in the first decades of the cabins’ existence. I finished my braunschweiger, tallied up the day in my journal, and sank into an unimaginably comfortable bed. I would be well rested for more adventures in the morning.

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Why Historians Sigh

I do history, which some maintain is a science but others assert is an art. It is both, I believe, and I lean a bit toward the latter. And then there is myth-busting, which is sometimes impossible. We try. That’s our job.

I’ve been at this for a long time and have been down many a rabbit hole; history is like that. Historians search for primary sources, documentation from the time in question, placement in context. The more elements to draw upon, the better, even while taking into account the possibility of error. I am always happy, for example, to find newspaper articles of the time that discuss the “facts,” but then I remember how many times current newspaper articles are wrong, how often they misquote or exaggerate, and someday future historians may be using them for sources. Oh dear.

Not long ago Traces magazine published my article about the long gone town of Hindostan, the first seat of Martin County. In it I explored the lingering myths of its supposed overnight demise because of some ravaging plague in the 1820s. Starting as early as the 1930s, the Indianapolis Star and the News ran feature pieces about once a decade ballyhooing the “angel of death” riding through the town. Often whole sentences were repeated in subsequent articles. It was useful Sunday filler material, but fraught with myth, not fact. Myth is more fun. (You can check out the article in the Summer 2020 issue of Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History.)

Erroneous sign near site of Hindostan: the myth lives on

An existing small town with which I’ve worked on and off for nearly two decades insists that it was founded a certain year. The truth is that the correct date is six years later. Now certainly the origins of many towns are obscure, but with this town, that is not the case. The holy grail, the original hand-drawn town plat, still rests in the county courthouse, the date plain to see. The townsfolk have the notion that there existed a “community” of sorts in the region and they just “got around to making it official” on the later date. What defines a town, anyway? Does any cluster (and it was not even that) of families living in an area automatically mean it’s a town? There were people living in that general vicinity for more than 30 years, were they a town then? No! A community? Perhaps. Suddenly and arbitrarily, people determined on an origin date that belied the obvious fact of the plat being filed and recorded six years later. I have never discovered from whence this notion came. These folks celebrated their centennial and then their sesquicentennial six years too early. But it gets worse. Recently erected is a fancy permanent sign on the state highway welcoming travelers to this historic town, founded–yes, you guessed it; it’s the wrong date. Now it’s written in stone! Who needs historians?

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A Cacophony of Cranes: A Symphony in Three Parts

Part 1                             cranesThe wonder of the earth fills my soul.  Ritual interactions with seasonal events are not to be missed.  And so, every fall for many years I have made the annual pilgrimage to Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, just north of Medaryville, Indiana off US421, to see the gathering of the sandhill cranes.  Usually starting in October, they arrive in droves, enroute from their summer homes farther north in Canada, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to take a breather for a few days to a few weeks in northwestern Indiana before proceeding on to their winter homes in Georgia and Florida.  The sight of thousands of these amazing birds flying in from all directions with their unique bugling cries, then landing, gabbling, dancing in Goose Meadow is an experience that is awesome in the truest sense.  Cranes are magnificent creatures that must be seen–and heard–to be appreciated.

I arrive at least an hour before sunset to see them glide in from the surrounding areas where they have been gleaning the marshlands and harvested fields.  Cranes fly with necks and legs outstretched (differing from herons, who fly with their necks crooked in an “S”). Often a whole flock will hit a thermal and essentially stall, landing almost straight downward feet first with an elegant awkwardness.

Usually on weekdays the crowds are smaller at the observation platform constructed on the east side of Goose Meadow; hearing the cranes is a vital part of the experience and sometimes it is difficult over the babble of idiots talking about the great bargains they found at Walmart (something I actually overheard).  Why do people make the trip to see the cranes and then talk the whole time–is it just to say they did?  They should stay home and watch YouTube videos.  The rest of us want to revel in this glorious display and hear the crane music. No talking in church!

I always stay until dark, nearly always the last to leave, alone with the cranes and the night.  I’ve walked back to the car in moonlight, with bats darting overhead, my soul astir.  Once, leaving the gabble and mutter of the meadow, I started down the road, and suddenly there was a huge rush and roar, and all the cranes rose at once to head out to their roosting areas.  It was almost pitch black and I couldn’t see them, but I heard the magnificent beat of the wings.  I was in the very Presence.

