It is not every day that I get to experience nature and its fierce beauty, but recently I had one day where I soaked up the local wilderness and had tons of fun.
My Great Aunt Mary’s grandkids happened to be in for a little while from New Mexico, so their family organized some activities to keep them entertained.
I got to have lunch at my Aunt Mary’s, which is just delicious, and then my cousin Kenny and the whole crew went to visit a beautiful area of creek that had huge walls that towered many feet above to higher ground. It reminded me of when I visited Giant City State park south of Carbondale.
Seeing the creek gave you a feeling of having stepped back years in time to before Illinois was filled with shopping malls and fast-food restaurants.
Now the reason I described us as the whole crew is because we had quite the group. This humongous group consisted of my second cousin Kenny, his daughter-in-law, his wife Nancy, their two grandkids complete with one friend, his niece and her four boys.
So we had a big group of kids ranging in age from years 5 to 21, if you count me, your child-like author.
We walked the creek, many of the kids with water shoes, myself with flip-flops, and had a ball. We hopped from rock to rock, and I felt the mud in my toes as I sunk in. The scenery was a lovely sight and you could see the minnows swim through the murky water.
At times the water was crystal clear, and sometimes you would fall into a bit of a hole. I did not wear a swimsuit although I should have, and I got soaked enough to enjoy myself. I played with the little kid, as I am only a big kid myself, splashed around, and it just brightened my day to do something outside while the summer sun shined above us.
It was only the beginning to a great day. And afterward, on the way home, we got ice cream, which made it even sweeter.
Last Wednesday was nice and breezy, one of the first sunny days I had seen in a while. So, I figured why not get outside and do a little something?
I did just that after class, heading to a little tailgate event that they were holding at John Wood around 1:30 p.m. I ended up running into a bunch of my friends.
The tailgate was for the girl’s softball and the boy’s baseball games, but as sports don’t necessarily hold our attention, especially baseball, we didn’t spend much time over at the games. I think it was also that it was such a fine day we didn’t want to sit in the bleachers. We enjoyed venturing out and walking around the campus.
But first, there were hot dogs. On a grill behind the Student Activity Center.
My friend Chad was manning the grill as it slowly simmered the hot dogs. The grill was electric and had some problems, struggling to reach 350 degrees, so you had to wait a little bit for your hot dog to really be done. We sat, chatted and passed the time, eventually moseying our way over to the games for a little bit with a posse in tow.
I kind of felt well liked with a group of five or six us just about making up a crowd of our own. We made fun of each other, joked about the game, and mainly killed some time enjoying the sunshine.
Now that the weather is getting nicer after such a long winter, it is not very hard to do nothing outside and be able to look back and say that the day was good.
Toward the end, we made our way back over to the grill and chatted with the lady who is in charge of all the student activities. With hot dogs still remaining on the grill, I was convinced into eating more, brining my total for the day to four.
Maybe next year I should train for a hot dog eating competition, I never thought I could eat so many!
I was leaving my job the other day at QU, and as I walked out the door, I happened upon some old brochures titled “Quincy Folklore.” I guess the vintage greeting card images on the covers were too much to resist, so I grabbed them up. Old ghost stories are always fun to read and laugh about, after all. Once, on a drive up north in Jo Daviess County, Kim and I stopped at an abandoned house for some photographs and heard the sound of a piano playing, even
though there were no people around for miles. I am up for another good scare like the one I had that day.
I need your help, however, with a good translation. If you are an expert at local haunts and ghost stories, can you help me find these places?
The trouble I am having is that the locations listed in the brochures are rather vague. When one says “a house at the intersection of 12th and Kentucky,” that could mean four possible spots to go looking for ghosts. Because I haven’t tracked down all the exact locations, I thought I would share a few with you in case you wanted to go looking for ghosts. Halloween is just around the corner, after all, so it is time for a good scaring!
Number 1: The Commandant’s Quarters at the Illinois Soldier’s Home. Located between the power plant and the petting zoo as I understand it, witnesses allegedly saw the ghost of a soldier entering and leaving the house.
