Sunday, October 27, 2013

Junipero Serra and The El Camino Real/Highway 101 Background

El Camino Real bell
Heavenly Bell- Creative Commons Image
The origins of Highway 101 began thousands of miles away and hundreds of years ago. In Petra, Spain in 1713 Junipero Serra was born.At the age of 16 Serra joined the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church. He served as a monk in Spain until 1849 when a group of Franciscan missionaries were sent to Mexico in the New World to convert the natives and build mission churches for worship. From Kidport,Com:
Junipero Serra
Junipero Serra Public Domain Image
For nineteen years after their arrival in Mexico, Father Junipero and his three friends were kept at work there, under the control of the College of San Fernando, in founding missions and preaching. On the suppression of the Jesuit Order, in 1767, and its consequent expulsion from all the Spanish dominions, it was decided to send a band of Franciscans to California, to take charge of the Jesuit missions there. These were all in Lower California, no attempt at settlement having been yet made in Upper California. Serra was put in charge of it, and was appointed president of all the California missions.
His ambition did not limit him to Lower, Or Baja California. In 1769 he joined in expedition with Gaspar De Portola to establish missions in the territory to the north. It was to be his calling for the remainder of his life. From Biography.com:
Mission San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano-Creative Commons Image
 After working as a missionary in Sierra Gorda and Mexico City, Serra was sent to California. He made the trip by foot despite having terrible sores on his legs. Once he reached California, Serra established his first mission, San Diego de Alcalá, in 1769. He built eight more missions over the next thirteen years: San Antonio de Padua; San Gabriel, Arcángel; San Luis, Obispo de Tolosa; San Juan Capistrano; San Francisco de Asis; and San Buenaventura. Serra worked tirelessly tirelessly to maintain the missions and is credited with helping the Spanish establish a presence in California.
Legend has it that El Camino Real, literally "The Kings Road" was the thruway to connect the missions. Each mission was reputed to be a days ride apart from the next. I was taught this in school and always thought it to be true. However, in researching this post, I found an interesting article that asserts differently: It is well worth a read. From KCET, Los Angeles' public television station:

 Along Highway 101 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, cast metal bells spaced one or two miles apart mark what is supposedly a historic route through California: El Camino Real. Variously translated as "the royal road," or, more freely, "the king's highway," El Camino Real was indeed among the state's first long-distance, paved highways. But the road's claim to a more ancient distinction is less certain. The message implied by the presence of the mission bells -- that motorists' tires trace the same path as the missionaries' sandals -- is largely a myth imagined by regional boosters and early automotive tourists.
It is true that there was a rough horse trail that connected the missions and indeed as it was used by soldiers on horse traveling to the presidios, or military forts, that guarded the northern territories of Alto California. Thus it was the Kings Road. The reality was that it was not the thoroughfare then that it became in the automotive age. The route was a rough one that varied with seasonal conditions and over time. In fact until railroads were constructed connecting north to south in the California, most movement was aboard ships up and down the coast.

California at the turn of the 20th century had the same confidence and progressive spirit as the rest of the United States. California was developing a romance for its history and especially the romantic nostalgia of its early Mexican era. In 1904, the El Camino Real Association was formed to mark the route and promote it for tourism. It was one of the first highway groups in the nation to form. The early days of construction were sporadic with paved sections of the road connected by dirt trails and steep terrain that would become challenging when it would rain or if a car could not get traction to conquer some of the steeper hills. In 1910 the State Highways Act commissioned the construction of the road and eventually in 1925 the road was finished and sanctioned as State Highway 101.

Highway 101
Creative Commons Image
The Old Camino Real, now U.S. Highway 101 was a major early north south connected that tied together San Diego, Los Angeles & San Francisco. Since the reality was that the missions were largely supplied by sea, most of the missions also happened to be near the ocean often in scenic spots, and the ruins of the old missions gave a sort of Spanish Mediterranean flair that indeed did draw the tourists. When you mix the history and the beaches and the remnants of old time highway travel The El Camino Section of Highway 101 still holds that Old California charm even as Old California is largely disappearing to an ever expanding suburbia of tract homes and strip malls.