Part 2

The glacial moraine of south central Wisconsin has held a place in my heart for decades.  Years ago, I often escaped to its rolling terrain and granite outcroppings when I lived in Chicago.  Since then, I’d passed nearby a time or two and thought of returning to the area, and finally, several years ago, I did.  But as I was leaving Baraboo, heading back home, I discovered that the International Crane Foundation was nearby. How did I miss that? Darn! I had to go back.

And I did, twice.  The International Crane Foundation (ICF)Home – International Crane Foundation was co-founded in 1973 by two pre-PhD ornithologists, George Archibald and the late Ron Sauey, fellow graduate students at Cornell.  Both young men admired early environmentalist Aldo Leopold (whom I regard as a spiritual guide), and, as it turned out, Sauey’s family owned land just down the road from Leopold’s legendary Shack, featured in his masterpiece Sand County Almanac.  The origins of today’s ICF began on that land, not very far from their present, larger property, which houses research facilities, a library, and mating pairs of all fifteen of the world’s cranes.

Cranes were–and remain–greatly threatened, largely due to the disappearance or compromise of their various habitats. Dr. Archibald set out to raise cranes in captivity and release them in the wild and originated a number of techniques to prevent chicks from imprinting on their human helpers. Whooping cranes, a North American species, were nearing extinction and Archibald worked extensively with a female named Tex, mimicking mating calls and dances of the male.  Tex finally did lay a fertile egg through artificial insemination, but tragically, she was killed by a pack of marauding raccoons shortly after successfully hatching her chick.

george-archibald-tex-saving-whooping-cranes-1-png-662x0_q70_crop-scaleDr. Archibald was director of the International Crane Foundation from its inception until 2000, and is still very much involved with the organization. Today he writes, lectures, and works with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), heading the Species Survival Commission for cranes, traveling to crane habitats all over the world, including the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. In 1984, relatively early in his career, Dr. Archibald won a coveted MacArthur “genius” award, and in 2006 he won the inaugural Indianapolis Prize for his life-long dedication to crane conservation, to name but a few of the many honors he has received.

Part 3

What better way to celebrate summer solstice than with the glorious cranes?  The International Crane Foundation hosts a fundraiser every summer called “An Evening with the Cranes.”  Local restaurants set up stations of good things to eat and drink throughout the public part of the facility, along the paths that wind past the pens of the cranes.

The sun was bright and hot at 5pm, here deep in the Central Time Zone (as Indiana is supposed to be).  The ICF public area is nestled amidst a restored tall-grass prairie, so shade was at a premium, but never mind, it was all about the cranes.  There was the gorgeous pair of whoopers, which I could watch for hours.


And then there was this stately Sarus crane, a huge bird some six feet tall (I had to look up at him!) and over 50 years old!  Majnu had lost his lifelong mate a year or two before and had not been doing well. Then he was introduced to a sweet young thing, and in due course came chicks. He’s doing fine.


Many of my most revered environmentalists are long gone:  John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson.  Dr. George Archibald, happily, is very much still with us, still dedicated to his life’s mission of saving cranes.  And there he was, amiably chatting with various “craniacs.”  To me, he’s a rock star!

I summoned the courage–hardly necessary–to go up to talk with him, sharing a little about my work. He graciously introduced me to the current director of ICF, even as more people clamored to chat. I was elated. But two days later, leaving Wisconsin, I wanted to stop in briefly at ICF once more, perhaps to hear the cacophony of cranes and look in the shop–and there he was, as gracious as before.   We talked of cranes and wonder. gjgeorgereduced

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The Boys with the Shovels: The CCC at Pokagon State Park

CCC - Pokagon Chieftain.2015For 62 years, veterans of the Civilian Conservation Corps, most of them from Company 556, have been coming to Indiana’s Pokagon State Park on the last Sunday in July, for the oldest continuous CCC reunion in the country. For the last 25 years, I have never missed one, although the rapidly dwindling number of veterans is painful to see.

In 1953, twenty years after the CCC had been established in the depths of the Depression, Roger Woodcock, formerly of CCC Company 556, along with several others who had worked at Pokagon, sought the park’s help in setting up a reunion. The gathering would be at the open air Combination Shelter overlooking the beach, both constructed by Company 556. Roger consulted a local meteorologist as to the best day to hold the event, and the fellow assured him that it never rains the last Sunday in July. Indeed, in all those years, it has rained only four times.

