Sunday, July 31, 2011

Laughing with the Llamas

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Joann and I enjoy so many things about driving on the back roads of Wisconsin and other great places in this country. We laugh about a lot of things – mostly our silly jokes, puns, and memories, and our incessant teasing of each other.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to come across some animals out in the pasture, and some of the cutest and funniest we come across are the llamas. Often what we find is a small farm with just a few llamas and sometimes there is only one llama.

Or two.

Then one night on the way home from a day of photographing, we came across a pasture full of llamas. We had never seen so many llamas, and stopped for a while to try and get some pictures and just to watch as they moved about. Joann watched through her camera lens, and I watched with my binoculars.

Since that first night of finding the llamas, we have returned several times. The next time we drove by specifically to see the llamas, the pasture appeared empty, and we thought they had sold all of the llamas or the farm had changed hands.

Then just last month at the end of our weekend trip to Iowa, we came past the same pasture again. As we passed the main part of the pasture where the llamas had been on our first stop, it was again empty. But as we drove further along the road, we found that there were several groups of llamas up close to the fence. We were tired, and it was getting late, but there were llamas!

Joann got out and grabbed her camera. She cautiously crossed the road, and the llamas stayed where they were, just checking her out. She inched closer and closer, stopping every now and then to take a couple of photos in case they bolted. Finally, she was right at the fence.

There was a little white llama that was very curious, but also very cautious. It wanted to see what was going on, but it wasn’t brave enough to come to the front to be the center of attention.

It just kept popping up in different spots to watch Joann.

There was also one with a spotted face and body, and a shear cut that made it look like a clown. That one was so cautious that it would never stand still long enough for Joann to get a picture.

This group of llamas is very well taken care of. They are sheared in different manners leaving them all very different looking. I wonder if the owners have them sheared based on their personalities.

As the llamas moved about, sometimes they would position themselves so they ended up looking like a pushmi-pullyu (pronounced “push-me—pull-you”), the mythical creature from the 1967 Dr. Dolittle movie. This animal had a llama head and front feet on each end, and each end wanted to lead.

The Llama
Ogden Nash

The one-L lama,
He's a priest.
The two-L llama,
He's a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn't any
Three-L lllama.

Take the backroads when you can and watch the pastures for a pushmi-pullyu!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Forsaken, But Not Forgotten

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last week, in her story about Grant Wood, Ruth mentioned that we had visited Stone City, where Grant Wood established an art colony. We did our photographing there before sunrise and then headed east to photograph a number of stone barns on a farm associated with the Anamosa State Penitentiary. On the way there, however, we passed a simple, yet beautifully maintained cemetery and we couldn’t resist going back to check it out.

We hadn’t caught the name of the cemetery, but it was strikingly beautiful with its white picket fence, neatly mowed grass, and simple stones rising up from the hillside as the sun was rising beyond the hill. Upon returning to the cemetery, we discovered the words “Anamosa State Penitentiary Cemetery” on the arched entryway.

As I headed up the hill with my camera equipment, I was struck by the simple nature of each and every gravestone. Is it possible that they were carved by prisoners as a part of the work program at the penitentiary? Some of them were of average size with a single name on them. Others were very large, with many names listed on them.

As I studied these large stones, I noted that there was almost never a first name carved in the stone; only a first initial, a last name, and the year the prisoner died. And then I noticed something quite unusual on one of the stones. About halfway down, the list said, “?. Parke 1887.” It was preceded by “A. May 1882” and it was followed by “J. Smith 1887.” How sad that this man lived and died among prisoners and prison officials and no one ever knew his first name.

In August of 1872, work began on the building of the Anamosa State Penitentiary and the first prisoners were transferred there from Fort Madison Penitentiary in May of 1873. The first prisoner death at the new penitentiary occurred in December of that year. The inmate’s name was George Williams and he was buried a short distance from the west wall of the prison on a hill facing east.

By 1914, there were 34 more prisoners buried near Mr. Williams; prisoners who had no families to give them proper burials or whose families would not or could not claim their bodies. At that time, the prison farm needed more land, so the bodies of these 35 prisoners were moved to the current location, about a quarter-mile uphill from the old graveyard.

