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.

1 comment:

Bill Burns said...

Here's hoping you'll stay warm out there in the sticks (with the hicks...Hick Town an' all that), George. Weather reports here in KC are saying even Dallas (TX) could see freezing temps come this weekend! Happy riding!