Tuesday, October 31, 2017

DeLand, Illinois

No matter which of the still standing 93 of the 111 Carnegie Libraries built in Illinois happened to be the last one that I got to, it would have been a fitting finale.  And so it was with the presently vacant library in the virtual ghost town of DeLand, population just 428, about one hundred less than when the library was built in 1911.  Though it may not be in use, it still stands gallantly in this small farming community near the center of the state between the capital, Springfield, and the large university town of Champaign-Urbana.  It is a town of empty stores, the lone hold out an antique shop, plus one of those ubiquitous Casey's General Stores outside of town on highway 10 that leads to Champaign-Urbana, twenty-two miles away.

The Carnegie faced a large park.  It wasn't in the grand-edifice school of Carnegies, such as the domed one in Paxton forty-five miles to the north that is on the cover of the book on the Carnegies of Illinois, but an example of the more common non-ostentatious, dignified model with a pair of pillars, high windows, steps up to the entrance and a light fixture symbolizing enlightenment. It had the added flourish of a curved slice of stained glass window over the entry featuring an open book promising worlds of knowledge within.  It was constructed of red brick.  High above the entry Carnegie Library was spelled out in bold capital letters.  It exuded no less majesty than any other.

It has been a glorious quest over the years visiting all the Carnegies in the state. This final push seeking out the last 25 in the past month was an unexpected bonus bike ride, something I happened to stumble into after biking 1,700 miles from Telluride to Bloomington, Indiana.  I only intended to add the nine Carnegies on my route across the state from St. Louis to Bloomington to my repertoire, but then the irresistible fall weather enticed me to continue riding around the state, literally up to the top of the state in Galena and then four hundred miles south down to Metropolis via all the Carnegies I had missed in previous trips.  October is such a fine month for cycling it should be renamed Biketober.  This has been such a fabulous ride around the state I will have to make this an annual Biketober event in other states.  Illinois may not be known for its fall foliage, but all over communities had pumpkins and their cousins on prominent display adding flourish to the season.

This ride has been so exhilarating, it is impossible to give it up, even if the semi-wintry weather is trying to tell me to be done with it.  Rather than heading home in glory, I'll extend my ride another five hundred miles or so over to Indiana and put a final bow on it with the possibility of another twenty-five or so Carnegies in the northern part of the state.  With fifty more Carnegies than Illinois in a smaller area (Illinois is the 25th largest state, Indiana 38th) they are much more densely packed.  And then maybe next October I'll circle around Indiana finishing off the rest.

Having cycled over fifteen hundred miles around Illinois on this trip, I have seen a lot of corn.  The road has been sprinkled with kernels that have fallen out of trucks transporting it to the silos where it is stored, sometimes piling it in towering pyramids awaiting its fate.

Much as Illinois produces, it only ranks fourth among the states.  Iowa is number one, followed by Minnesota and then Nebraska, the Cornhusker State.

Illinois is truly the Land of Lincoln.  Streets are named for him and statues erected and plaques mounted noting his having practiced law or given a speech or visited a place.  Outside the town of Monticello, eight miles south of DeLand, a plaque stated that Lincoln and Douglas had met there to arrange their series of debates.  Monticello had no need of funds from Carnegie for a library, as a local businessman had donated money for a library before Carnegie began his epic philanthropic endeavor.  It had recently been replaced by a large library a couple miles out of town in a suburban-style housing development.  When I asked a guy in a pickup where it was, he said it was too complicated to explain and to follow him.

The town was plastered with signs exhorting the Sages, as the high school teams are known.  Their actual mascot is the owl, but Sages is their preferred nickname. That was as original as the Pretzels of Freeport and Missiles of Milledgeville, other towns whose acquaintance I had made in my circuit of the state.  Though I have crossed the state numerous times at the beginning or end of a tour, this has been my deepest and most satisfying immersion. I will have to do it again.  

Though it is just one fifth the size of France, there is much to see.  Just as I never tire of France, I can say the same of prowling around my home state. As with France, it is always a happy occasion to return to a place I've been before to get to know it a little better and to remember my previous visit.  Unlike France, there is not much climbing in Illinois.  There is only a 955 foot difference between its highest point up along the Wisconsin border near Galena and its lowest point at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, both of which I came near to on this ride.   Only six states have a smaller differential--Indiana with 937 feet, Rhode Island 811, Mississippi 807, Louisiana 543, Delaware 447 and Florida 345.   

I have been delighted by all sorts of fascinating local lore, particularly the pride a town takes in the visit of someone of note, whether Abraham Lincoln or one of the Beatles.  It has been interesting to learn of albino squirrels and Statues of Liberty donated by the Boy Scouts and early industries of pretzels and candy and more on the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the hometown of Superman. I'm ever wondering what oddity I will come upon next, whether it be a sculpture honoring hippies or a statute of Ronald Reagan with a palm-full of corn. 

But I am mostly reveling in the anticipation of the next Carnegie, knowing its majesty will send my spirit soaring.  I am grateful to each for leading me along the roads I have followed.  My ever-present, over-riding satisfaction though is the undiluted pleasure of pedaling for hours and hours gazing on the ever unraveling countryside.  I am ever feeling supremely privileged that I discovered this as my calling and that I am not quarantined in some room, even if it were with an exceptional book or immersed in an exemplary movie.  I want to be out and about.  I am a physical being and don't wish to be sedentary.