There is much more history on this old highway as it continues north of San Francisco. We will return to the history of this great road, but first let's zero in on its southern terminus and get on to some music. Stop by next week to see where this highway will take us. Don't forget to subscribe while you are here and leave me a comment.



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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Highway 101 First Post

Highway 101 shield
Image source Wikipedia

Now that we have been motoring on Route 66 for a while, I think I am ready to start a second trip. I am not abandoning Route 66. Quite honestly, I have been enjoying the process of discovery this project has enabled.

With that in mind, I want to explore another road. In contrast to my relative lack of experience traveling Route 66 (I have only covered a little of Arizona and the California portion), I have traveled every mile of Hwy 101 and many sections of it countless times. In my opinion, it is an amazing drive, and probably my favorite highway. It also has a rich history which should make for interesting virtual travel.

Other contrasts with Route 66 are musical. Unlike the Mother Road, Hwy 101 doesn't really have a theme song. There are a few themes, which I will get to later, but nothing like the prolific Nat King Cole track.

Route 66 is also very modern in comparison to Hwy 101.The roots of highway 101 in California date back to the first European settlers as El Camino Real or The Kings Road linked the early California missions. Highway 101 follows that route much of the way.

Highway 101 goes by many names, El Camino Real, Pacific Coast Highway, Ventura Highway, Hollywood Freeway, PCH, 101 or in some places simply the Coast Highway It passes through some of the largest cities on the west coast and also through some of the most remote areas. It also has a dual nature in several places along its route. Generally it hugs the west coast of the U.S.

At points the highway swing inward, and at some of THOSE points you will find state hwy 1 sticking to the coast while the main road swings inland. Due to my love of the beach, when that happens I will probably cover both routes in my discussion.

Well, I don't know about you, but I have my sunscreen on for the South and my flannel stowed away for the North and am ready to hit the road. Won't you join me?
Highway 101 Map
Image source Wikipedia

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

John Wayne Gacy, Jr./Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Four

Part of A Series: Route 66: Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
To View the whole series as one LONG post CLICK HERE


Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track One:
The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TwoCome On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track ThreeJohn Wayne Gacy, Jr./Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FourJacksonville/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FiveA Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane But for Very Good Reasons/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Six
Casimir Pulaski Day/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TenRock River Valley, Superman, Peoria and Drones/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Eleven to FourteenWasps and Zombies/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Fifteen to EighteenCelebrate The Few, Celebrate The New. It Can Only Start With You/Sufjan Stevens Illinois Tracks Nineteen to Twenty Two 
    Let me tell you, I have been trying to stomp on the accelerator on this virtual road trip. I would like to put 2 or 3 songs per post (or more), but every track on Sufjan Stevens album ends up with me doing some interesting research worth sharing. The next track on  Illinois is "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.". It continues the trend. I figured I could easily breeze through this one and maybe another few songs, but thats not what happened.

    I remembered when John Wayne Gacy Jr.was arrested as a serial killer in December of 1978 . I was pretty young though and never took a lot of interest in the particulars of the case. I'm not a fan of crime stories in general, so I never looked into it later. Until now.  I did remember something in general about Gacy being a particularly bizarre killer. I also knew he was sort of a rock star to the world of serial killers.