Pokagon State Park was largely unforested farmland when the Indiana Department of Conservation took possession in 1925 and named it to honor Simon Pokagon, a chief of the Potawatomi tribe that once inhabited the area. Above the southern basin of Lake James, a large glacial lake in this moraine area, construction began on the Potawatomi Inn, which opened in 1927. Park personnel developed two beaches and over the next few years improved campgrounds at the north end of the park. The beginnings of a boys’ camp, built in part through a Civil Works Administration (CWA) project, appeared in the early 1930s on a bluff overlooking the upper basin of the lake. (CWA was a short-lived New Deal work program during the winter of 1933-34.)

CCC Company 556, initially formed in the fall of 1933 to do several projects, including an imaginatively designed group camp (all long since demolished) at Indiana Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan, finished its work there and established Camp SP-7 at Pokagon the following year. The park underwent an ambitious development program, including reforestation, landscaping, road building, and construction of numerous outdoor recreational facilities. The CCC boys hewed local timber and split native stone to construct buildings that harmonized especially well with the park environment, in keeping with guidelines created by the National Park Service, which oversaw master plans for CCC parks projects. adjustedCCCshelterPerhaps the best example is the beautiful two-story shelterhouse (now called the “CCC Shelter”) that nestles at the edge of the woods above the beach. Nearly all the park’s present landscaping and buildings–including the old gatehouse, the saddle barn, the dining hall and much of the group camp, the bath house, and overnight cabins near the inn–are the work of the CCC, which remained in the park until January 1942. They also built a toboggan slide, which has since been rebuilt and remodeled several times, adding to winter fun at Pokagon. Other than several expansions of the Potawatomi Inn and the construction of a nature center in 1981, relatively little has been added or changed on the property. Most of Pokagon State Park, that encompassed by the boundary in place in 1942, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I had the joyful task of writing that nomination in the mid-1990s at the behest of the CCC veterans, who presented me with a plaque upon the park’s successful listing.

Initially I had met these men in 1991, when I was documenting all the New Deal sites and structures in Indiana’s state parks for the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. As various structures built by New Deal agencies turned 50 years old, I frequently received calls from the preservation folks, asking about one building or another, and I had lobbied hard to do a survey and documentation like this. For this was not my first New Deal project; I had already put in ten years by then, starting with a grant from the Indiana Humanities Council for a year-long project, “Making a Better Indiana”: WPA, Labor and Leisure that sought out structures built by the New Deal and created programs around these findings. More grants followed, along with trips to the National Archives in those pre-computer days. Why WPA? Why the New Deal? In northern Indiana, where I grew up, I was surrounded with examples of their work. My favorites were Battell Park in Mishawaka, with its fieldstone fantasy rock garden that cascades down a bank of the St. Joseph River, and Washington Park in Michigan City, where the creative use of discarded construction material by FERA and WPA is still a wonder to behold, crowned with a four-story observation tower atop a dune. MichCity2What a joy it was to write that National Register nomination, one of my first, for the park and its zoo! For whatever reason, the New Deal captured my interest, and only later did I learn that a major engineering feat in South Bend, the straightening of an oxbow bend in the St. Joseph River, was a WPA project on which my grandfather had worked. And as I was busily collecting information on the New Deal in St. Joseph County, my mother casually mentioned that she had a clerical job at her high school through the National Youth Administration (NYA). Later I discovered several shelterhouses in various city parks around the state with plaques proudly proclaiming them to be the work of the NYA. The joy of discovery never ends–and I still stumble on New Deal work everywhere. Indiana was always a leading state in New Deal projects, difficult as that may be to believe given the current politics.

So, as always for the past 25 years, I spent the last Sunday of July at Pokagon State Park, honoring the boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps who, some 80 years ago, made the park what it is today.   There were two veterans present (a third, bless him, had intended to come but had a fall and couldn’t make it). 2015CCC Interpretive naturalist Fred Wooley, who retired this spring after 35 years, returned to emcee the program. Fred left a wonderful legacy himself; among other projects, his cherished dream of marking the location of every building on the site where the CCC camp was, including interpretive signage for each, has been realized. gatehse:smAnd soon, the beautiful gatehouse built by these boys so long ago and abandoned owing to changing traffic patterns will become a mini museum dedicated to them. Their legacy lives on.