I don't mind though, in fact look forward to, my end of the day quarantine in my cozy cocoon of a tent.   I always feel a thrill when I have found my nook for the night and begin setting up my tent and can settle in for an evening of digesting food and my glorious day.  Two nights ago I thought I would be camping behind an isolated barn, but as I began to erect my abode for the night I discovered there was a nearby side road that I could be seen from.  I didn't feel remorse or frustration, but rather the confidence that something even better awaited me.  I went down the road another couple miles after the sun had dipped below the horizon until I came to a small warehouse beside a train tracks that I could camp behind.  As the dark settled and I retreated within, I could well have been in some isolated wilderness.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tuscola, Illinois

The town of Olney was well-decorated for Halloween with a dazzling array of straw-stuffed characters, or so I thought. They weren't meant for Halloween, but were scarecrows left over from the town's September Harvest Festival.  It was a competitive event.  Businesses and residences all through town contributed a creation.  With all these scare crows there wasn't a bird to be seen.  The winner was a State Farm Insurance office borrowing from "The Wizard of Oz" with four of its stars and an added exclamation of "Customer service that will blow you away" alongside a mini-tornado.

A framing store paid homage to the farming community with a replica of Grant Wood's "American Gothic."

The shop's name, "White Squirrel Shoppe," was in reference to the colony of albino squirrels the town is famous for.  They first appeared in 1902 and have been protected as a civic treasure ever since.  A brochure included a map of the best places and times to see them. In the winter months, as it was for me with the temperature just forty degrees and ominously overcast, it was between dawn and noon.  It was already afternoon and not a white squirrel to be seen, not even in their prime habitat in the sprawling City Park on the outskirts of the town.  The only squirrels out and about in the park as I pedalled through it on White Squirrel Drive were a couple of standard grays.

The scarecrows and white squirrels were all a bonus, as for me the town's great treasure was its Carnegie Library, a fine specimen with Carnegie Library uniquely spelled out in red up high below its roof line for all to see. Even though it is no longer a library, it continues to serve the community as a museum from its prominent position on Main Street.

I passed through Charleston once again as I headed north to the next Carnegie in Arcola.  I had visited the Charleston Carnegie a month ago on my way to the Hilly Hundred.  I hadn't realized at the time that the fourth of the seven Linoln-Douglas debates had been held there.  I hadn't explored the city enough on that visit to continue on to its magnificent main plaza with a monumental court house, otherwise I would have learned from its "Looking for Lincoln" plaque that the day of the debate, September 18, 1858, was "perhaps the most historically significant day in the history of Charleston."  The sign didn't indicate that the debate had taken place in the plaza.  There were statues at three of its four corners, but none of Lincoln and Douglas, as I had seen in Ottawa and Freeport.  

There were three bookstores in this university town around the plaza, but none were open, nor any other store this Sunday morning.  No one was out and about in the cold.  I noticed the police station a block away.  An officer was sitting in his squad car.  He told me the debate site was out of town at the county fair grounds and included a small museum.  He added that one of the buildings on the Eastern Illinois campus was named for Douglas, but there was a movement to rename it since Douglas defended slavery.

The statues outside the museum were life-size, Lincoln 6'4" and Douglas nearly a foot shorter.  The museum was open but unattended. A small auditorium showed a movie of a reenactment from 1994 of the debate.  Even the people sprawled in the grass dressed in the period.  One couldn't tell if it attracted as many people as the original--10,000. The Lincoln impersonator wasn't fully authentic, as he declined to shave his beard, saving it for performances of the later, bearded Lincoln.  One could also listen to snippets from each of the seven debates and read quotes from the various debates trying to guess who they came from.  Visitors could compare their hand and foot prints to those of the over-sized Lincoln.  The museum was worth worth seeking out.  Someone in the guestbook had written, "Only one more to go."  I have four.  

The next Carnegie in Arcola, as I closed in on Champaigne, was even more exemplary than the one in Olney, highlighted with a dome.  It had had a significant addition to its rear, but unlike many Carnegies, one could still enter through its front, original entrance, mounting the set of steps giving one that Carnegie-sense of ascending to knowledge.

Arcola also had other attractions, enough to have a tourist office despite a population of just 3,000.  Mini-murals throughout its business district paid homage to the town's past.  One remembered Ella Fitzgerald and her entourage stopping at a local restaurant in 1941 and being served by a young man who went on to be a WWII hero.  Many of the locals, including the owner of the restaurant, weren't pleased at all that African Americans had dined there.  This was a time when small towns in the area had ordinances prohibiting African Americans from being on the streets after sundown.

Another acknowledged John Barton Gruelle, creator of the Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls and storybook characters, who was born there.  There was a monument by the tourist office honoring him and the dolls. 

My favorite of the murals though was bike-related.