    In a nutshell, John Wayne Gacy was by all appearances a model citizen. He was an active member of the Jaycees, a successful businessman and a man who was a member of a clown troop that performed for hospitalized children. But he led a double life. In the evenings he would becomes a sadistic homosexual masochist which, with increasing violence, led to murder. Again and again and again. It is unclear how many people he actually killed, but in the end he was convicted of 33 murders. Before his arrest homicide detectives were coming closer and closer to figuring out the mayhem Gacy had caused. A warrant was served and the investigating officers found human reamins in the crawl space under Gacy's house. The following excerpt is a little long, but explains his arrest and confession and describes the crimes more clearly than I probably could.
    From Wikipedia:

    Arrest and confession

    After being informed that police had found human remains in his crawl space and that he would now face murder charges, Gacy told officers he wanted to "clear the air,"[159] adding that he knew his arrest was inevitable since he had spent the previous evening on the couch in his lawyers' office.
    In the early hours of December 22, 1978, Gacy confessed to police that since 1972, he had committed approximately 25 to 30 murders, all of whom he falsely claimed were teenage male runaways or male prostitutes,[160] whom he would typically abduct from Chicago's Greyhound Bus station, from Bughouse Square or simply off the streets. The victims would often be grabbed by force or conned into believing Gacy—often carrying a sheriff's badge and placing spotlights on his black Oldsmobile—was a policeman[161] and would be lured to his house with either the promise of a job with his construction company or with an offer of money for sex.
    Once back at Gacy's house, the victims would be handcuffed or otherwise bound, then choked with a rope or a board as they were sexually assaulted. Gacy would often stick clothing in the victims' mouths to muffle their screams. Many of his victims had been strangled with a tourniquet, which Gacy referred to as his "rope trick." Occasionally, the victim had convulsed for an "hour or two" after the rope trick before dying. When asked where he drew the inspiration for the two-by-four found at his house in which he had manacled many of his victims, Gacy stated he had been inspired to construct the device from reading about the Houston Mass Murders.[162]
    The victims were usually lured alone to his house, although on approximately three occasions,[160] Gacy had what he called "doubles"—occasions wherein he killed two victims on the same evening. After death, the victims' bodies would typically be stored beneath his bed for up to 24 hours before burial in the crawl space. When asked why several bodies were found with plastic bags over their heads or upper torsos, Gacy stated he would cover the victim's head or upper torso with a plastic bag if he noted bleeding from the nose or mouth.
    Most victims were buried in Gacy's crawl space where, periodically, he would pour quicklime to hasten the decomposition of the bodies.[163] Gacy stated he had lost count of the number of victims buried in his crawl space and had initially considered stowing bodies in his attic before opting to dispose of his victims off the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River.[164] Thus the final five victims—all killed in 1978—were disposed of in this manner because his crawl space was full.[46][165] When asked about Robert Piest, Gacy confessed to strangling the youth at his house that evening, adding that he had been interrupted by a phone call from a business colleague while doing so; he also admitted to having disposed of Piest's body in the Des Plaines river and stated that the reason he had arrived at the Des Plaines police station in a disheveled manner in the early hours of December 13 was that he had been in a minor traffic accident after disposing of Piest's body en route to his appointment with Des Plaines officers.[166] He also confessed to police he had buried the body of John Butkovitch in his garage.[167] To assist officers in their search for the victims buried in his house, Gacy drew a diagram of his basement to show where the bodies were buried.[168]
    Gristly stuff.  That's not what this blog is generally about. So on to the music. On this track Sufjan Stevens describes the case in a very impressionistic manner. At the end he throws a surprising twist at us.
    Here are the lyrics:
    His father was a drinker
    And his mother cried in bed
    Folding John Wayne's t-shirts
    When the swingset hit his head
    The neighbors they adored him
    For his humor and his conversation
    Look underneath the house there
    Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep
    Oh, the dead

    Twenty-seven people
    Even more, they were boys
    With their cars, summer jobs
    Oh my God

    Are you one of them?