Number 2: The Confederate House. Located at the intersection of 2nd and Vermont streets, this home allegedly sheltered rebel sympathizers during the American Civil War, and children living in the house in the 1880s reported seeing a ghostly figure resembling the devil there. The home’s nickname at the time was “the old rebel house,” so no doubt the exact spot is on file at the Adams County Historical Society.
Number 3: Burton Cave. I really want to go to this one. This cave, located “four miles east of Quincy,” was the location where, in the 1880s, picnickers visiting the cave saw two different apparitions during the onset of a thunderstorm. I want to visit this place the most, but I have no idea where Burton Cave is, or if it is gone, where it once was.
Number 4: The old Madison School location at 26th and Maine streets. Allegedly this plot was originally occupied by a home wherein a murder took place, and unexplained troubles still occur in the vicinity.
Have you been to any of these places? Had any odd experiences elsewhere in Quincy? Share them so I can go and have myself a good, “old-fashioned” scare.
I don’t know about all of you, but for me, an upcoming event is one I can’t miss. It isn’t my first since moving to Quincy, and it certainly won’t be the last one for me. You know which one I mean: Smoke on the River!
If you have not been to Smoke on the River, I want you to come this upcoming weekend. I will be there Friday night and Saturday, too. Look for the barbeque tester in the yellow QU ball cap and say hello! If you are one of my readers and want to taste a barbeque sample or two with me, I would be
happy to share. Heck, I might even wear something with my name on it just to make identification easier.
Here’s the scoop: 21 different contestants were registered when I wrote this blog. More will come. Multiple states, multiple barbeque styles and strategies, and all located in Kesler Park. My objective is to find the best brisket, which is my favorite cut of barbecue meat. Slow or fast, smoked, direct cooked, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to try them all.
Here are some I intend to hit first:
Cherry Red Roasters: Whole hog barbeque. I worry sometimes when I see multiple regional styles on the same menu, but they all look appealing. On the tasting menu is Texas-style brisket, which means slow-roasted brisket with a healthy rub, not a sauce.
Fiddlin’ Fatback: Coming to Quincy from Bloomington, Ill., this barbeque team rates honors from the Kansas City Barbeque Society every year. There are several thousand barbecue places in the KCBS listing, so being listed in honors is no easy task. Kansas City-style means an emphasis on the sauce.
The Smoking Hills: Another high-ranked team from the KCBS listing, this team originates from Overland Park, Kan., just outside of Kansas City. Their specialty, in addition to the big three barbeque favorites, is barbequed, smoked meatloaf. This I must try.
The Butcher Block: One of our local favorites I can’t wait to sample. I try to get all my meat from them when I want the best cuts and best flavor. I also like the variety of “odd cuts” and usual cast-offs they have in their store. Only traditional meat lockers carry some of the cuts they carry on a regular basis. The Butcher Block is the only place in the area that regularly stocks rabbit in their freezers, so I am hoping they bring some along for the competition. I have never tried it smoked as barbecue, so this would be a whole new experience for me.
So what are you doing this weekend? Hopefully you are making plans now to join me for this festival of smoked goodness. I think I may even fast all week long so I can be ready to go all-in when it comes down to tasting time.
Riding the rails across America is a wondrous vacation. America has the Amtrak and also has a number of scenic railroads scattered across the country. Unfortunately, taking a cross-country trip also takes a long time and is expensive. Another neat aspect of railroads, however, is the ability to watch them work. In all European and many Asian countries, railroads are a part of daily life because those areas of the world have more advanced transit systems than
America may ever have. In the United States, rail routes are getting fewer and fewer. Although rail traffic is rising compared with where it was a decade ago, it is rising smartly, not expanding wildly for all to see.
I was raised in a railroad family of sorts. My dad is a railfan. A railfan is a person who reads about trains, watches them, sometimes makes models of them, or collects memorabilia from them. We have lots of railfans in Quincy, including a very active modeling club. The club layout at the Good Samaritan Home is worth seeing if you never have before. Bring your kids to an operating session, and they will love it!