The most amazing monument was a sculpture paying tribute to the Hippies, said to be the only one in the world.  It was sixty-two feet long, one foot for each year of the life of its creator, Bob Moonaw, who died in 1996.  It included a WOODSTC license plate.  The middle upraised section is the era of the Hippies, when people could stand tall, but then drops with the advent of Reagan and the return of "small-mindedness."  Though he regretted he wasn't a Hippie, he greatly admired their freedom of spirit, rebelling against oppression and repression and giving people "room to breathe."  

When the monument was dedicated after his death, his wife gave a most stirring speech explaining the sculpture and his thinking.  A transcript of her speech was mounted beside the monument.  His basic philosophy was the "Hippies changed the world for the good."  He most appreciated that they made it acceptable for those like him to no longer have to conform.

In a "Chicago Tribune" interview he described his life as "one long dental appointment."  Even back then he observed, "America, you're turning into a nation of minimum wage hamburger-flippers.  Rebel.  Think for yourself."  The largest Amish community in the state resides nearby and has a shop in town.  They would no doubt concur with many of his observations.

Continuing north eight miles to Tuscola brought me to another Carnegie, still a library with a small additon tacked on to its side providing a street level entrance.  The addition was of the same noble limestone matching the rest of the library.

The town was brightened with seasonal decorations.

It was another day with the temperature hovering around forty, but at least the sun shone bright.  I could sit and absorb its rays and warm up freed of the wind chill I create as I pedal along.  But the road is looking after me, as if it is encouraging me to keep riding, to go on to Indiana where a cluster of Carnegies in the northeast corner of the state beckons.  The day before it provided a hooded sweat shirt that I was able to wash at the motel I stayed at.  I put it on at the Lincoln-Douglas museum when even after twenty miles of riding I hadn't fully warmed up.  That extra heavy layer finally put an end to the chill I had been feeling the last couple of days.  A week ago, before I needed it, the road offered up a right-handed, middle-weight glove.  I had developed a hole in the forefinger of the glove I wear on my right hand.  It was no problem until the temperature fell below fifty.  Then I'd have to curl my hand into a fist to keep the wind from numbing my exposed finger tip.  

After I left the museum a car with a woman and two young girls in their Sunday best stopped and waved me over.  One of the girls in the back seat rolled down her window and presented me with a two-pack of hand-warmers, just what I'll need if I have to ride in a cold rain again.  The instructions say they will provide warmth for ten hours.  A bit later my eyes caught sight of a pair of heavy-duty, high-tech robin's egg blue Nike socks that go calf-high and are labeled right and left.  The semi-tourist town of Arcola had a public restroom with hot water, where I was able to give them a good wash.  

A couple days earlier the road was extra beneficent, presenting me with a coin purse containing two twenties, a ten, two singles and change totaling $54.45, which was slightly more than the cost of my motel.  The only ID in it was two sales receipts from a Walmart in Tennessee.  All I need now are a pair of jeans to provide a better windbreak than my summer-weight tights.  I am losing a lot of body heat through my legs.  There have been plenty of resale stores along the way,  but none lately.  I'll no doubt have a choice when I swing over to Champaign.  I'll be in a great celebratory mood, as I'll have completed the slate of Carnegies in Illinois.  Only one awaits me in DeLand to the west of Champaign.  It will be hard to turn north to Chicago and bring these travels to an end.  I might just keep heading east for a few Carnegies north of Indianapolis and then along the eastern border of the state up to Michigan for a bunch more, almost as many as the twenty-six I have gathered since leaving Bloomington three weeks ago.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Grayville, Illinois

In no way does the the sleepy river town of Metropolis, Illinois with a population of 6,000 bear a resemblance to the huge sky-scraper laden fictional city in the northeast of the same name that was the hometown of Superman, but since it is the only real town in the US named Metropolis, it has laid claim to being the home of the caped wonder.  The Illinois State Legislature even proclaimed it as such with a special resolution in 1972.  A later comic book in the Superman series entitled "Massacre in Metropolis" paid homage to the Illinois town sending a villain in search of Superman there, confusing the two cities.  He attacks a security guard and threatens various citizens until they reveal the true home of Superman.

A fifteen-foot tall painted bronze statue of the Man of Steel with hands on hips stands gallantly in front of the county courthouse.  A block away is a souvenir shop and museum with Superman launching himself from the side of the building.  It is crammed with mementos of Superman.  It has aisles and aisles of costumes and trinkets, including Clark Kent glasses for $4.95 that claim to be UV compliant.  Superman wrote for the Daily Planet.  The Metropolis newspaper is the Metropolis Planet.  The town holds an annual Superman celebration in June with panel discussions and a costume contest.  I had to wait several minutes to take a photo of the statue while others posed in front of it.  Illinois can claim a connection to a pair of the most renowned comic book characters.  The town of Chester on the Mississippi, sixty miles south of St. Louis, is the home of the creator of Popeye.  The town mirrors Metropolis with statues of Popeye and his cohorts and a souvenir shop.

The Carnegie Library that had brought me to Metropolis was three blocks away within site of a casino that is the prime lifeblood of the town.