On August 26, 1896, a prisoner, who was serving a life sentence at Fort Madison Penitentiary for killing a 73-year-old guard in an escape from the facility, was transferred to Anamosa. This transfer was done because the prisoner was suffering from tuberculosis (or consumption as it was then called) and Anamosa had a better hospital.

This prisoner was Polk Wells, a train robber and bandit who was associated with outlaws like Jesse James and the Younger brothers. He was originally sentenced to ten years in prison for his highway robberies after being captured in Randolph, Wisconsin by Sherriff Dan Farrell of Mills County, Iowa.

While serving this ten-year sentence, he planned an escape during which a prison guard was killed, and he was then sentenced to life in prison. Polk Wells died on September 11, 1896, sixteen days after his arrival at Anamosa. There is a stone at the Anamosa State Penitentiary Cemetery with his name on it, but he is not buried there. Upon his death, his body was immediately taken back to his home area of St. Joseph, Missouri. The only explanation for this mistake is a clerical error by the penitentiary.

The saddest thing I discovered as we were about to leave the cemetery was a gravestone for a World War II veteran named Benjamin Perry, who died in prison on November 2, 1962, the day before his 52nd birthday. Ruth and I tried to find some information about this man, but we were unsuccessful. It’s sad that he served his country in the war and then died with no one to claim his body.

The good news in all of this is that someone still cares about the lives of these prisoners. There were flowers, a military marker, and an American flag on Benjamin Perry’s grave. The lawn was neatly mowed and there were flowers on many other graves.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this “virtual visit” to this interesting and historical cemetery.

Until next time, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

American Gothic

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Grant Wood was born four miles east of Anamosa, Iowa. One of his best-known paintings is American Gothic, which depicts a man and woman standing in front of a small white house. The man is holding a pitch fork. They look like a typical Midwest couple of the early 20th century when life was hard.

In the summer of 2008, as Joann and I headed to Cedar Rapids to stay the night, we passed a barn with scaffolding set up along the front of it. We both looked to see what the painting was and were surprised to see that it was a replica of the American Gothic Painting.

We stopped and took a few pictures with the scaffolding, fearing that we would not get back to see the barn before something happened to it. I made a note of the approximate location of the barn and we continued on our trip.

In June of this year, we had the opportunity to return to Iowa to hunt up some barns and Joann asked if we might be able to find the American Gothic barn again on the trip. We planned for our circle to take us down to Davenport, then up past Cedar Rapids to Anamosa and then east to Dubuque. We decided that we could definitely make this barn a stop on our trip.

On Saturday night, we checked into our motel at Mount Vernon and then decided to go out in the evening light and check out the barn. The lighting was good, so Joann pulled over on the highway, and then crossed over to the other side to take her photos. The barn now has murals painted on three of its sides.

The following morning, we headed out bright and early as usual. Our first stop was Stone City and as Joann photographed an old stone church from various angles, I read a visitor board about Grant Wood. He had helped to found the Stone City Art Colony near his hometown to help artists get through the Depression. Sitting next to the visitor board was a building that was a replica of the house from the American Gothic painting.

The real Carpenter Gothic style house that Grant Wood used for the background of his painting sits in Eldon, Iowa. The house has a visitor center with vintage clothing and pitchforks available for photos.

As we headed east from Anamosa, we came to the Antioch School, which Grant Wood attended from 1897 until 1901. The school is restored and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Behind the school was the restored outhouse, and Joann can never resist adding another outhouse to our collection.

Grant Wood is one of the Midwest’s most prized artists. He was born February 13, 1891, and died on February 12, 1942. From 1920 to 1928, he made multiple trips to Europe, where he studied different styles of painting. On his return to Iowa, he was widely quoted as saying, “All the really good ideas I’d ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. So I went back to Iowa.”

You never know what you’ll find along the unassuming backroads, so keep your eyes open.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Double the Pleasure

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Yesterday morning as I was wondering what to write about, I looked out my window as I often do when I’m thinking. And suddenly, the perfect topic showed up a few feet from my window. Ask and you shall receive!

As I glanced towards the stone steps that go up into the woods, I saw a doe walk from one side of the steps to the other. So I waited and watched to see if she had a fawn or two with her.

