Silence. No people, just empty buildings and cobwebs gathering in the windows.
Aside from the occasional door creaking in the breeze, there’s no place more silent than a ghost town. Travel down a rough dirt road from Utah Highway 9 to find one such place, the desolate Grafton, Utah.
Beautiful But Brutal
This ghost town was a Mormon settlement located near what is now Zion National Park. Grafton was established in 1859 on beautiful and fertile land in the Virgin River floodplain. (The Virgin River is the one that carved out the spectacular canyon that contains what is now Zion National Park and its the location of one of the world’s most famous hikes, The Narrows.)
Grafton was pretty yes, but not a top-notch place to live. These farmers experienced floods (no surprise in a floodplain) and Indian attacks as well as brutal weather in both summer and winter. Before long, most residents packed up their wagons and headed to nearby Rockville, though the last of them didn’t leave until 1944.
Serene Yet Haunting
Now, visitors may stroll around the five buildings that remain from the town’s 30-some structures. Peak into the schoolhouse/church, walk inside a home, wander around farm buildings and the old cemetery. The Grafton Heritage Partnership has restored them. The surrounding farmland and orchards are still used, but you’ll probably be the only person there.
Clarence and Grace Hemingway purchased their cabin on Walloon Lake in 1898, before their son Ernest was born. Here, he grew up immersed in the manly world of hunting, fishing, and boxing. He met lumberjacks, bootleggers and hobos–and quite a few lovely young women, too. These experiences became fodder for his Nick Adams short stories.
He said of the area, “It’s a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country. And nobody knows about it but us.”
Torrents and Tours
Many readers associate Hemingway more readily with Cuba, Key West, Pamplona and Paris than Petoskey, Michigan. Yet, he spent 22 summers in the resort area of Petosky/Walloon Lake and he was married (for the first time) in nearby Horton Bay. You can read about this early life and marriage in Paula McLain’s best seller, The Paris Wife. It’s also where he began to hone his minimalist, staccato style and storytelling that later earned him the Nobel Prize.
If you’ve read The Torrents of Spring, you’ve read about Petoskey; the story and locales are based on the town. Petosky is understandably proud of its Hemingway connection and as you stroll the town, perched above Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, you’ll see historical markers outside locations where he spent time. Hemingway fans can download a list of some of the places young Hemingway frequented: Horton Bay General Store, Stafford’s Perry Hotel, and City Park Grill, to name a few. At City Park Grill, you may want to sit at the lovely Victorian bar where Hemingway raised a few glasses.
The Michigan Hemingway Society annually hosts a Hemingway Weekend in the Petoskey area, usually in October. The weekend brings visitors from across the country together for readings, tours and exhibits. The national Hemingway Society also provides a great way to meet other Hemingway fans. The group meets every two years and in 2018, in contrast to the wild country of Michigan, the organization will meet in Paris. It’s a chance to experience Hemingway’s “moveable feast” in person.
While you’re in Petosky, be sure to stop in at McLean & Eakin Booksellers where you’ll find plenty of works by and about about Ernest Hemingway, books by local authors and booksellers who are happy to suggest great reads. I mentioned the shop in a previous post about how much author Ann Patchett loves reading and travel.
The WordPress photo challenge this week is “rounded” which immediately brought to mind my recent trip to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Sculpted by wind, water and time southern Utah is like a geological Disneyland. It’s no wonder there are five national parks in the region (and some stunning state parks), each quite different but equally amazing.
In Arches, giant rounded rock forms have emerged over thousands of years as potholes near cliff edges grow deeper and deeper until they wear through the cliff wall below them.
We arrived in Moab during the heat of August, with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees. “Dry” heat or not, that hot! Consequently, we ducked into a few shops in the afternoon to get out of the heat. One was a terrific bookstore on Main Street in Moab, Back of Beyond Books. There I discovered the work of the revered environmental writer Edward Abbey. In Desert Solitaire, which I highly recommend for anyone planning a visit to Arches.
Regarded as one of the finest in American literature, the book recounts his time as a park ranger in Arches and his opinions of the crowds that flock to national parks. He’d be apoplectic is he could see the throngs now in many parks. Still, if you go at the right time of year and early or late in the day, you too can experience “desert solitaire.”