    He dressed up like a clown for them
    With his face paint white and red
    And on his best behavior
    In a dark room on the bed
    He kissed them all
    He'd kill ten thousand people
    With a sleight of his hand
    Running far, running fast to the dead
    He took off all their clothes for them
    He put a cloth on their lips
    Quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth

    And in my best behavior
    I am really just like him
    Look beneath the floor boards
    For the secrets I have hid
    It is an eerie and beautiful song. For many of Sufjan's Christian fans they see this song as an allegory for original sin. By saying I am really just like him the narrator is saying that we all share original sin and as sinners we are all evil in Gods eyes even f we hide our sin from those around us, like Gacy hid the bodies under his house.

    I prefer a slightly more secular interpretation. I think this song is a follow up to the Columbia Expostion track earlier in the album. His noting that they were boys who were killed implies potential being destroyed. Echoing the cynicism of the earlier track he compares all of the dreams and potential in his own life that he has abandoned and destroyed. The narrator himself is a serial killer. But like Gacy hid the bodies, the narrator is saving the remains of his dreams as secrets buried away.







    Next week more Illinois, But starting tomorrow, I will start a second trip. Subscribe to stay with me on this trip down Route 66 and stop by tomorrow to see what my next famous highway will be.

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    Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Come On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Three

    Part of A Series: Route 66: Sufjan Stevens: Illinois

    To View the whole series as one LONG post CLICK HERE



    Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track One:
    The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TwoCome On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track ThreeJohn Wayne Gacy, Jr./Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FourJacksonville/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track FiveA Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane But for Very Good Reasons/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Six

    Casimir Pulaski Day/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track TenRock River Valley, Superman, Peoria and Drones/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Eleven to FourteenWasps and Zombies/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Tracks Fifteen to EighteenCelebrate The Few, Celebrate The New. It Can Only Start With You/Sufjan Stevens Illinois Tracks Nineteen to Twenty Two 
      Continuing our journey through Sufjan Stevens opus on Illinois, I am finding this album to be a starting point for a wide study of Midwestern history as well as a journey through some of Stevens spiritual beliefs. This third track on the album does not disappoint in this regard. Also, it is a pretty entertaining song and worth a little dissection.Here is a video with lyrics.









      Oh, great intentions
      I've got the best of interventions
      But when the ads come
      I think about it now

      In my infliction
      Entrepreneurial conditions
      Take us to glory
      I think about it now

      Cannot conversations cull united nations?
      If you got the patience, celebrate the ancients
      Cannot all creation call it celebration?
      Or united nation, put it to your head

      Oh, great white city
      I've got the adequate committee
      Where have your walls gone?
      I think about it now

      Chicago, in fashion, the soft drinks, expansion
      Oh, Columbia!
      From Paris, incentive, like Cream of Wheat invented
      The Ferris Wheel!

      Oh, great intentions
      Covenant with the imitation
      Have you no conscience?
      I think about it now

      Oh, God of Progress
      Have you degraded or forgot us?
      Where have your laws gone?
      I think about it now

      Ancient hieroglyphic or the South Pacific
      Typically terrific, busy and prolific

      Classical devotion, architect promotion
      Lacking in emotion, think about it now

      Chicago, the New Age, but what would Frank Lloyd Wright say?
      Oh, Columbia!
      Amusement or treasure, these optimistic pleasures
      Like the Ferris Wheel!

      Cannot conversations cull united nations?
      If you got the patience, celebrate the ancients

      Columbia!

      I cried myself to sleep last night
      And the ghost of Carl, he approached my window
      I was hypnotized, I was asked
      To improvise
      On the attitude, the regret
      Of a thousand centuries of death

      Even with the heart of terror and the superstitious wearer
      I am riding all alone
      I am writing all alone

      Even in my best condition, counting all the superstition
      I am riding all alone
      I am running all alone

      And we laughed at the beatitudes of a thousand lines
      We were asked at the attitudes
      They reminded us of death

      Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated
      Are you writing from the heart?
      Are you writing from the heart?

      Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level
      Are you writing from the heart?
      Are you writing from the heart?