I was joined outside the library waiting for it to open at ten by an older gent from Tennessee who regularly brings his wife to Metropolis so she can play the slots. While she gambles, he hangs out at the library and explores the environs.  My bike had him wishing he had such a contrivance for getting around, even though he hadn't been on one in years.  He wasn't sure what to make of me.  He asked if my pedals were broken, never having seen the mere rod of a clip-in pedal.  He asked to see the bottom of my shoes to see how they worked.  He could recognize that my panniers weren't simply bags lashed to the bike, but were likewise high-tech items.  He worked in a factory and could appreciate good engineering.  After a few minutes he said, "You talk like you have a college education.  A lot of the men I work with have been to college."

He said he liked to read "Mother Earth" magazine, making sure that I didn't think he meant "Mother Jones," of the left.  He only reads it at the library because a subscription costs too much.  He didn't object to his wife's gambling because it makes her happy, and allows them a relatively free vacation, as the casino gives them free lodging and food.  She got hooked on the slots when she went to New Orleans with a friend and tried it for the first time. She had a $700 jackpot, and there was no turning back.

He didn't realize the significance of this library, though he could appreciate its grandeur with its two added wings.  He asked if there were any Carnegies in Tennessee.  I knew there were a few, as I had been to some, but I couldn't remember how many.  He recommended going to the old fort down by the river.  It was about a mile away on my route out of town.  It was initially established by Spaniards in the 1500s.  The French took possession in 1702, then the English in 1764 until the Revolution. In 1908 it became the first state park in Illinois. A plaque gave credit to J. C. Blair, a 37-year old professor at the University of Illinois, calling him the "Father of the Illinois State Park System."  It extended for nearly a mile along the river and then even further inland. It was heavily forested and most scenic and peaceful with rebuilt buildings and a visitor center.

A couple miles out of town I turned north back to Chicago, that is if I'm not tempted to swing over to Indiana for some more Carnegies after I finish off Illinois about halfway up the state.  If my next Carnegie had been further along the Ohio River I could have stopped in at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, five miles away across the river in Kentucky.  It was nearly fifty miles with some climbing largely through the Shawnee National Forest to the Carnegie in Harrisburg.  The sun was shining and the wind was at my back and all was well with my world.  The continually unraveling pastoral scenery becomes more and more comforting the longer this now 3,000 mile ride goes.  This is as good as any antidote to these acrimonious times.  It is no wonder my every impulse is to keep riding.  

The Harrisburg Carnegie was the first in a while to no longer serve as a library.  It resides on Church Street and has become a church--Episcopal--complete with a cross where Library had once been engraved.  Across the street is the Harvest Deliverance Center Church, aptly named for an agricultural community.

The four-lane highway out of Harrisburg was lined with fences guarding corn fields and small patches of forests and occasional farmsteads. After ten miles with dark descending I settled on a road construction site with piles of gravel and rock as my campsite shielding me from the road.

I was half way to Carmi, 24-miles away, the next morning when the air became filled with a mist then a light drizzle.  It didn't let up while I warmed up at the new Carmi library, a few blocks from its Carnegie, also on a Church Street.  It's not a church though, but the genealogy branch of the library.  A plaque tracing the library's roots concluded with "Not for self, but for all." The forecast was for rain all day and for the temperatures to fall.  It was only 41 and I was still damp and chilled even after an hour at the library.  I was resigned to spending a night in a motel.  They aren't all that common these days in small town America.  Carmi was big enough to have a motel.  I feared it might be the last one for the day.  The next Carnegie was fifteen miles away in Grayville.  The genealogy librarian told me it was smaller than Carmi but had two motels outside of town along the Interstate.  "The Best Western has gone downhill," she said, "so I'd recommend the Super Eight."

So I set out in the rain getting wetter and colder. Halfway to Grayville my feet and hands were soaked and near frigid.  By the time I reached its Carnegie I could barely remove my gloves or get my fingers to function.  I couldn't warm up in the Carnegie as it was now a vacant building.

The librarian in the new library several blocks away said it was so structurally unsound that it wasn't even on the market.  In a town of empty stores, there was no demand for it.  It had been built over a cistern and had been collapsing.  It had remained the library until 2011 even though when 18-wheelers would pass by on the highway a block away they would occasionally rattle books off the shelves.  The librarian told me of a campground a couple blocks away along the Wabash River that had been a CCC campsite, but it had no place for me to warm up or to spread out my gear to dry.  With frost warnings my shoes wouldn't dry in my tent, so I definitely had to retreat to one of the motels back a mile on Interstate 64.  She confirmed the reputation of the Best Western as not being so clean.  The library had a table full of free books and magazines.  I asked if there might be any free newspapers, as wadded up newspaper soaks the moisture out of wet shoes.  She had several in her recycling bin.

Like Bunker Hill the town was decorated with painted bikes, twenty-seven of them I was told by the woman responsible for the project.  She owns an antique and knickknacks store embellished with a few decorated bikes which are not for sale.

She got the idea from Mount Vernon in Indiana on the other side of the river.  She wasn't a bicyclist, but appreciated the pallet they provided for her art.  

