Aside from pure courage, perseverance most characterized the women of the suffrage movement. They kept on for decades, compelled to pass the torch from generation to generation before getting it done.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution, enfranchising all American women. Big celebrations were in the works for Seneca Falls, New York, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton gathered early women’s rights leaders in July of 1848.
To begin this summer’s road trip, we looked forward to visiting there at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Preserved in the center of this old mill town, nestled between the Finger Lakes, is Wesleyan Chapel. Here the first Women’s Rights Convention met and executed its Declaration of Sentiments: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal.” The names of its 100 signers are displayed in the park next to it on a memorial wall by the Visitor Center.
I walked around and peered in through the windows but couldn’t enter. COVID-19 locked the doors and cancelled all centennial events. Think of the planning that went into preparations and of what must have been high expectations for bringing more attention to this remote civil rights site.
On the other hand, I wondered whether in the pandemic, the Amish community of Shipshewana, Indiana, didn’t take solace in less attention from strangers like us watching their every move.
The streets around town are wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic by both cars and horse-drawn buggies. And there’s no need to struggle to snap a photograph (at least on a Saturday morning) of an Amish family filling the seats of their carriage. It’s a routine sight.
Farms surround the town, but Shipshewana is clearly serious about capitalizing on its citizens’ idiosyncrasy. While the growing number of resort hotels and Amish-themed entertainments may be straining the image, I still had one of the best sticky pecan rolls ever.
Be careful what you wish for. I don’t like packed elevators, buses and subways, mostly out of fear for the pickpockets of which every guidebook warns. And I hate crowds and lines, which is tough for a guy who loves (but doesn’t need) buffets. On this trip, I could certainly thank coronavirus for sparing me all that. Generally, I’d be happy to say give me my space; 6 feet is good. But perhaps I had too much of a good thing out there this summer.
As a country, we’ve invested heavily in remembering our past presidents. It struck me that there may be some-kind-of posthumous competition being waged amongst them. And at least on this tour, the Republicans seemed to be winning.
Lincoln certainly made out well in Springfield, Illinois. And Dwight D. Eisenhower has a campus in his hometown of Abilene, Kansas, befitting World War II’s Supreme Allied Commander and a two-term Commander-in-Chief. I just felt a bit sorry for Democrat Harry Truman, who played a pivotal role in the transition from war to peace but whose library and home in Independence, Missouri, don’t reflect nearly the same show of national appreciation.
That said, this July, they all had in common being closed; and closed, Truman’s has the most charm. The Harry S Truman National Historic Site (officially no period after the S) maintains the little corner where he lived his married life in his mother-in-law’s house, including his cousins’ home across the street. We stood where he passed between them on an errand to return a borrowed cake plate, beginning the romance with his wife Bess. I do find a certain reflective grace in visiting historic sites when there’s no one else around.
But it’s hard to put in words my awareness of the public world’s abandonment. Coincidentally, we found a tangible expression of this feeling in a most fascinating museum, The Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
Having read Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi,” I understood the dangers of navigating a river by steamboat. (We stopped along the way in Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, to see where he grew up and the Mississippi River at his doorstep.)
On Sept. 5, 1856, the Arabia hit a submerged log in the Missouri River and sank near Kansas City. The only casualty was a mule. Silt and a shifting riverbed left the steamboat’s remains buried deep beneath a farmer’s field until 1988, when a team of amateur treasure hunters located and excavated it. What makes this find unique is that there was nothing extraordinary on board, just a wealth of the ordinary. The cargo of the ship was to be the start of several new towns, their settlers waiting at the other end to be supplied before winter. The ship sank and the settlements vanished.
Arabia’s muddy tomb perfectly preserved the combined contents of a 19th-century Home Depot, Crate & Barrel, Foot Locker, Williams Sonoma, and enough buttons and beads for a Joann Fabrics. All form a vast collection of everyday stock — sorted, arranged and displayed in the museum — that seem to speak of humanity’s abandonment.
This sense of absence wasn’t much different at the recently reopened, world-famous Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota. Usually, it hosts “twenty thousand people on a good summer day.” Self-promotion may have originated with Wall Drug, now a vast complex of cowboy-inspired stores (and still a pharmacy). Back in the 1930s, its new owners started extending highway signage further and further away. I saw my first in Illinois. Today, anyone visiting the moon-like Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore will also stop here. But this summer, it was a bit unnerving roaming its heavily stocked aisles of tourist items while being almost the only tourists there.
Most eerie, however, were the grounds of the eight state capitols we visited in New York, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all vacant as on a Sunday morning. Capitol buildings witness state pride and history and are worth seeing. This experience, however, left me longing to again have trouble finding a parking space, something I’ve always dreaded more than crowds.
These are the last of my summer road trip thoughts; 5,700 miles fondly remembered.
At 66, I’m more afraid to stop going than of getting coronavirus, my own need to persevere. I’ll wear a mask, stay back 6 feet as much as possible, and one coming Tuesday (most museums are closed on Mondays), my wife Susan and I will be off to somewhere new. Hopefully not alone.
Safe journey everyone! (Susan and) I’ll be back.
Steven Glovsky of Wayland can be contacted at [email protected] You can find the itinerary for his trip online (wayland.wickedlocal.com/news/20200813/steven-glovsky-of-wayland-taking-road-trip-during-pandemic).