      And I cried myself to sleep last night
      For the Earth, and materials, they may sound just right to me

      Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated
      Are you writing from the heart?
      Are you writing from the heart?

      Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level
      Are you writing from the heart?
      Are you writing from the heart?

      The track begins with a pounding machine-like melody on the piano joined quickly by the rest of the band who play in a fast rhythmic style that is evocative of the machines that powered a great yet emerging industrial powerhouse of a city. As Stevens begins chanting the lyrics the narrator seems to say that we as a people may have noble thoughts and ideals and we may even have programs in place to help us reach our lofty goals but when the ads come he seems to say we are diverted. He continues his reflection that entrepreneurial goals over shadow our intentions with its illusions of glory. The Exposition in Chicago, like all Worlds Fairs was a celebration of commercial success and as such becomes a example of the kind of glory that success can bring. As my last post showed, the Exposition was about as over the top and built to impress as any other in human history.

      After a few lines, a chorus replies in a call and response fashion to his introduction like ghosts from the era if the Exposition. The mood he creates here is quite interesting and suggestive of the feelings and sounds I have heard in my life when a crowd is surging towards the gates of some event or festival. Its a certain sort of exited murmuring that pulse and surges with the progress towards the turnstiles. The crowd doesn't seem to share the narrators fascination with the commercialism of the event. They are drawn by the exotic, the educational. To them it is a party, and if it provides a common experience to the nation so much the better.
      The narrator returns and observes that the Exposition had no permanence. The great White City is no longer standing.

      The chorus answers, and they will will not be deterred. The great White City may be gone, but lots of things debuted at the fair live on. Chicago was in fashion and the event helped solidify its greatness as a city in the worlds mind. Soft drinks were available and American expansion was celebrated. Even Cream of Wheat and the Ferris Wheel entered the scene at the Exposition.

      The narrator counters with a certain anguish that so much what could have been truly great was just an imitation lacking the genuine, He then seems to say that if progress only leads us to cheap imitation, it has been perverted and is not leading us to glory.

      But the crowd rolls on cheering the sights of the South Pacific, the excitement of the fair and noting only in passing a certain absence of the original by asking what would Frank Lloyd Wright say. Regardless of his opinion they love it and shout Columbia in celebration of its glory.

      Thus ends this first part of the song largely unresolved in its conflict in the mind of the narrator while the fair goers blissfully enjoy the fair with no apparent notice or concern for those things that trouble the narrator. Part I ends with a fun instrumental section that provides a sort of impressionistic sound scape of the fair that we are leaving behind before moving to part 2 of the song. Sufjan Stevens broke up the two halves of the song with this instrumental bridge, I will break the two halves of my analysis of this song with an imagined trailer for the White City if it were today. I figure that the advertising angle fits in well with the themes of the song.




      After this the narrator continues his reflections as he is visited by another ghost from a slightly later time, that of Carl Sandburg, The second half of the song I find to be a tough nut to crack. The narrator says he cried himself to sleep. The joy of the revelers could not escape his sense of loss. Carl Sandburg reminds the narrator of centuries of death leading us to were are now, in a shallow representation of true glory.The narrator realizes in spite of our confidence and ability to laugh at the quaint values of the past that the best that he can conceive is still leading to nothing but death. It saddens the narrator that he too is a product of his time and must make his own journey if he is to escape the cycle of decay he finds around him. He MUST act with integrity. And evil cannot escape true goodness "Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level".

      Signing Off and Coming Attractions

      The darkness end of this track foreshadows the next track about serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Next week we will see where Sufjan Stevens takes that unpleasant subject. I'm not much of a true crime kind of guy so we will see how engaged I become on the subject as I study it. Temper your expectations.


      If you like what you have read here I'd like to ask you a favor. If you purchase any item on Amazon after you link to them in the little Amazon search window below, I will get a little something from them. It doesn't cost you any extra and I cannot see what you have purchased.