We trekked out into Arches at night with Moab photographer Dan Norris for a little starlight photography. Here’s Dan’s amazing photo of the the Milky Way:
Mackinac Island, Michigan, sits in on the Straits of Mackinac where the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron converge. That location made it the ideal place for Native Americans and fur traders to make their summer rendezvous to trade and it was here that John Jacob Astor made his fortune in the fur industry. Missionaries, soldiers and eventually Gilded Age tourists from Detroit and Chicago pulled ashore to enjoy this remarkable island. Today, people from around the world arrive on the island and become part of that centuries long summer tradition.
History and Tradition Come Alive
I visited Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island in summers when I was growing up so the island has a special place in my heart. I returned earlier this summer and was happy to see little has changed. I felt the same sense of anticipation as the ferry ride (about 20 minutes from either Mackinaw City or Michigan’s upper peninsula) brought the Mackinac Bridge into closer view. The island still bans cars making it very bike, buggy and pedestrian friendly. And, the smell of the island’s trademark product, fudge, continues to greet visitors on arrival. The lovely Victorian cottages still charm and the Grand Hotel remains grander than ever.
While Mackinac Island offers a terrific array of places to eat, drink, pedal and kayak, it’s the history here that has always grabbed me. That’s why I always urge fellow visitors to get away from the crowds on Main Street by the ferry docks and explore the island by foot, bike or horse. Start with the famous Fort Mackinac which offers canon blasting, rifle shooting, historic displays and a spectacular view of the island and surrounding waters. (Slightly off topic, here’s one of the crazy things I remember from visiting as a kid. There was a grisly display in the fort back then about Dr. William Beaumont who was an army surgeon at the fort and a young voyageur who had been accidentally shot in the stomach. The stomach wound didn’t heal and Beaumont was able to view the workings of the stomach through the hole–for a very long time. The exhibit is now at the Fur Company Store and Dr.Beaumont Museum.)
Somewhere in Time and Literature
For a sense of history, I also recommend reading Iola Fuller’s classic tale of Mackinac, The Loon Feather. It’s a romantic tale of a young Native American woman and it’s ending is improbably happy, but I’m a sucker for all that. And, the book conveys quite accurately the early days of the fur trade on the island.
At The Island Bookstore on Main Street, they’re happy to share their ideas for island-related reading and much more. If they’re not too busy, it’s fun to chat with owner Mary Jane Barnwell and store manager Tamara Tomack about literature and island life. Mary Jane is among the 500 or so people who live on Mackinac Island year-round. Because the island is accessible in winter only by snowmobile or airplane, you can bet she has a few stories to tell. And she does have a several adorable books of her own for children about the island, including Grand Adventure and Goodnight Mackinac Island, a children’s vacation journal.
Here are their suggestions if you want to read up before your island visit: Once on This Island by Gloria Whelan, Open Wound—the Tragic Obessions of Dr. William Beaumont by Jason Karlawish, and The Living Great Lakes: Searching For The Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis. Finally, Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson is a must-read for Mackinac Island visitors. It was written about the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, but the movie version of the story with Chrisopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed on Mackinac Island, mainly at the Grand Hotel.
The United States entered World War I in 1917 and that 100-year anniversary makes this a perfect time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. No one is left who lived through it to talk about the “War to End All Wars.” For many the war seems so remote, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what happened, how it led to World War II and its importance today. That’s a job this museum does well with a gripping array of exhibits, artifacts and art that explains the complex occurrences that led to the war, the unbelievable carnage.
The memorial was built in 1926, but the museum opened in 2006. Visitors enter by walking on plexiglass floor over a field of poppies. You could spend hours here partly because exhibits cover not only the U.S. involvement but that of the many countries involved across the whole world. There’s something to interest everyone from weaponry, to the uniforms and equipment of soldiers and nurses, medical techniques developed during the war and more.
Not familiar with World War I history? Even if you’re not visiting this museum soon, there are several terrific books I recommend: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a non-fiction classic and you can’t beat the classic fiction books All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my all-time favorites.) Also suggested, a new book The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin.
The KiMo Theater opened on what was then Route 66 (now Central Avenue) in Albuquerque in 1927. The big new theater was a source of civic pride and boosters held a contest to name the theater. The governor of Isleta Pueblo, Pablo Abeita, won a prize of $50, a huge sum for the time, for the KiMo name. According to theater history, “it is a combination of two Tiwa words meaning “mountain lion” but liberally interpreted as ‘king of its kind’.”