And, sure enough, a little spotted fawn popped out of the weeds and cautiously crossed, following in the footsteps of his mother. And then another little spotted fawn popped out of the weeds and crossed the steps, quickly disappearing into the vegetation on the other side.

This isn’t the first time I have had the privilege of enjoying twin fawns outside my dining room window. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a doe with twin fawns almost every summer. A couple of times, they have been brave enough to come close to the house in order to drink from my birdbath and scavenge birdseed from below the feeders.

I have read that a doe will typically have a single fawn the first time and then twins the following years. I have also read that the mothers usually stay away from their fawns for a few days so that their scent doesn’t rub off on the fawns (who are born without a scent). This is nature’s way of protecting the fawn, along with giving them spots to help camouflage them.

One of my favorite children’s books is “Lost in the Woods,” featuring the wonderful photography of Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick. It’s about a new-born fawn whose mother has left him in order to protect him until he is strong enough to follow her. As the little fawn awaits the return of his mother, all the other forest animals wonder if he’s lost.

One of my favorite movies is Walt Disney’s “Bambi,” the story of a young deer as he grows, makes friends, and finds love. Millions of drawings were produced for this movie and the final movie is made up of roughly 400,000 drawings. The film opened in theaters in 1942 and was a box office flop. However it began to make money when it was re-released and today it is considered a classic.

If you like hiking in the woods, keep your eyes open and you might just spot a new-born fawn.

Happy Shunpiking!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Lincoln Highway in Iowa

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

A mere 100 years ago, the only roads that existed in the US were around cities. There were no planned routes between cities, and very few “improved” roads. A road was considered improved if it was graded and only a few in those days were gravel or brick. If you find any pictures of cars traveling on those first roads, you will often see them axle deep in mud and ruts.

In 1912, Carl Fisher had an idea for a coast to coast rock highway. He tried to get the interest of both private citizens and automobile companies. Henry Joy of the Packard Motor Company became the spokesman for the idea. He was the one who suggested the Lincoln Highway name. In 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created and Henry Joy was elected president. In the years following, the Lincoln Highway slowly took shape.

In March of 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) began planning a federal highway system that was to consist of a series of numbered highways. All of the existing named roads, including the Lincoln Highway were ignored in their planning. The Lincoln Highway Association wanted the same highway number to be associated with the highway across the country. This was not to be in the new federal plan, so the last major activity of the association was to mark the highway with small concrete markers as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. On September 1, 1928, thousands of Boy Scouts fanned out along the highway. At an average of about one per mile, they installed small concrete markers with a small bust of Lincoln and the inscription “This highway dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.”

Many businesses had sprung up along the Lincoln Highway especially in the towns the highway passed through. It is those businesses that Joann and I find fascinating. We have less interest in driving every mile of the original highway than in those businesses that did business along the highway, and in some cases still do.

If you read our post “When it Rains, It Pours”, you know that our first trip along the Lincoln Highway was to visit Belle Plaine, Iowa. We are fascinated by old gas stations and their signage, and you can’t find more of this history than at Preston’s Station in Belle Plaine.

Along with the station itself, sits an old Rumely Oil Pull tractor. Rumely OilPulls were a line of tractors built by the Advance-Rumely Thresher Company of LaPorte, Indiana beginning in 1910. They seem to have more in common with old steam engines than regular tractors.

Over the years, the route of the Lincoln Highway was marked in various ways. Sometimes the colors of red, white, and blue were painted on telephone poles and sometimes other methods of marking the highway were used.

During my research, I found a picture of the Youngville Station, which was located along the Lincoln Highway. Had Youngville been a town at one time? I searched everything I could find and could not come up with a location. As Joann and I headed home after one of our trips to Iowa, we were flying down a divided Highway 30 west of Cedar Rapids when we looked at each other with a “did you see that?” expression, and Joann screeched the car to a halt along the wide shoulder of the road.

We managed to turn the car around and pull into the parking area where we spent some time walking around the building and taking photos. As Joann often does, she even ran out onto the highway to get the best photo. (Her gravestone in the end will probably read something about being smucked on the highway, doing what she loved.)

So, as you travel the byways and backroads of this great country, take photos and make memories, but try to stay out of the middle of the road.

Happy Shunpiking!