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My Mother Never Warned Me about the House on the Rock

For years I have loved south central Wisconsin, a beautiful land of lakes and rocks and rivers. Within a fifty-mile or so radius of Madison are many wonders, both natural and manmade, and I have wandered the old roads about there through the decades. Early on the famous Wisconsin Dells was a destination for my family; sadly I discovered it has become a distorted playground of water parks and endless taverns, no longer the seemingly innocent tourist area of souvenir shops and amusements adjacent to the natural beauty of the Dells that had been the real draw in my youth. The Dells, fantastic stony bluffs and formations along the Wisconsin River, are, of course, still there, but I wonder if visitors even bother. Later, living in Chicago, I sometimes ran off to meander the winding roads, passing through charming towns such as Lodi, or stopping to hike at Devil’s Lake State Park.


Now that I live the better part of a day’s drive away, my occasional trips to Wisconsin have been pilgrimages of sorts. Once it was to see Taliesin, fabled home of master architect Frank Lloyd Wright near Spring Green; other times, to marvel at the International Crane Foundation, which keeps breeding pairs of all fifteen of the world’s cranes and works to restore their habitats, and also to commune with the spirit of early environmentalist Aldo Leopold at his legendary Shack nearby in the Wisconsin River floodplain.

There was one major attraction I had always missed but had always wanted to see. Indeed, I had passed very close to it on my way to Taliesin (now there is a building with which I can dance!) Although I have been aware of it most of my life, apparently The House on the Rock near Spring Green is well known only regionally. My parents went to see it once, I think, and later my widowed mother went there with a busload of seniors from her home in northern Indiana, where I grew up. Mom never spoke all that much about it, only to recommend it as fascinating and that there was a lot to see. Oh brother! What an understatement.

I have always embraced architecture and museums of many sorts. I am a public historian, after all! But what is The House on the Rock anyway? Is it a museum of amazing artifacts of history and popular culture in dire need of a curator, or a massive interactive art installation? Or perhaps a great mischievous joke on the public? Yes. It is all those things. I doubt I will ever return, but I will never forget it. P.T. Barnum would have loved it!

It begins innocuously enough, although there are hints. The House is, as advertised, built upon a chimney rock overlooking the Wyoming Valley and reached by meandering rural roads south and west of Spring Green. At the entrance to the property and at intervals along the lengthy winding drive leading to the house are huge, vaguely medieval, vaguely Oriental urns. With dragons.  I really was not sure what to expect; the brochures are cryptic, although not obviously so. The website was no better. Let us simply say that they leave a lot out. There were multiple large parking lots amidst trees and flower plantings and more urns.


Surrounded with flowers, the visitor orientation center, apparently one of the most recent buildings, offers views of the property, ticket counters, a gift shop, and a sizable exhibit on Alex Jordan (1914-1989), the builder of The House on the Rock. The story is that Jordan found this beautiful site in the 1940s and gradually built a weekend retreat, supposedly never intending it as anything else. But he kept building, kept collecting things (he may have been the world’s greatest hoarder), and people were curious, so he began asking a nominal fee for admission. And it grew from there. And it grew. And it grew.

Admission tickets are sold in sections or a special price for the entire attraction; the latter seemed to make sense, since a return trip was not likely. Material I had read said to allow at least three hours (ha!). The first section was the original house and additions; it felt like a combination treehouse and cave, which may make no sense until you see it. It was dark and shadowy and labyrinthine, with an overabundance of antique you-name-its on display on dimly lit shelves and in nooks and crannies all around. It is in this section that one finds the famous Infinity Room, one of the last additions to the House under Jordan’s ownership.


“Stumbles upon” may be a better term; the passageways are twisted and multi-leveled, and it is dark! I cannot imagine my mother and her fellow seniors, even in healthy shape, rambling about in there. It seemed the only way out was to go back the same way.

The second section–and there is a ticket taker at the beginning of each–is in a separate building, or series of buildings, leading into a recreated turn-of-the-[20th]century street. I should at this point note that there are restrooms scattered throughout the site, and each is filled with collections or concoctions as well. The entrance is open so that men, too, can at least glimpse,  IMG_3839for example, this artful display of glassware in the ladies’ room before The Streets of Yesterday.

