Saint Louis Landmarks: Victorian Home Museum

The Victorian Home Museum in Belleville, Illinois, is managed by the Saint Clair County Historical Society, or SCCHS, if you love good abbreviations just as much as I do. They bought the house in 1963, renovated it for five years, and opened it to the public in 1968. Now everyone can see how Bellevillians ate, slept, drank and gossiped about the common folks (please tell me I’m not the only one who read ‘villains’ at first sight). Better yet, the Victorian Home Museum is also the headquarters of the SCCHS, and some extra artifacts also made it into the museum.

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The rooms are furnished with fitting furniture pieces and clothing items to give you an idea of what the house would have looked like in the years right after it was build in 1866. Speaking of 1866, one of the main attractions of the building is a balcony from which Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech. Basic history math tells me that this is not an original balcony from the house (Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, after which he delivered no speeches whatsoever), but it sure is a lovely piece. When you visit, you’ll see five featured rooms and the Richard “Pete” Kern Room, where different exhibits on Saint Clair County history are displayed. You can visit Monday through Friday from 10am to 2pm, and the admission of $2 for adults and $1 for children supports the SCCHS in their future work.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Saint Louis Landmarks: World’s Largest Catsup Bottle

After discussing two organizations, we have gotten to a real tangible landmark of Saint Louis. Greater Saint Louis. A landmark that will make everyone proud who drives by, a symbol of home for those who were travelling, and an inspiration to all who love eating ketchup or spell it out in a strange way. The world’s largest catsup bottle is actually a water tower (with no ketchup in it either, to make things even more disappointing) and was erected in 1949 by the Brooks Tomato Products Company.

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One of the most interesting things about the water tower, in my opinion, is the story of the company. Evidently, their ketchup (formerly known as Tabasco, to make things more complicated) was a huge hit in the Greater Saint Louis area, and even in the United States as a whole. There’s something cool about making a product that enjoys a wide popularity, and then identifying yourself with it. For instance, I like to walk around my home town of Leiden and remind myself that technically, I am walking in the footsteps of Albert Einstein. One day, I hope to accomplish the fact that a time-travelling Einstein would be proud to say the same of my foot steps. Anyway, the ketchup still exists, but as is the story with America on a broader scale, the company was sold, centralized in Indiana and the water tower became a nuisance to get rid of. Luckily, some people were willing to paint the thing and repair it, so it would stay a ‘world renowned’ landmark (their words, not mine; I hardly believe someone’s bucket list would be to see the Great Wall in China, the Taj Mahal in India, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the world’s largest catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois).

The catsup bottle has a fan club, an annual festival, merchandise and so much more you can see right here.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Land of Lincoln II: Actually Lincoln

Last week I discussed the architectural side of our road trip to Illinois, but Springfield has a lot more to offer (actually, this second part is the last, there isn’t THAT much in Springfield). Even though Kentucky and Illinois fight over Lincoln like Leiden and Amsterdam fight over Rembrandt -although the latter wasn’t only born, but also started painting in Leiden, so Leiden beats Kentucky in bragging rights- the Lincoln memorial, Lincoln park, Lincoln library and Lincoln house are all in Illinois. And they know it. Everything is named after Lincoln, and the old state capital was even besieged by Civil War reenactment folks, who must have felt like Muslims in Mecca.

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Regular visitors of this blog know that my own pictures stink like these clothes did before laundry day; normally Mrs Missouri makes up for that, but I didn’t find any pictures she took.

My favorite part of Illinois was Lincoln’s neighborhood. Four blocks of renaissance fair in a Lincoln theme, with his house proudly taking the spotlight. I was impressed with how much fun the house was for all ages; normally those exhibits are either so child-friendly that it’s like watching Sesame Street, or so boring that even adults will have an acute case of narcolepsy, but I truly liked the balance. Lincoln’s home looks like it does in the original pictures, and some of the furniture is still intact. Our tour guide really took this opportunity to dampen our thoughts about Mary Lincoln by pointing out how she was not the usually portrayed awful anti-wife, but merely a framed First Lady, “Any woman cooking in this tiny kitchen in the Illinois summer heat would be irritated rather easily”. I think most problems arose when Mrs Lincoln had someone cook for her in a giant white house, but I won’t bash the girl too much.

After all, that wallpaper is punishment enough. The wallpaper is not original, but the best reproduction of pictures taken indoors; perhaps for a 1850's episode of MTV's Cribs. The desk is supposedly original and Lincoln's.

After all, that wallpaper is punishment enough. The wallpaper is not original, but the best reproduction based on pictures taken indoors; perhaps for a 1850’s episode of MTV’s Cribs. The desk is supposedly original and Lincoln’s.

After visiting the Lincoln house, we walked around in the pedestrian neighborhood, where we learned about some of the neighbors living around the president-to-be. The whole area is really nice to walk around in, and I truly enjoyed the experience.

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Lincoln’s home. I have a picture of the street, too, but WordPress won’t let me post it. Coming on Twitter.