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      To read more Old Highway Notes, choose an off ramp and click on the highway sign:
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      Saturday, October 5, 2013

      A side trip through time: The Columbia Exposition and World Fair Of 1893

      The next track from the Illinois album  heavily refers to the Columbia Exposition and Worlds Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the "New World". We will be talking about the song itself next week but for now a little background seems important.

      The Worlds Fair was an event in American history that I did not really know a lot about before researching for this blog. It seems like many schools have included the Fair in their curriculum since my school days, but I was uniformed and have found the subject to be quite interesting.

      In many ways The Columbia Exposition was presented as a sort of coming out party for the United States.We wanted to be seen as a key player on the world stage. As well, it was a celebration of the end of the century of expansionism that had moved the United states from a strip of colonies on the east coast of North America to an empire nation that spanned the width of the continent.It was a heady time in the United States, bursting with new inventions and newly found wealth and the exhibition showcased many of the marvels of the age of invention as well the wealth of the nation.

      You see, in the 1800's the US was a growing country but still considered to be young, crude and primitive by many Europeans who felt their far older cultures were superior on the basis of their ancient ruins. The fair would build a great city to rival the splendors of Europe and prove American worth. In addition, participating countries from around the world built elaborate displays so as not to be upstarted by the brash Americans.

      The result was a fabulous pleasure center that I would have loved to see and experience. A great city of white stucco was contsructed in a neo-classical style that would be illuminated after dark with then new electric lights It must have been jaw dropping for the attendees. The White City of the Columbia Exposition proved to be inspirational to American architecture, greatly influencing the City Beautiful movement that seems so iconic to turn of the century America. Unfortunately, shortly after the close of the Fair a massive fire burned down the grounds and today almost nothing remains.

      To get an idea of the scale and beauty of the Exposition I have a few videos to share. The first from UCLA is a computer rendered 3d flyover view of the sight that does a good job of illustrating the beauty that fair goers of the time celebrated in many sources,



      The second video is a slideshow of pictures actually taken at the fair. After seeing the animation, I found my mind helped fill in the color palette on the old black and white photos. I hope you have the same effect.



      In addition to its architectural excess, the Columbian Exposition featured many notable firsts. From Wikipedia:

      Edibles and potables

      Inventions and manufacturing advances


      As stated above the Ferris Wheel was introduced at the fair. It was a massive structure an was the focal point of many an image. It was so associated with the fair that in Latin America the Ferris Wheel goes by the name of a Chicago Wheel. The massive device anchored the new concept of a dedicated entertainments zone called the Midway Plaisance. This area featured rides and attractions such as Little Egypt who performed her Hootchy-Kootchy dance to the appreciative murmurs of the men in the crowd, while being tsk-tsked by the more more proper ladies in attendance. Many a husband enjoyed the show under the guise of multi-cultural enlightenment,. And much of the fair was about multi-cultural entertainment. The first Polynesian performance in the US occurred there. Buffalo Bills Show was set up just outside the lot. Through international villages all sorts of exotic tribal peoples were on display.

      The effect of the multi-cultural exhibits on the American psyche it has been argued led to a feeling of superiority by the United States which ushered in the imperialism of the 20th century. From my research, I see this being taught as the lasting legacy of the fair in many classrooms. I prefer to remember the effect to the City Beautiful movement and the development of modern technology.

      There is a lot more that could be said about the Columbia Exposition and World Fair of 1893. However, this is just a side trip on a larger voyage. So next week we will return to Sufjan Stevens Illinois album and his track that references this surprisingly major event in US, and Chicago, history.

      If you like what you have read here I'd like to ask you a favor. If you purchase any item on Amazon after you link to them in the little Amazon search window below, I will get a little something from them. It doesn't cost you any extra and I cannot see what you have purchased.


      With your help, I can keep the show on the road for you.

      Thanks!

      To read more Old Highway Notes, choose an off ramp and click on the highway sign:
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