It certainly is king of its kind, built in the the “pueblo deco” architectural style. If you think the outside is interesting, you should see the decor on the inside. Understated it is not. Here are a few scenes from the interior.
I’m working my way through Colson Whitehead‘s best selling book, The Underground Railroad which has received raves from just about every book critic and taken home just about every award including this year’s National Book Award for fiction.
The New York Timesdescribed it as “a hallucinatory novel about the horrors of American slavery and the sinister permutations of racism, an imaginative portrayal of the routes to freedom literally on a railroad.” .…that is underground. Kinda trippy, yet an effective way to portray the issues and the experience.
It’s not hard to find real underground railroad “stations” along various routes that enslaved people traveled on the route north to freedom in the 1800s. This wasn’t some sort of subway system, but rather a dangerous trip much of it on foot, as slave hunters followed in pursuit. The stories of the people—both escaped slaves and those who sought to help them—are often as dramatic as anything an author could invent. The U.S. National Park Service offers a great list of sites across the country.
Some of my favorite of such places are in Detroit, mainly because it’s so close to Canada you can practically smell it. (Maybe it’s the Canadian Club distillery I smell over there across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario.) How close, yet so far, those escaping people must have felt to their freedom, less than a mile across the river. That’s particularly tangible in Detroit’s Hart Plaza where the International Underground Railroad Memorial overlooks the river. The installation features two groupings, one in Detroit with its counterpart across the river in Windsor, both by sculptor Ed Dwight.
The Detroit component features two gateway pillars that bracket a ten foot by twelve foot sculpture with nine slaves and a railroad “conductor” pointing toward Canada in anticipation of boarding a the boat across the Detroit River to safety. The Windsor installation consists of a twenty-two foot high granite Freedom Tower that also serves as a candle representing the flame of freedom, along with a male slave giving thanks and a female slave holding a baby. A female Canadian underground railroad conductor is welcoming them both to safety.
Several other Detroit destinations offer their own story of abolitionist activity. The First Congregational Church of Detroit offers a “storytelling” re-enactment of the underground railroad passage. On the tour visitors are “shackled” with wrist bands at the entrance of the tour and begin their journey by entering through the “Door of No Return,” on Goree Island in Africa. “As this journey begins,” says their web site, “visitors transform into passengers on the underground railroad and are led to freedom by a conductor. Passengers hide from bounty hunters, cross the Ohio “Deep” river, and take retreat in a safe house in Indiana which is owned by Abolitionist Levi Coffin.” Finally, they move to “Midnight,” the code name for Detroit and take safe haven at the First Congregational Church of Detroit before moving on to Canada.
Detroit’s Second Baptist Church was also a station and received some 5,000 slaves before sending them on to Canada. By giving them food, clothing, and shelter the church was in total defiance of the Fugitive Slave Laws. The church offers tours that describe it’s long service to the community as a underground railroad stop and other activities.
Italian cities are fascinating places to visit but they’re often crowded and hectic. So, I look for places to relax in the Italian countryside. A great example is Frances’ Lodge Relais, a rustic yet elegant old farm, just outside Sienna. Hosts Franca and Franco provide great touring tips, luxurious breakfasts in the garden and, sometimes, a picnic dinner of homemade pasta under the olive trees. Best of all, relaxing “under the Tuscan sun” with wine and a book by their beautiful pool with a view of the Sienna skyline.
If you haven’t been there lately, that may sound pretty crazy. There’s been no shortage of reporting on Detroit’s hard times. But I grew up near “the D” and as a kid, a trip to Detroit meant something special–a Detroit Tigers game or a speedboat race on the Detroit River with my dad, shopping at Hudson’s with my mom, Broadway shows at the Fisher Theater, field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, all accompanied by the rhythm of Motown.
I live in Minnesota now, but returned to the city last week and once again felt how special it is–its history, it’s people, and a general vibe of grit and coolness found in few other places. Best of all, many of the things from my memory are still there, though sometimes in altered form.
The Tigers have moved to Comerica Park.
Partly because of those qualities, the city is making a huge comeback. I was there for five days and could have stayed longer, partly enjoying the memories, partly seeing what’s vital and new, and feeling nostalgia with a positive spin.