Yesterday’s streets, which of course are dark and somehow seem a little odd compared to those you may have seen in other museums, gradually lead you to an array of mechanical coin-operated animated musical devices. They take tokens that you purchase when buying your tickets.



At first I was charmed, for I have seen a fair number of entertaining antique musical devices, and this seemed to be a marvelous collection, albeit ill-maintained. Then I was awed, for down the passageways were orchestrions that then merged into room-sized contraptions; then there were rooms filled with orchestras of various instruments, playing, seemingly, by themselves. Most were a little or lot out of tune, adding to the growing feeling of unease. And so much, so many, too much!


Indeed, the order of things is lost in my mind, and there were no maps. Was the vast space that displayed the 200-foot sea creature(!) in mortal battle with a giant squid before or after all the mad music? The scale of the diorama, if you could call it that, was imposing. The walls of the room displayed endless cases of priceless nautical artifacts–or were they?–including a sizable collection from the Titanic. From there, I think, the passages led to another huge space filled with various relics of transportation. All, everywhere, was shadowy, and everywhere was. . . stuff.

But also here, incongruously, in what felt like an underground cavern, was a cafeteria and a little ice cream shop, a place at last to rest a bit, for the walk by this time could be measured in miles–or so it seemed, what with endless climbing and clambering. Later there was another resting place (with a few concessions available) that overlooked the Wyoming Valley from beneath the Infinity Room. On the hillside, by chance, I trust, a few deer grazed, a most welcome dose of reality.


The third section perhaps was strangest of all. Here surely would be “the world’s largest indoor carousel,” something I had been eager to see this entire “long strange trip.” The passage opened into another huge space of several levels. A portion of the walls was entirely covered with dusty carousel horses. My historian heart cried out in dismay. Indeed, this room would shatter it. The whole experience had become as a dream, bordering on nightmare. There stood a three-story carousel ceaselessly whirling–and you can’t even ride on it! Instead, it is a huge assemblage of carousel animals, including not one horse, all torn asunder from their origins–or are they? Perhaps they are simply very accurate reproductions. All around the carousel loomed large machinery, created of pieces of other machinery, even an Edison dynamo! At the other end of this Stygian expanse was a gargantuan cannon. Maybe. Who knew what was real at this point?

But even that dungeon of delusion was not the end. The way out led through rooms full of old animated circus displays of several scales, another of endless dolls, yet another with a amazing collection (these were real, I’m certain) of early 20th century animated window displays for jewelry shops. Apart from some signage explaining the window displays, there was no interpretation. I struggled for air. At last, after hours at a furious pace, we had made it through. But even outside there were odd relics–or fakes–all surrounded by riotously blooming gardens.IMG_3831

That’s the thing. There is a reason the House on the Rock is so dark within. It’s all part of the illusion.


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Ice Cream Sodas, a Carousel, and Two Rivers: My Logansport

Just up the old Michigan Road from Indianapolis, about 75 miles, is Logansport, which, given its key location at the confluence of two rivers (the Eel and the Wabash), existed even before this historic route was platted to it.  Logansport was a port on the Wabash and Erie Canal and later became an important railroad town.  I’d always been intrigued by this county seat (alas, lacking a historic courthouse) with its plethora of fine old buildings and layers of transportation history.

It has a lot of personal history, too. Twenty and more years ago, my mother, who lived in the far north part of Indiana, would meet me here, a halfway point between there and Indianapolis, to spend the day together. We’d hike around, explore old roads, and sample the local eateries. If we stayed in Logansport, we wandered the downtown, the historic Mount Hope Cemetery, or the parks, usually Dykeman or Riverside (on the Eel River), where we’d ride the carousel and try for the brass ring. Mom would tell me stories about the carousels of her youth and her collection of non-brass rings! Once or twice we played miniature golf on an old course near the carousel, great old-fashioned fun. It’s still there.