Apart from models, you can also observe the real thing. Trains are big, loud, powerful, and many sport cool livery that tells stories connecting the past and present. Speaking of the past, did you know Quincy was once a major rail hub? Quincy was a connecting town for many decades. The Pier restaurant sits on what used to be the most direct railroad bridge connecting northern Missouri to Illinois. Quincy was the terminus of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, the western terminus of the Wabash Railroad, and the starting point of the Quincy, Omaha and Kansas City Railroad.
Today, Quincy plays host to Amtrak, BNSF and the western end of the Norfolk Southern Railroad. We also have something unique: a short line. Perhaps you have noticed the red and black locomotives parked by the South Side Boat Club on weekends? These are two of a series of engines belonging to the Burlington Junction Railway, a short line or connecting railroad that shuttles railroad freight cars from local delivery points to connections with the big railroad companies. It is unique to the Midwest, and has a permanent presence here in Quincy, thanks to ADM, Titan and several other companies who use railroads to transport their goods.
My hometown, three times bigger than Quincy, never had a short line, even in the heyday of the city. If you want to have some fun, and bring the kids out to see engines more powerful than anything they will ever encounter elsewhere, try spending the day as a railfan.
You can see railroads in motion in our area six days a week, so you can choose the time, day and place of your excursion. Bring a camera of course, and pack a lunch if you want to make a day of it. The biggest thing you must remember, however, is safety. Stay off the tracks! If you want to chase trains, do it from a safe distance. You can catch major railroad action in Quincy, Hannibal, Keokuk, Fort Madison, and if you want to make a drive, the Alton area. When you get home, look up the designs on some of the cars you took pictures of. You may have witnessed a freight car in use from a railroad line that disappeared decades ago, leaving that one car to connect you to the past. If you see a unique or special railroad item, share it with us.
Everyone has heard tales of great explorers. In every place in the world that was once considered “frontier,” there has been some kind of explorer. Many great works of fiction and nonfiction have been devoted to telling stories about the greats, whether they are real-life explorers like Daniel Boone, Ernest Shackleton or Tensing Norgay, or fictional characters like Allan Quatermain. My personal favorites are Henry Morton Stanley and Robert H. Patterson.
Those days of exploring frontiers, however, are mostly over. The bottoms of the oceans and space are about all that remain unexplored, and only a very select few people
will go to those places in our lifetimes. There is an alternative that remains. It is one that is often dark and dirty, but provides and extraordinary opportunity for human discovery and photography.
What is this frontier, you ask? Well, it is urban exploration.
Urban explorers chase after human remains, of sorts. To be an urban explorer is sort-of like taking a cue from the TV series Life after People. You go where people have been, but left, and explore to learn about them. Not quite Indiana Jones, but still exciting. Urban explorers explore a phenomenon called urban decay. In 500 years, it will be archaeology. Think ghost town, not ancient burial site.
How many times have you driven down a back road and encountered an abandoned farmhouse, leering out of overgrown bushes at the end of a dirt driveway? When I drive out to go shooting at Cannon Dam, I pass one every time. If you have ever been to Monroe City, you know the one I mean, on the right side of the road, right before the junction of Missouri Highway J and U.S. 24. I bet the inside of the house has “stuff” that was left behind. The wood-box television is probably still in the corner where the first owner put it way back in the 1940s or 50s.
The unfortunate downside to urban exploration is that it frequently involves trespassing, and I am no advocate of that idea. “Keep out” signs are posted for a reason. Consider the places that are not blocked off to access around us here in Quincy, though.
There are railroad tracks that lead to nowhere located right down on the riverfront, trestles and bridge abutments, and no doubt other similar things lurking nearby if we just look. These are signs of places where there was once grand activity of some sort. My friend Randy has told me tales of his early days at Keller and Sons, when they still unloaded fertilizer and soil from freight cars, not trucks.