 

Land of Lincoln I: Miracles of Architecture

Sometimes, it is just time for a road trip. Nothing fancy, but hopping in a car and taking in a new environment. Like Springfield, Illinois. Once, I drove right through it by train, and I knew Lincoln’s house stood there, and those two reasons combined were enough to make the trip. After a two hour drive, we arrived at our hotel. The girl behind the counter checked us in and rolled her eyes when we told her we came to Springfield just for fun. We quickly noticed that Springfield has its own version of the Eiffel Tower, but with an Illinois feel. In the center of the city, some ugly crossbreed between a water tower and a sky scraper pollutes your view from every angle.

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Unlike the Eiffel Tower, people will desperately try to keep it out of their pictures.

Luckily, the town harbors a counter weight in design: the Dana Thomas house, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect so famous, he was included in my Dutch high school curriculum under the header ‘cultural and artistic appreciation development’ (CKV, voor de liefhebber). I hated the class, but once you get older, it is nice to have some basic form of appreciation; at the very least, it helps you catch on to references in pop culture. The Dana Thomas house is literally remarkable on the outside, and decent on the inside. I really enjoyed the attention to detail that Wright put in every little part of the house to underline the effects he was going for.

My favorite detail: to emphasize the horizontal design of the house, the horizontal grooves between the bricks are deeper than the vertical ones, so that the shadows help draw the horizontal lines.

My favorite detail: to emphasize the horizontal design of the house, the horizontal grooves between the bricks are deeper than the vertical ones, so that the shadows help draw the lines the architect wants you to see.

As we walked around the rest of the town, I couldn’t help but feel the old Wright wouldn’t enjoy his creation as much. After all, when we left town and looked back, all we saw was the Springfield water tower sky scraper. So much for artistic appreciation.

Reader Appreciation Day

As you may have seen last Friday, I threw a bit of a blog party, calling out three fellow bloggers to join in my happiness. In fact, even those people I didn’t call out were appreciated a lot more than any other day. Some days go by where I really couldn’t care less about my readers. It’s at those days that I refuse to write. Wait, that’s not true. I value the readership on this blog every single day. So why throw a reader appreciation day?

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The banner that you can’t read says ‘customer appreciation day (my photo skills are the reason I don’t believe in the idea that a picture can be a thousand words).

Because it’s American, that’s why. The picture above shows a small town in Illinois that my train went through. It announces an upcoming customer appreciation day. I don’t know what they actually did on that day. Probably not aligning cars and trucks, because that’s more of a daily routine job. It’s one of those things that does make you wonder why there’s a special day for that. Like Mother’s Day, it seems just to serve a commercial want. Even worse, somewhere in the back of your head you suddenly feel okay ignoring your mother for the rest of the year. You did bring her breakfast in bed, after all. So, you won’t see me on customer appreciation day. I want to feel special every day.

What do you appreciate?

Training ‘Merica At The Speed Man Was Made For

My recent visit to Missouri was concluded with a train ride from Saint Louis to Chicago, where I’d board my plane to Amsterdam. I’m used to travel by train; I never needed a driver’s license just because using a train was cheaper and just as easy. I knew where I was boarding the train. I had seen Saint Louis Union Station many times before whenever we passed it on our way downtown. It is a majestic hallway, a tribute to steel and coal, located in the heart of the city. The massive building in a way represents mankind conquering nature, it’s the starting point for the man-made masses that plow through the open land. In my mind, I saw the train standing in the main hall, blowing off some steam. The excited chatter of passengers and those who will be left behind is overwhelmed by the mechanical sounds of the machine that is warming up like a bull getting ready to charge. While I lean from the open window and hold miss Missouri’s hand for the last time in months, the conductor gives a last shout: ‘All aboaaard!’. While the train starts to move, miss Missouri takes out the handkerchief, still moist from getting the tears of farewell out of the corners of her eye. In slow motion, I see her watering eyes slowly part from me, as the train departs that awesome station.

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In reality, it turned out that Union Station is a Hard Rock Cafe now. The actual Amtrak station is a few hundred yards to the side and looks as nostalgic as an Arby’s parking lot after midnight. In a cold hall, people were scattered around trying to catch some sleep. This was quite the anti-climax, especially when the conductor refused to yell the ‘all aboard’, even with me adding ‘pretty please’. But when the train started moving, my journey was nostalgic again. The glass windows that make the Saint Louis skyline were reflecting the golden glow of the sunrise. With the train moving at deferential speed, I watched the arch wake up, the city get ready for a new day.

My phone does not capture the magic. It's a miracle it captured anything at all.

My phone does not capture the magic. It’s a miracle it captured anything at all. Also, I’ll pretend the reflection in the window adds to the travelling feeling. 

Outside the city, the risen sun gave a perfect view on the many small towns we passed. Everyday life was going by me at a pace that made it easy enough to wonder about. I liked looking out of the window and seeing the big industrial complexes, big mansion next to golf courses and the trailer homes with the rusty cars. It may not be time efficient, but going at that speed is what man is made for. Flying rips you away from life, away from the earth and cars just get you focused on what’s ahead, to where you’re going. It’s the train that allows you to sit and wonder. Isn’t that what travelling should be about? If you decide to try it, be sure to bring an e-reader for the boring parts in between. Illinois has some cute towns, but those boring open lands in between still take way too much time.

And rolling into Chicago a few hours later is just as exciting.

And rolling into Chicago a few hours later is just as exciting.