In recent years Logansport has been making very good use of its historic assets.  In 2009 it was designated a Preserve America Community. Today a historic railroad depot downtown houses a museum and anchors an attractive riverside public space to the south, the Little Turtle Waterway Plaza City of Logansport, Indiana / Locations / Little Turtle Waterway Plaza & Trail , a nice place to start an exploratory walk downtown that still boasts a number of great old buildings, many of which now house interesting shops and restaurants.  From there also are trails to follow along the Wabash River. In the past few years quite a lot of new public sculpture has appeared downtown, including a carousel horse, clearly a tribute to that 19th century carousel in Riverside Park, which came to Logansport from its previous location in Fort Wayne in 1919. It was carved by master craftsman Gustav A. Dentzel, considered the best in his art, and is a National Historic Landmark–one of only three complete Dentzel carousels in the country. (By the way, Indiana boasts another at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis.) Despite this honored status, rides are only 75 cents, and you can still try for the brass ring!   Cass County Carousel, Inc | Logansport – Cass County Indiana  Unlike 25 years ago, the carousel is today housed in a climate-controlled building, the better to ensure its preservation. I appreciate the need, but I’m a bit nostalgic for those days when it was in an open shelter and its joyous music rang through the park on a sunny afternoon. The miniature golf course still remains, not far from the carousel, as does the old miniature train.


Along with Dyckman Park, Riverside Park contains several 1930s-era Works Progress Administration resources–always a plus for me!   Riverside is on the Eel River, and a recently constructed bridge connects the Eel River Run Trail in the park with the River Bluff Trail on the other side.  That trail leads to the 35-acre Hervey Nature Preserve, which even includes a labyrinth.

I’m fond of old drive-in restaurants, and Logansport has two I recommend.  The Char-Bett is located in a former 1930s gas station on the outskirts of town on the old Michigan Road (State Road 25) heading northeast toward Rochester:  tasty drive-in food and all manner of ice cream treats, including sodas, which can be hard to find these days. I had passed it several times in my journeys up and down the Road, but always in the off-season. This year I’ve managed to stop twice.


For some reason, over the years I had missed the Sycamore Drive-In, just off old US24, once a major route, at 316 20th.

Sycamore:L'port7:14I reveled in the discovery, for they, too, offer sodas among their ice cream treats and a nice assortment of drive-in fare. How fortunate Logansport is!



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Snow Wonder

Early January:


It is snowing–a big, old-fashioned snow as pictured on the Christmas cards.  The snow of my dreams, the snow of my childhood–at least as I remember it.

I grew up in Michiana glacial lakeland where the prevailing winds brought extra mountains of lake-effect snow from that nearby inland sea, Lake Michigan.  Indeed, there was a period of time when the town of New Carlisle, where I attended high school, touted itself as the “Snow Capital of Indiana,” although those in the know were aware that the community of Hudson Lake, immediately northwest over the county line, would likely receive an inch or two more.  For children it seemed glorious; over any given winter we could count on about 14 “snow days” off.  In the days before computers or robocalls, we eagerly listened to the local radio station rattle off names of closed schools.

I would spend hours at a time outside all bundled up.  In the yard beside the garage one year was my “igloo”–I think it actually may have a pile of building materials that my dad had gathered for an anticipated project in the spring.  I remember it was covered over with plastic sheeting but there was a hollow space in the middle large enough for me.  My grandparents lived next door, and in the adjacent lot my grandfather had planted perhaps two hundred white pines sometime after the war.  (That would be World War II, but a certain generation always called it “the war” and we all understood.)  We had a source of Christmas trees for years!  White pines grow very quickly, so that by the time I was in elementary school the trees were thick and fifteen to twenty feet high.  A good snowfall turned this little forest into a magic place with tunnels beneath the branches and crisscrossed passages.  Such fun!  Whenever I headed back into the house my mother would stop me on the porch with a broom to sweep the snow off me, front and back.

All this and more came to mind, walking in my urban neighborhood so very different from my childhood home.  But the snow took me back.

A few days later:     Wearing an outfit not so different from what I wore decades ago–longjohns and “snowpants” and thick coat–I head out to a nearby park to go sledding.  My sled, scored years ago for less than a dollar at a yard sale, is very like the one I used as a child.

Unlike Charles Foster Kane, I cannot with 100 percent certainty recall the brand name of my sled, which was a hand-me-down from a cousin, I believe.  It was likely American Flyer but maybe it was Radio Flyer (not “Rosebud,” in any case).  I searched the internet hoping a photograph would jog my memory, but instead I was stunned by the prices old sleds go for these days and appalled they were considered merely a decorative item!  Sleds were meant to be used!  As usual, I am the only one at the hill with a sled of this kind.     A lovely bonus to the day was a bald eagle flying low over the park–no mistaking it!

snow2Days of bitter cold follow.  The snow lingers but sunny days melt patches that reveal harbingers lying in wait.