Though I haven't seen many people riding bikes on this trip, it has been pleasing to see bikes considered as objects of art, unless this is an indication that they are now being regarded as objects whose time is past, and that they are going the way of the dinosaur.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vienna, Illinois

As I meandered around the Centralia Carnegie Library, I was stunned to hear the comment, "I hear it might snow tonight."  The north wind of the past two days had kept the temperature from rising above fifty and had forced me to wear my wool hat all day for the first time on these travels, but sub-freezing temperatures didn't seem imminent.  It was late in the afternoon, so the ridiculously cheap, potentially lice-laden $19.95 motel I had seen entering town suddenly became attractive.  But only for a flicker, as there were two hours of light left and I had a tailwind that could not be ignored.  I've camped in the snow before. There is hardly a more soothing sound than the soft caress of snow flakes upon one's tent.  "Let it snow," I thought. "Let it snow."

I didn't linger in this stately Carnegie longer than it took to explore the two wings that had been added to its sides and also the much larger addition to its backside.  The brick wings matched the original brick, so they hardly seemed to be an addition, and the backside expansion couldn't be seen from the front, so the library maintained its majesty.  It was set back in a large park two blocks from the main avenue that ran through town.  The sprawling grounds with a scattering of towering trees had the feel of an English commons. The inscription over the library's entry of "Free to the people" rather than the usual "Free to the public," when a community deemed it necessary to use the word "free" to describe its library, seemed more personal and inclusive, adding to its warmth.

It was my second Carnegie of the day.  The first had been in Belleville, fifty miles to the west, in the thick of the spillover of the St. Louis metropolis into Illinois. The sprawl went on for over twenty miles north to south from Edwardsville, whose Carnegie I had visited three weeks ago.  I was lucky to find a place to camp in that stretch ten miles before Belleville amongst all the development in a thicket on the fringe of a housing development.  Belleville with 42,000 people was not only the largest of the towns in the beltway, it is the largest town in Illinois south of Springfield and the eighth most populous city in the state outside the Chicago metropolitan area.  It has been a city of prominence since its founding.  It established the state's first public library in 1836.  The grant of $45,000 from Carnegie in 1913 to build a much more significant library was the sixth largest in the state, behind $75,000 to Springfield, $65,000 to Danville, $60,000 to Decatur and $50,000 to Evanston and Galesburg.  Of those only Danville's still stands, though as a museum.  The Belleville library had an expansion to one side that one could pretend wasn't there.

Among Belleville's early industries was the Herman Goelitz Candy Company that later took on the much snappier name of Jelly Belly in recognition of its most popular candy--jelly beans.  In 2000 it began sponsorship of a bicycle racing team that continues to this day--the most senior domestic team by far.  It's long-time director is the Olympian Danny Van Haute from Chicago.  Unfortunately, I couldn't convey my thanks to its corporate honchos, as the company has relocated to California, though it does maintain an Illinois presence with a factory in North Chicago.  Before entering the world of bicycle racing, Jelly Belly was best known for being the supplier of Ronald Reagan's favorite candy.  He took to jelly beans when he stopped smoking and would commence meetings by munching on them and passing around a bowl to all in attendance.  A large bowl stood prominently on his desk in the Oval Office.

As I headed down the road out of Centralia wondering if snow was in my future, I was happy for the refrigeration the cool temperatures provided.  Upon entering Centralia I paid a quick visit to an Aldi's dumpster, something I can not resist, especially since there have been so few of them on this trip.  I was in no need of food, but I was happy to stock up on several pints of chocolate milk, yogurt, strawberries, tomatoes and bananas. It is always a lark to swoop in and grab a load of food in a fraction of the time expended by all those pushing carts up and down aisles and then have to wait in a line to fork over a wad of cash for their purchases.  Besides the perishables, I also scored a couple of packages of mini-donuts and dented cans of beans and fruit cocktail. And I filled two of my water bottles with orange juice   My panniers were bugling with a couple day's worth of food.  

I had a wonderful feast in my tent in a thick forest without any concern of lice or bed-bugs.  I had pushed down a path so I was well away from the road and had a perfectly quiet night as if I were back in the times of Daniel Boone.  The temperature in my tent never fell below forty,  and neither rain nor snow made a visit.  As I packed up in the morning, I dined right royally on cornflakes with chocolate milk and strawberries. It was just five miles to the Carnegie in Mount Vernon, another statuesque red-brick monument with wings added to its side set in a large park.  As I entered this sizable town, I passed a scattering of sculptures in the 90-acre expanse of the Cedarhurst Art Center, another of those many attractions I have come upon that warrant a return.  I  arrived at the library well before it opened, so I didn't need to be concerned about the sign on its door that  warned "Bicycle parking at your own risk."  Another notice advertised that rather than giving out candy for Halloween the library would be doing a "Books for Treats."

Before the next Carnegie in Marion, a city synonymous with its federal penitentiary, I passed by the euphemistically titled Big Muddy Correctional Center that looked like a prison with high walls topped with barbed wire and towering guard posts at each of its four corners.  I also passed through West Frankfort, whose motto is "Work--Live--Dream."  I skipped the Cozy Table restaurant in Benton, as my corn flakes and strawberries had yet to wear off, stopping instead at its non-Carnegie library to warm up with the temperature just 43 degrees.  There I learned that George Harrison had spent two weeks in Benton with his older sister in 1963, a year before the Beatles made their triumphant first tour in the States.  She was living there with her Scottish husband who was an engineer in the coal industry, who had first been lured across The Pond to work in Canada.  Though their residence in Benton was short-lived, their house had been turned into a Bed and Breakfast called a Hard Day's Night.   