The rail cars may be gone, but still evidence of their recent past remains. All you have to do is look for it and take the first step — safely, of course. When you do find a place to explore, bring safety boots, a flashlight and a camera, and call me so I can come along.
What a week this has been, hasn’t it? Nothing seems to beat a cooling time as summer here gets to be its hottest. For me, the cool forecast signaled one thing to me: throw the tent in the car and head off.
My favorite place to camp around here is north of Kahoka, Mo., at Athens State Park. Not only is it a Civil War battlefield, which calls to my inner history nerd, it is quiet. The campground is set deep into the woods away from the popular park attractions and isn’t huge, so once you are in, you are among a short list of campers, even at the busiest season.
Going camping is also a great nostalgic experience for me. My grandparents loved fishing for virtually uncatchable species of fish, so every summer of my youth I spent one or two weeks in the woods of northern Wisconsin, staying in a fishing cabin. You know the kind: four walls, four windows, a door, four prison-style mattresses, a stove, a
table set and a toilet. You supplied the rest.
My dad used to take my brother and me up north several times each summer as well, but to northwestern Wisconsin. There, we stayed in tents. For my younger brother Geoff and I, this was adventure. Cooking on a fire, chasing frogs and toads at dusk, fishing, hiking through the woods (always within eyesight of the grownups, of course), and swimming for hours on end.
For my 18th birthday/high school graduation, my dad gave me a tent big enough for me and several of my friends to go camping and celebrate graduation summer. I still have it, only now I drag it out to the northern edge of Missouri, along with a cooler of the usual goodies, dress like Walter Matthau in either of the Grumpy Old Men movies, and go for a relaxing night in the “wilderness.”
Just like grandpa and dad.
Where is the nostalgic camping spot for you? More importantly, what do you do that evokes those memories of youth that make the trip special to you? For me, it comes between the fire pies, fire-scorched baked beans, and the s’mores. Maybe it’s the smell of the fire, or the constant nagging of insects, which flitter just out of reach of the bug spray my fiancée and I threw on when we arrived.
Of course, Athens is not Manitowish Waters or Minocqua, Petenwell or Black Hawk Flowage, but the woods are the same, the food is the same, and the memories of youth are hanging in the haze, right above the mosquitoes.
It’s hard to think about the summer coming to an end, isn’t it? County fairs are going on all across the region, which is wonderful, but they signal the end of summer. Officially, of course, in the “rust belt” summer ends with Labor Day, but I suggest county fair season is more appropriate.
The trouble with county fairs, in my mind, is how dangerous the food is. Everything fried tastes great, which is part of the problem for me. Corn dogs, funnel cakes, all those things are great to have at least once a year. One thing I have noticed and grown to love about living here in Quincy is the ease of access to so many of them.
Back home, the routine was fairly simple. Winnebago, Boone, Ogle and Stephenson counties have their fairs back to back. They are within a short driving distance of where I used to live, so those were the favorites for my family. Here, on the other hand, we have three states’ worth of fairs to choose from, and all within an hour drive of Quincy. This is a dangerous combination, especially if you love funnel cakes.
As I get older, I see county fairs differently than I did as a kid. For me, the county fair is an opportunity to find local eats you might never find any other way. You know what I mean: pie contents, vegetables of every shape and definitely every size, freshly canned vegetables, salsas… I could go on. The hunt for these things has replaced my childhood thrills of rides and cool animals you don’t see in the city.
I made it over to Pike County in Illinois, and I went to the fair in Pike County, Missouri. The Adams County fair was a must, as well.
What were your favorite booths or foods at the fair in your county? Let me know your favorite stops and things I must plan to see next year.
Committing to finish my senior seminar thesis over the summer has been a unique burden. On one hand, I am reading more about one singular topic than I ever have in my life. On the other, my days off are spent either in the library or meeting with the professor who is keeping a close watch over my progress.
