Monday, April 29, 2013

Men of the Midwest

As a fan of Ronald Reagan, and trying to build a collection of campaign items used in the elections that Reagan was involved in, it was a natural process to visit Illinois and the sites where Reagan was born and grew up. Of course, to go all the way to Illinois from North Carolina, you might as well take in some other sites along the way. One of the joys of the trips I often take is that my dad goes along with me, and since he enjoys seeing the sites with me, it makes the trip enjoyable.

We started our journey on the morning of Tuesday, April 23rd, heading up I-77 through Virginia and West Virginia, picking up I-64 in Charleston, WV to head up through Kentucky. We arrived near Cincinnati around 4:00 that afternoon, and stayed in a Comfort Suites right across the river in Newport, KY. I had been to a Reds game last year, but my dad had not been to one since 2005, so it was a treat to get to see one in person together again. We rode a bus across the river into Ohio, and visited the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibit this year was on Joe Morgan, the great second baseman during the 1970's. The game started at 7:10, and after spending a lot of money on stadium food, we were ready for the first pitch. Our seats were on the lower level behind first base in short right field. This provided us a close up view of the action, which was neat. The game itself was well played by the Reds and their opponent, the Chicago Cubs. The Reds were losing 2-1 going into the bottom of the 9th inning, when Joey Votto singled in Shin-Soo Choo to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. The Cubs scored two runs in the top of the 10th, and with rain coming down, we headed for the bus. After driving 8 hours to get there, it was a long day. It is always good to take in a Major League Baseball game in person, and I look forward to the next chance to see one again.

The next morning, Wednesday, we headed out of town, driving to Indianapolis, which is about a two hour drive from Cincinnati. We arrived at Benjamin Harrison's home around 10:30 to tour it, the home of the 23rd President of the United States. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, and was very detailed. The home is still in the appearance that it would have looked like when the Harrison's lived there, so it was great seeing all the rooms and how the President lived while he was there. The weather was cooler that day, and it rained off and on. After leaving the home, we headed towards Crown Hill Cemetery, where several famous people are buried,. including Harrison. We saw the graves of three Vice Presidents, a couple Civil War generals, and other notable people from history. Next, it was off to Carmel, where two fellow political collectors live, and they were both gracious enough to host dad and myself and briefly show us their amazing collections of various political items. One thing about trips my dad and I take are that we are serious when it comes to moving fast and seeing a lot, so after leaving Carmel, we headed to Lafayette, IN. There is a little town near there called Battle Ground, site of the infamous Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, where William Henry Harrison earned his nickname that would help him get elected President in 1840. This was a nicely preserved battlefield, with a very impressive monument honoring the soldiers that died there. Our first encounter with flooded creeks and rivers was here, and throughout the trip we saw rivers that had crested and overflowed their banks. After leaving the Lafayette area, we had a long drive to north central Illinois, heading to the small town of Eureka, IL where Ronald Reagan attended college. It was a three hour drive, but since we entered the central time zone, only took two. After a quick supper at a nearby Taco Bell, we pulled into Eureka around 8:00 that night, and toured a museum of Reagan items, a lot of which were given to the school by Reagan himself. They had several campaign related items that I have myself, and this was the first Reagan site we saw on the trip, so that also made it special. We then drove a short distance to El Paso, IL where we spent the night, after another long day of driving and seeing presidential sites.