A month later:     The wonder returns.  Another beautiful snow, all fluffy and a lot of it!  Snow sifting through streetlights at night seems to create a fantasy land, not that of endless snow and temperatures worthy of Minnesota.   But we are tired of the cold.  When there is snow, the temperatures are too frigid to play.  And what of the snowdrops, after all those nights of below zero?  A month later, they are still biding their time.


Two months later:      Surely the last of the big snows (and not so big, at that), but who knows.  Perhaps, though, the last chance to go sledding once more.  The sun is weak and the clouds eventually prevail.  Oddly, the hill is deserted–have kids simply tired of sliding down hills?  Have they given up completely?  There are, however, some twenty or so squirrels frolicking nearby, as only squirrels can: up and down and tree to tree with mad abandon.  I suppose, as I shriek my way down the slope trying to steer around the bumps, that I am exhibiting the same.  I never grow tired of it and am grateful for another day on the hills.  But–the snowdrops are eager, and this snow lasts but a short time.

When more than a hint of spring visits for a day or two, we are ready.  And so, it seems, are the bees!

snow5Climate change brings great contrasts, and after today’s sunny and mild 60s, tomorrow brings rain, sleet, snow–and a sixty-degree thud in temperature.  March is indeed an angry lion.  The snowdrops will carry on until they are joined by other floral companions.

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On the Confectionery Trail: A Movable Christmastime Feast

A new tradition began a year ago.  It happened to be on my mother’s birthday, which is why this trip is now marked to become an annual event though it was just a coincidence the first time.  Mom is gone now, but there is much of her in me.  She loved chocolate, and, possibly to my regret, instilled that passion in me right enough–oh yes, indeed.


Having visited Schimpff’s Confectionery in Jeffersonville, Indiana a few times more or less on business, we made a plan to go there just for fun a little before Christmas last year.  Located at 347 Spring Street, Schimpff’s is a family-owned candy store, soda fountain, and lunch counter over 120 years old.  (www.schimpffs.com)


Decorated for Christmas, the place is a fantasy land filled with jars and glass cases of Schimpff’s yummy candy.  Ooooh!


You can watch them making it in the adjoining space, where that day they were rolling out sheets of glassy hot cinnamon candy on its way to becoming their famous cinnamon Red Hots (they are)!


In the back is a fascinating–and oh so nostalgic!–little candy museum that features containers, advertisements, and candy-making equipment from all over the country.

Remember these?  They were still around when I was very young.

sdisplayChoosing from among all the wonderful candies was a lot of work, so we decided to have a light lunch in the back, where there is an old-fashioned soda fountain and some tables and booths.   Heavenly days, they had phosphates and venerable lunch counter fare, so I ordered an egg salad sandwich and a chocolate phosphate, just as I used to do when I had lunch with my Mommy and Granny at Kresge’s in downtown South Bend.  As I sat bathed in nostalgia I thought what an appropriate place to be.  It was my mother’s birthday, and she would’ve loved this place (and probably would have ordered the same thing.)  Not only for the childhood memories; she and I used to wander around the state quite a bit and sought out such places–not for us the boring fast food.  The tear that fell was one of joy and a sense of her presence.

The day was chilly but sunny, just right for a stroll down historic Spring Street with its many interesting shops.


I don’t knit or sew, but I have many friends who no doubt would love the yarn shop named Grinny Possum. http://grinnypossum.com/

We did wander around Horner Novelty, rather a museum in itself.  Horner Novelty – The Party Planner’s Paradise  (I thought better of sharing the photo of me in a flamingo hat.)


We thought of popping back into Schimpff’s for a chocolate soda–tempting!–but decided instead to stop in Columbus on the way back to Indianapolis.


Why?  To go to Zaharako’s, one of the most wonderful historic restorations I have ever seen.  This confectionery, also into its second century, is itself a museum,with an additional room full of beautiful soda fountains and restored mechanical musical devices such as orchestrions and juke box pianos. Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor


When we entered Zaharako’s, the Welte Orchestrion, which is original to the establishment, was playing a robust and joyful medley of Christmas carols.  It made me want to dance (oh wait, maybe I did)!   Oh, why not, we indulged in a sundae and drank in the festive atmosphere, not in any hurry to leave.  A slow day of peace and joy and wonder in these fast times.