During his visit he bought a Rickenbecker guitar at a music shop in Mount Vernon.  They weren't so easy to come by in England.  It was auctioned off in 2014 for $657,000.  It wasn't the first time I had crossed paths with the Beatles on a bike tour.  During a ride through the Ozarks a few years ago, I passed through Walnut Ridge in Arkansas where their private plane had landed in 1964.  I met a woman who had touched George Harrison.  And I also passed through Liverpool, where there are plaques galore honoring the lads.  

A replica of the Statue of Liberty, one-nineteenth the size of the original, stood in front of the library.  A brochure celebrating the centennial of the library system in Benton in 2016, which has had four buildings serve as the library over the years, told the story of the statue.  It was donated to the city in 1950 by its mayor in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, who were celebrating their fortieth anniversary, making available the statue to any community for $300 plus shipping to promote liberty, a program not unlike Carnegie's library-giving. A total of 208 statues were erected in 38 states, possessions and territories.  At the unveiling in Benton, attended by over a thousand people, the mayor said, almost in Trumpian rhetoric during the McCarthy era, "In these tense times and questionable loyalties, I thought it would be proper and timely to erect one of these statues in our beloved home town of Benton."

I don't recall coming upon any of the other 207 statues in my years of traveling the US.  They would make another interesting quest once I complete this Carnegie-mission.  Each would have a fascinating back-story.  The question is would the Boy Scouts have records of them or is this a totally forgotten story.

The Carnegie in Marion had a large addition to its backside, which is now its frontside, as the original entrance has been closed. The new entrance to the side replicates the original entrance with "Carnegie" spelled out in an arch above "Library."  The smaller original library now includes a snack counter called "Carnegie Commons."  Two older ladies were chatting away.  One commented that the apartment she had moved into was so small that she had to go outside to change her mind. 

I was spared seeing the penitentiary, which is seven miles to the south of Marion, on a road different from what I took.  I had been meaning to take a ride to it from Chicago a few years ago when a messenger friend ended up there for a drug and violence offense, but he was transferred to another prison and then released before I had a chance to.

I had visited the Carnegie in Vienna a few years ago with Janina when we drove down to southern Illinois on her spring break to camp and hike and bike in Shawnee Forest, so was happy to fully consecrate my visit to it by arriving via bike. A sign along the main highway through the small withering town pointed to "Carnegie Library."  And "Carnegie" was prominent on the library itself, including on the addition of a canopy.

Now it's on to Metropolis and the bottom of the state, twenty-one miles away. The forecast is for warmer weather so I may have a tailwind when I begin my ride north to Chicago, three hundred and fifty miles away. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bunker Hill, Illinois

If I had been wavering about whether to start heading back to Chicago or continuing south another two hundred miles to the most distant Carnegie in Illinois at the bottom of the state in Metropolis when I came to the Carnegie in Waverly, my decision would have been made for me by the hardy wind from the north that had propelled me nearly one hundred miles the day before and was still blowing.  It would have been foolhardy to turn around and face its fangs, when I could let it push me south.

But the decision had pretty much already been made.  Once I had the vision of Metropolis, home of Superman, planted in my imagination, wondering what this town on the Ohio with a giant statue of the caped super hero would look like, there was no way I could resist it.  And the string of ten more Carnegies, with six neatly lined up one after the other on the way down and four more on the way back up, made it all the more irresistible.  If I turned back at Waverly, there would have been just three more that I could add to my list.  And I needed more than that after the dud of Waverly.  It was marred by easily the tackiest addition to a Carnegie I had ever seen, utterly obliterating its charm.  It looked as if a ranch home had been attached to its front.  The town might as well have torn it down.

The town's insensitivity was further emphasized by a notice on the door reprimanding wifi-users for littering.

The notice needed to be updated, as the threat to curtail the wifi had been implemented, at least when I stopped by on Monday, when the library wasn't open.  I had no chance to see what had become of the library's interior or to file a formal protest with the librarian

The Carnegie in Petersburg, forty miles to the north, hadn't been sullied by any addition, though an added metal plate over its entry identifying it as "Petersburg Public Library" hardly seemed necessary with "Public Library" chiseled into its facade up a little higher.  And the new glass door undermined its authenticity.  The beauty of the library was enhanced, however, by flowers all around it and some pumpkins at its entry.

I was lucky to arrive in Petersburg by two on Sunday afternoon, as its lone cafe closed at three and with the library closed I was desperate for a warm dry place to retreat to.  It had been raining all day as I cycled to the west of Springfield.  The rain had blown in during the night, brought on by the switch of the wind from the north after having blown from the south for most of my travels.  It was a cold drizzle, barely sixty degrees. I dug out my wool gloves for the first time, discarding my synthetic gloves that are much better at cutting the wind, but don't keep my hands warm when wet.  The cafe was still serving breakfast, so I gorged on  my second stack of hotcakes for the day, making up for those many days of passing through towns without cafes during the morning hours.  The rain had finally let up when I left the restaurant.  My gloves were still damp, so I continued to wear them, allowing them to dry some in the still dank, heavy overcast that brought more rain after I set up my tent.