These extra meetings seem to have had one exclusive benefit, however. In the last couple weeks I have been able to bump elbows with two of the all-star athletes from QU: Jodi Chapie (soccer), and Lucy Cramsey (Basketball). The summary of these encounters went like this:
“Aren’t you the guy who wrote about us having our hair in Samurai buns?”
Naturally, inside I was quaking in terror. Soccer players can kick like crazy! As it turns out, a series of compliments followed. I couldn’t believe it. I actually met another person who read my work. That makes seven out of the 1700 people who regularly tune in to my remarks. On top of that, I didn’t walk away with any serious injuries.
Now I feel bad. I made it my business to attend several QU sporting events in the last two years because, well, I suppose it is part of the college experience I need to take in. I am beginning to think now that I may have been mistaken. Every football game I attended was a loss, as was the basketball game I went to.
I have been missing something. I have never forgotten the picture in the Herald Whig last year of one of the soccer girls sobbing as she limped off the field in the rain at the end of the GLVC tournament loss. That spirit, or broken spirit, implies an energy I must have missed at the other games. On the rare occasions I see that girl on campus, that picture is the first thing to come to mind.
So this year, I am making plans now. I plan to cover more sporting events for the campus newspaper, and I am going to make my business to pay more attention to a set of teams who play to win all the time: the women’s teams.
I just have one problem, and I need your help. Check the QU athletics calendar so you can plan on backing me up. I was raised a Chicago Cubs and Bears fan. I know baseball and I know football. Heck, I even get basketball most of the time. Soccer and volleyball, on the other hand, are beyond me. I need a seasoned expert to help me figure out what is going on.
The season for all of the women’s teams begins in early September. Any volunteers?
This coming Monday, Americans all around the world will stop what they are doing, skip going to work, avoid school, and take advantage of every sale they can! That’s why we have this holiday called Memorial Day, right? To get a car at factory direct prices? Or a drastically marked-down mattress? Where are my car keys? I need to get out and shop.
Wait a minute.
For a moment there I think I was channeling what I have been hearing on the radio and seeing on TV all week long. What is it really about? For that, I must refer to General John A. Logan’s famous document, General Order 11, and I quote:
“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson saw fit to change the observance to the last Monday in May as part of the Uniformed Holidays Act. What he didn’t grasp, unfortunately, was the significance of May 30, and this I want to share with you.
Decoration Day, now called “Memorial Day,” was picked by General Logan for one reason. During the American Civil War, or the War of the Rebellion, or whatever you choose to call it, 651,000 Americans lost their lives in 10,000 different battles. Americans killed each other around the clock for four years, except on one day: May 30. Every other day of the calendar year featured at least one American death, but not May 30.
Logan was invited to a memorial service in Carbondale on April 30, 1866, and that started his desire to make an observance formal. Two years later, as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, America’s first formal veteran’s organization, he made it so.
How does that connect to me? Well, nine of my relatives fought in the American Civil War. Four for the north, five for the south. In this situation I was compelled to join the fraternal organizations derived from the Civil War veteran organizations, and while all alone as a member in Quincy, I am still obligated to do something on Memorial Day. Now here is where you come in: I want you to join me.
This is what Civil War veterans from both sides did on Memorial Days from 1865-1959: They came together in every town across the country, in Canada, England and even in Germany, and they celebrated together. They cried over their lost family and friends, told old army stories, laughed and usually ate well. Cemeteries are built like public parks for a reason, and that is recreation. That is where they went. They also had speeches, parades, color guards and all the stuff we do today.
So this Memorial Day, try and skip the sales. Go to a public program to honor our nation’s veterans who gave their lives for our country, past and present. Bring a lunch, bring family, and bring your friends. If you don’t want to go to a public program, go privately. You can do the same things on your own. Do you have a relative who served in the military and is no longer with us? Stop by the headstone and say thanks, and then have a picnic lunch with your family.
If you would care to join me, I will be at the noon program at Woodland Cemetery. Look for the guy wearing the modern suit and Civil War hat.