Thursday morning, we left El Paso, and had about an hour and half drive to Dixon, where Ronald Reagan grew up. The weather that morning was very cool, and was around 40 degrees when we got there. The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home is the main home the Reagan's lived in when in Dixon, and Ronald graduated high school here and served as lifeguard at nearby Lowell Park in the summers. The home is much like it was in Reagan's day there, and we saw the room him and his brother stayed in. There was also a nice statue beside the house. I also enjoyed sharing some of my Reagan buttons I had that were made with pictures of Dixon, and some of the ladies working there were highly impressed with some of the Reagan items I had. I also bought a few books and items in the gift shop there. Next, we drove down to the Rock River, where an equestrian statue of Reagan was. Crossing over the river, we saw a nice Abraham Lincoln statue, commemorating his service in the Black Hawk War in the 1830's. After a swing by Lowell Park and lunch at Jimmy John's, it was time to head to Tampico, about 30 miles to the southwest, where Reagan was born in 1911. Tampico is a very small town, but they are proud of Reagan being born there. Reagan was born above a bank, and you can currently tour it and the birthplace upstairs. There was also a nice mural of Reagan painted on a wall across the street. After spending about an hour there, it was time to move again, this time heading north along the Mississippi River and the town of Galena, IL. This town is where Ulysses S. Grant lived before the Civil War and after the war until he became President. The home that Grant resided in was open for tours, and dad and myself decided to take the time and tour it. A very informed tour guide showed us around, and the house was very impressive. Many items that Grant received during his world tour after leaving the White House are here in Galena, as well as many items he personally owned. After leaving the home, we went in to town, where the Galena Historical Museum had an exhibit on Grant, seeing many more items, including his buggy and top hat. Now, it was time to head towards Iowa. Crossing over the Mississippi, we arrived in Dyersville, town where the Field of Dreams movie was made. After checking into a hotel, we drove over to the movie site, and it still looks a lot like it did during the movie filming in the late 1980's. Dad and myself "had a catch" as Kevin Costner would ask his dad in the movie, and that was a great moment. We had dinner after that at Pizza Hut, and another long day came to an end. Iowa and southern Illinois can be considered the corn capital of the world, as we saw miles and miles of corn fields in every direction, although it was not growing yet at this time of year.

Grant home in Galena

Reagan statue in Dixon

Reagan birthplace

Reagan Boyhood home

Field of Dreams

Herbert Hoover was the first president born west of the Mississippi River, and being in Iowa anyway, it made sense to go see where he was born. There is a small town in southeastern Iowa called West Branch, and Hoover was born here in 1874. The Hoover birthplace is a national historic site, and the actual small cottage he was born in still stands. Hoover and his wife Lou are buried on a hill overlooking the birthplace, so we walked on a trail and saw it as well. Next door is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, run by the National Archives. They had a wonderful exhibit on Hoover's life, including his time as mining engineer, food czar, Commerce Secretary, President, and Humanitarian. After leaving the library, it was time to leave Iowa. We ate lunch at a place called Grammy's, right off I-80, and it was good home cooking. Before crossing the Mississippi back into Illinois, there is a small town called Le Claire, where Antique Archaeology is located, otherwise known as the American Pickers. Mike and Frank weren't around, but it was neat to see the site made famous by the History Channel. After crossing the river, we were back in Illinois, and were just trying to find a place near Indiana to spend the night. Bloomington is above Springfield, and is where two men named Adlai Stevenson are buried. The grandfather was Grover Cleveland's second Vice President, and the grandson ran for President twice and lost to Dwight Eisenhower both times. We finally found a place to stay in Danville, about a mile from the Indiana border, and ate supper at Big Boy's.

Antique Archaeology
Hoover Library  

Hoover Birthplace

Well, by now, it was almost time to wrap up the vacation. We started Saturday morning by heading to Vincennes, Indiana, site of the old capital when it was known as the Northwest Territory. William Henry Harrison was Governor and lived here from 1800-1812. We toured Grouseland, his home, and saw many artifacts relating to Harrison and his time there. Being on the Wabash River, Vincennes was an important city in that period, and there is an impressive monument to George Rogers Clark on the river. Right across the river in Illinois is a statue dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, and it was here where his family first entered Illinois, that state where he would serve as Congressman and lawyer and spend most of his adult years. The last destination of the journey was Lincoln City, IN where Lincoln grew up after the family left Kentucky. Lincoln's mother died here and is buried on a hillside. This was a nice site and had lots to do regarding Lincoln's time here in southern Indiana. After seeing this, it was time to head to Louisville, KY where we planned to spend the night. After eating dinner at White Castle, we decided to go see Zachary Taylor's burial site again, which we had visited in 2009. We also found the Taylor home this time, located adjacent to the cemetery. It was time to get a hotel room, wrapping up another day of sightseeing in the Midwest. Sunday, it was time to head for North Carolina. We did stop in Frankfort, Kentucky's capital, to see the grave of Daniel Boone and Richard M. Johnson, Martin Van Buren's Vice President. After that, it was lunch at Steak n Shake in Huntington, WV, and then to home, where we arrived about 6:00 that evening. It was raining a lot on Sunday, but we made it safely home, and it felt like I had been gone a month. This was one of the farthest trips we had ever taken, and we put almost 2,200 miles on a rental car. Seeing all these presidential sites was very special, and it was great to be able to work in so many on one trip. I look forward to the next vacation, and I have a feeling there will be a stop at a Presidential site somewhere along the way. 


Nancy Lincoln grave
George Clark memorial

Zachary Taylor grave

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