It was growing dark as I closed in on Waverly, so I retreated to a strip of forest along a creek three miles before reaching it, knowing it would be too dark to get a good look of the library if I continued into town.  My GPS showed a large cemetery within the town.  I was prepared to camp there if nothing had presented itself.  The cemetery would have sufficed, as the tombstones continued up and over a rise that I could have disappeared behind, but I was very happy with my forest.

The corner of the Main Street through Waverly where one turned to the library was filled with metal sculptures for sale, not an uncommon site in rural and small-town America.

This sculptor had a competitor a few miles down the road in Palmyra.

Among his works were a few odd creatures and a bicycle.

I've seen several yards in the past week with a three-wheeled contraption that becomes a perpetual motion machine when there is a wind, but neither of these sculptors had one on display.

The most noteworthy sculpture along this eighty-mile stretch between Carnegies, as I made another long transfer from one batch of Carnegies to another, was of Abraham Lincoln in the town of Bunker Hill.  It was the oldest and most majestic of the many I have seen on this trip.

It had been erected in 1904 with the governor of the state and one of its senators in attendance and a handful of Civil War veterans. The town had a population of 1,280 at the time, five hundred less than now, but the ceremony attracted over 7,000 people.  Lincoln is gazing down upon Lady Liberty, who is writing "with malice towards none."  As I peered closer at what she was writing, a guy in a pick-up slowed to comment, "I'd like to take her home and make her my wife."  

Bunker Hill was the first town in fifty miles from Waverly with a library, though not a Carnegie. The password for its wifi had the rare feature of spaces between the words--Romeo and Juliet.  It had a yellow bike out front adorned with flowers, as if The Tour de France would be passing by.  The librarian said it had been placed by the Lions Club.  There were others scattered around town, as if one of them had been inspired by a visit to The Tour.

France has much to recommend it as a touring cyclist's paradise, but libraries are not among its allures.  Few small towns have libraries and those that do have very limited hours and are closed for lunch.  But one doesn't see dying towns in France, as are all too common in the US.  Even if they may be on the wane, they would have a mayor and a citizenry with some pride that wouldn't allow closed buildings to become eyesores and would beautify their town with flowers and delightful touches like decorated bikes and benches at scenic viewpoints and picnic tables.  There was a touch of France too in Palmyra with a picnic table in front of its small cafe owned by someone with a sense of humor.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Macomb, Illinois

Not only is an October bicycle ride invigorated by Halloween decorations, 

it is also spiced with a variety of displays celebrating autumn.  

Pumpkins are a centerpiece of most.

The Carnegie town of Aledo commemorated the fall season at every intersection of its business district with a classic or vintage bicycle of some sort accompanied by a homemade doll and some fall accoutrement.

Someone in this small town had a bicycling consciousness, as the bike theme was reflected in its bike racks as well, not only in front of the library, but throughout the town.  

Even though the library was built in 1915 towards the end of the Carnegie bequests, by the time he had doubled the number of public libraries in the country to over 3,000, it still identified itself as a "Free Public Library."  Not only was civic pride on display in Aledo, so was pride in being a librarian with a "Librarians are heroes" poster above a book shelf.  Though the library hadn't been expanded since it was built, the town had grown large enough to attract a McDonald's and a Walmart.  I haven't seen too many lately, so I actually felt a jolt of pleasure at seeing them, remembering occasions on this trip when they provided me with provisions or an ice-filled drink or WIFI when I was in need.  It came as a surprise that these monolithic franchises could give me a positive reaction when I had been conditioned to feel otherwise.  They didn't exert enough magnetism though to lure me in.

Aledo further distinguished itself with a statue of Teddy Roosevelt on a horse, as the town was home to the Roosevelt  Military Academy from 1924 to 1973.  It was my second encounter with Roosevelt this week, as he had been to Freeport in 1903 to dedicate a monument to the Lincoln-Douglas debate in its park. The town also puts on a rhubarb festival in June and an antiques festival in September.  It was refreshing to come upon a town with such vitality, as all too many are on the wane.  I had hoped to fuel up on hotcakes the morning after Aledo in either Biggsville or Stronghurst, both within twenty miles of where I had camped in a forest, but neither had retained a morning dining establishment. 

Biggsville was big enough to have a bank and a Horse and Carriage Museum, but no diner, or Carnegie.  I thought I was in luck in Stronghurst, but the cafe had a "Closed" sign on it, and not just for that morning, but for good.  An old-timer told me it had closed eight months ago.  "These small towns are drying up," he lamented. "We used to have five grocery stores and five gas stations, now we just have one of each."  When I told him I had been hoping for some hotcakes, he said he would invite me to his house and have his wife cook me some, but they just got back from visiting a daughter in Virginia and their larder was bare.  Then he asked if I had heard that Bobby Knight had given a speech to a booster group over on the other side of the Mississippi in Burlington, Iowa the evening before.  There was a story on it in the morning newspaper. "Did he say anything about Trump?" I asked.

"The paper didn't say, but it did quote him as saying that if any of his players had knelt during the national anthem, he would have kicked them off the team.  He also said he had stopped watching the NFL because of it."