And that is why we will be doing it again this year.  Happy Birthday, Mom.

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The Road Less Taken: Indiana’s Upper Right Corner

I always love a chance to go to the northern part of our state where the glaciers left behind lots of lakes and rolling terrain. And Pokagon State Park, one of our earliest, dating to 1925, in Steuben County is always good excuse. Pokagon offers all the activities you’d expect in a state park–I love to hike through the bird-filled woods–including swimming in a real lake, a plus. (I grew up on the Michigan border where it was impossible not to be within a stone’s throw of some lake.) In winter Pokagon offers a toboggan slide, still on my–cue the overused term–bucket list. All this and history, too: the park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its many examples of the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The last Sunday in July is CCC Remembrance Day at the Nature Center, an extension of the longest-lived CCC Annual Reunion in the country that began in 1953 as a 20-year reunion. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. And yes, some CCC veterans, 90 and older now, still come! There were three at the reunion this year.


The restaurant at Pokagon’s Potawatomi Inn is a fine place to eat; their Sunday brunch is decadence itself.  Still, whenever I’m in the area I try not to miss Clay’s Family Restaurant (7815 N Old 27, Fremont) just a few miles north of the park, just south of the Michigan state line.  Their food is just darned good and their pies are heavenly!  Clay’s IS, after all, the home of the annual Pie Day in June, when, for a fixed price, they offer unlimited samples of every pie they make. ( Following in My Foodstops: Pie in the Sky | Dancing with History, Wandering through Time, Embracing the Earth )



Steuben County is lovely to explore, what with its lakes, woods, small farms, and small towns.  About ten miles west of Clay’s on SR120 (a very old road, formerly the Vistula or Toledo Road) lies Orland, a small village, but it boasts the Fawn River State Fish Hatchery, constructed by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), listed in the National Register.  DNR: Fawn River State Fish Hatchery

Orland, originally known as Vermont Settlement, was the earliest settlement of European-Americans in the county (it and the settlement started in 1834); the area was formerly hunting ground of the Potawatomi tribe.  Orland has a strong association with the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad. Indiana brags Underground Railroad houses like Virginia et al. boast “Washington Slept Here,” and just about as misinformed, but in this case it’s true.  Abolitionist Samuel Barry hid runaway slaves in his house, which still stands.  DNR: Underground Railroad Sites: Orland   If you’re in Orland Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, check out the Joyce Library downtown.  It’s charming, but check out the second floor, where the library first started.  It still has its original woodwork and a lot of the original books!  Many of us remember when most public libraries looked like this.

If, rather, you go east from Clay’s on SR120, you will encounter Fremont, founded in 1834 as Willow Prairie and platted three years later as Brockville.  The village rechristened itself once again in 1848 to honor explorer John C. Fremont.  Fremont, home to about 1700 people, has a charming downtown and a number of National Register-listed buildings.  Their library, surrounded by a bit of restored prairie on the west edge of town, offers several pieces of outdoor sculpture.  Behind the building an environmental trail winds through a woods.

The county seat and the “big city” in Steuben County is Angola, platted in 1838.  Its beautiful courthouse square features an impressive Soldiers Monument, topped by the allegorical figure of Columbia, erected in 1917 in the center, formerly the location of the town pump.  More men per capita enlisted in the Civil War from Steuben County than any other in Indiana.  The courthouse, dating to 1868, sits in the southeast corner of the square.  Opposite, in the northwest corner, are two historic movie theaters, the Strand and the Brokaw.  Angola is the center of recreational activity for the lake-filled county (101!, boasts the county website), which likely contributes to the continued survival of these theaters.


One of those lakes, only a mile to the southwest, was the first resort open to middle class black families.  Listed in the National Register, the Fox Lake Historic District is a modest collection of lake cottages built in the 1920s and 30s.  The area still retains much of its heritage with traditional activities, like the Labor Day picnic, that are decades old.

History, lakes, small towns, lakes, roadside farm markets, lakes, and more!  While it is much like going home, I still discover something new every time I journey to Indiana’s northeast corner.

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I Believe in Dr. Film!

I was asked to write a guest column in “Dr. Film’s Blog.”  Read it here:


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