“To think of the Midwest as a whole as anything other than beautiful is to ignore the extraordinary power of the land.” — Curtis Sittenfeld ♥
I have a huge soft spot for the Midwest. Really huge. I’m actually kind of hurt when people say [Kansas/South Dakota/Missouri/etc.] is boring to drive through, or there’s nothing interesting in between the coasts. ‘Flyover country’ is my favorite part of the country.
From Chicago I drove south towards St. Louis, and on the way saw some kind of sign about an Abraham Lincoln memorial highway, or something like that. It occurred to me that Lincoln was from Illinois so when I stopped for gas, I did a google search to see if there was anything cool to see along my way. I was flabbergasted to see that Lincoln’s tomb is in Springfield, Illinois, and that I was about to drive through that very town. It had never occurred to me to wonder where he might be buried – I guess the automatic assumption would have been Washington, D.C. I could hardly contain my excitement for the next couple of hours.
I was not disappointed. Before I pulled into the cemetery gates, I wondered how I would find the gravesite. As I rounded the corner of the drive, it literally took my breath away. The monument is at the end of a large grassy field, and stands 117 feet tall. It’s incredible.
A few other tourists were milling about with cameras, and there was a security guard on duty. A sign asked visitors to speak softly and turn off cell phones. No one was even talking at all — a sense of reverence washes over you just from looking at it. To imagine that such an immense, beautiful building was created for just one man was something to behold. Inside the tomb is a square-shaped marble hallway with bronze sculptures of Lincoln, quotes, and the story of his life. At the back of the building is his headstone, simple but impressive. The flags around the grave are representative of his life in various ways – places he lived, etc. His family members are entombed in the wall opposite. I also stopped at the Illinois State Capitol, which was really impressive. I’ve seen quite a few capitol buildings and this one definitely stood apart. The grounds around the building were especially beautiful, and of course there is a statue of Lincoln in front of it.
After that very American stopover, I headed on to one of my all-time favorite cities, St. Louis. My mom’s family is from St. Louis so I’ve been visiting there all my life, and since I didn’t grow up anywhere in particular, it kind of serves as a ‘home’ for me. The main reason I took this detour (about 5 hours out of the way from my original trip) was to visit my grandparents’ graves. I also had never been in the Gateway Arch, so I decided to do that while I was there.
It was really tough to visit the cemetery the next morning. My grandpa was both a Navy vet from WWII and the Korean War, and a retired Fire Captain from the St. Louis fire department, so he’s buried in the national cemetery with my grandma. He died just under a year ago, so the funeral was fresh in my mind as I laid flowers on their grave. I felt in that moment that my whole road trip was worth it just to be able to visit them.
In the afternoon I needed to take my mind off things, so I drove downtown and bought my ticket for the Arch. It’s just $10 (and parking was only $2)! The tickets are currently being sold in the Old Courthouse building due to some construction, which was fine because I had an opportunity to check out their display about the famous Dred Scott case from 1857, when Dred and his wife sued the state for their liberation from slavery. They won in the local court but the Supreme Court overturned it, ruling that African Americans, whether free or enslaved, could not be considered US citizens. It’s a really interesting exhibit, albeit really sad, and there is a statue of the Scotts outside the building.
From there, it was on to the Arch. I was wondering how the elevator was going to curve at the top, but that was pretty quickly cleared up: they have egg-shaped pods that hang like ferris wheel cars! They sent 5 of us climbing into each one (after we all stared dubiously at them wondering how we would fit). But we did, and up we went. There are no windows and it seems a bit creaky and old…many people did not seem happy with the ride. I, however, thought it was awesome. Certainly something different.
The top was under construction so we could only walk around the south half. It’s so tiny up there! The windows are very small and you have to lean over a slanted windowsill to peer through them. The vista is amazing though, and since it was a crystal clear day, I got much better pictures than I had from the Willis Tower in Chicago. I even spotted Busch Stadium where my favorite baseball team (the St Louis Cardinals!) plays.
After 2 days in St Louis, Indianapolis was my next stop. My Air Force parents were stationed in Japan in the 80s (which is why I was born there, of course), and somehow my mom had kept in touch with her friend Lauri this whole time (helped along eventually by Facebook). She is a lovely person and has been writing me letters for years, so I was excited to finally meet her. She graciously offered to let me stay with her and her husband for the night.
I didn’t know anything about Indianapolis prior to my visit, and it seems like one of those cities that never comes up in conversation. As it turns out, it is an absolute gem of a city! Downtown is laid out beautifully around a circular plaza in the middle, and a massive war memorial is the center of attention. There are quite a lot of beautiful memorials, buildings, and fountains.
My very favorite thing was the library, which is the lovely old bookish kind in the front, but through the back is a massive glass atrium that leads to a 6-story building that seems to take up an entire city block. I could have happily lived in that library forever.
Lauri also treated me to a delicious dinner at a Moroccan restaurant, where I had couscous and vegetables and some really delicious Moroccan tea. It was a lot of fun chatting with Lauri and her husband about their days in the military with my parents (I don’t think I ever quite believed that my parents used to speak Russian, but now their story has been corroborated so I guess it has to be true).
Finally I drove to Michigan, where I stayed for a few days basically just to relax and catch up on work. When you’re changing cities so frequently you don’t get a lot of opportunity to veg, and I needed that before my Canadian adventure…more about THAT in the next post!