I asked him what paper the story was in, as I was headed to the library in La Harpe and would read it there.  We were talking outside the lone grocery store as I was eating some cornflakes.  He said if I were going to be around for a few minutes he'd go home and get me the paper.  When he returned, I offered him three of those hefty black rubber cords that truckers use to secure loads that I had picked up along the road to redistribute. They don't have as much flex as bungee cords, which I use to secure my tent and sleeping bag to my rear rack, so they aren't of much use to me, but I still can't resist picking them up. I had already given one to a woman I'd chatted with.  He gladly accepted them all.

A strong south wind had kept the temperature above sixty during the night, For the first time in nearly a week I didn't have to begin the day with tights and gloves and a wool cap.  But I had to ride into that wind.  My legs have the strength now to keep at it with vigor in stints of over an hour.  I was keeping at the pedals for even longer spells to try to make it to La Harpe before one in case it had an early Saturday closing time as small-town, rural libraries sometimes do.  I arrived five minutes before one as a guy was lugging a container of books up the steps of the small library.  "Are you about to close?" I asked.  

"The library ordinarily closes at noon today," he said, "but I'm doing some extra work.  You're welcome to come in."

After I took a photograph of the library he said, "The next time you come around, that Douglas Fir won't be here. It's dying and we've got to cut it down.  We don't know how old it is, so I'm going to have a contest to guess its age.  I know it's not as old as the library, but it's mighty old."

He asked if I'd noticed the books on the sign in front of the library.  Two of the books were among the top five most banned books--"Catcher in the Rye" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

We sat and talked for nearly an hour as he narrated his life story, which included time in Galena and Freeport and other places I had recently visited.  He had been the director of the library for a little over a year after working in academic book stores in Lincoln, Nebraska and Evanston and then at DePaul in Chicago.  "I was one of those evil guys who bought used textbooks for two or three dollars and then sold them for a lot more," he said.  He was eventually driven out of business by schools allying with Barnes and Noble.  He had moved to this area to be with family and had been working at the local Casey's when the job at the library opened up. His sister is the librarian at a nearby town and has been his mentor.  It pays a bit more than Casey's, but he is only paid for 24 hours a week, though he puts in a lot more time.  He supplements his pay with social security and a few lawn jobs, but voiced no complaints other than not being so well-treated by Casey's.  The library he likes a lot.

As we talked, the director of the local history museum stopped in, drawn by my bike, to invite me to the museum.  It had some Lincoln memorabilia, as he had family that lived in the area, including a relative by the name of Abraham Lincoln, who is buried in a nearby cemetery.  The town has two plaques relating to Lincoln, one at the site of a church where he gave a speech after one of his debates with Douglas and another at the house where he spent the night.  

The museum had the marble top from the Methodist Episcopal church pulpit that Lincoln had stood before.  "You can put your hands where Lincoln's hands rested," he enticed.  Before I left the library I asked to fill my water bottle.  "You don't want to use the water from the faucet," the librarian warned,   "We occasionally have boil orders."  He pointed towards a cooler with cold water and then offered me some chocolate chip cookies he'd make himself.  "You look like you could use the calories," he said.

The historian was even more talkative than the librarian.  He engages in Civil War reenactments and also doubles as Lincoln reciting the Gettysburg address.  I asked if the town had a French heritage, not only based on its name but also by the historian's lush mustache such as the French are prone to. The town came to be known as La Harpe simply by happenstance.  It's original name was Franklin, but when it applied for a post office, it learned there was already a Franklin in Illinois, so it had to choose another name.  Whoever was filling out the papers at the time came up with Le Harpe.

He went on and on with one fascinating  tale of local lore after another.  After a spell he asked me to sign the register.  The last person signed it five days before and was from Alaska.  Even though I was under pressure to get to the Carnegie in Macomb twenty-two miles away by five, and didn't want to trigger another prolonged dissertation, I couldn't help but ask about the Alaskans.  And off he went on another tangent that might not have had an end if I hadn't curtailed it.  It included the historian's two trips up the Alaskan Highway, once with his dad and another with his two teen-aged daughters and his wife and how he paid $20 so his women folk could shower after going without for three or four days.  I would have been happy to have him regale me with even more if I hadn't had two more hours of hard riding ahead of me into a strong wind, racing to beat closing time and then sunset time.

On my way to Macomb I passed a display of pumpkins and gourds for sale on the honor system, my second of the day.  The first had a secured box with a lock on it for people to put money in.  

This one just had a plastic jar and also no prices on anything, allowing people to pay whatever they wished.

Macomb is a university town, home of Western Illinois.  I passed it as I entered the city of 20,000 residents from the north, climbing a couple of steep hills after being on flat terrain much of the day.  I made it to the Carnegie, a block past the town center, just before five, with an hour to spare it turned out.   It was two stories high and hadn't had a significant addition until three years ago, attached to its side.  It had had a smaller addition twenty years before to increase the children's section.  The interior of the library had been fully modernized, not even retaining the standard Carnegie portrait, so it offered no sense of going back in time as most Carnegies do. At least its exterior fully captured the Carnegie aura and honored its benefactor with a simple "CARNEGIE" in the facade over the door under the much higher "Macomb Public Library" under the roofline.