Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Southern Illinois, Day 3, Morning: Fort Massac

Click here for Day 1: Sunday Drivers.
Click here for Day 2: Garden of the Gods, Pounds Hollow, and Golconda.
Click here for Day 3, Afternoon: Superman.
Click here for Day 4: Record-Players and Fireflies.

Because the previous day’s itinerary had been so stimulating, we had less ambitious plans for our second full day in Metropolis. After a slow start and a big breakfast cooked to order by our enthusiastic host, we set off on a pair of 1950s Schwinn bicycles for Fort Massac State Park. Hank had warned us that the bicycles would give us more of a workout than we were used to, and he was right: not only were the seats too low for my taste (= shallow leg thrust) but the front wheel of mine rubbed up against the fender, making peddling more arduous than it needed to be. So we were happy to get out of the heat and sun at the visitors center.

The center consists of three rooms of variable quality. The first room contains what amounts to a small, local and natural history museum of various oddities in glass cases with more-and-less detailed labels. In one, a stuffed raccoon squats next to a piece of honeycomb and unearthed metal odds and ends. In another, newspaper clippings telling the story of a Civil War-era skeleton found in the park lie next to a description of how to make mother-of-pearl buttons (below). I had never thought about how to make them before; the button factories thrived along the river until plastics were introduced after World War II. The wall of arrowheads and stone knives from thousands of years ago probably had the best labels.

I have no idea what the feathers are about.
The second room in the visitors center is a theater for viewing a five-minute documentary about the history of fortifications here on the Ohio River. The French built the first two forts: Fort de L’Ascension (begun on Ascension Day in 1757) and Fort Massiac (1759-60). Having lost the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the French ceded all their lands on the North American continent to the British (Canada) and the Spanish (Louisiana Territory) in the Treaty of Paris (1763). The British renamed it Fort Massac but never occupied the site, and Chickasaw warriors soon burned it to the ground. During the American Revolution, Governor Patrick Henry sent Colonel George Rogers Clark to capture the fort for Virginia...which was easy to do, considering there wasn't even a fort, much less a garrison. Nevertheless, the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated first an obelisk and later a statue to this "hero."

General George Washington had the fort re-built, and in 1794, it was the largest outpost of the American military. But that was short-lived, as the frontier was rapidly moving west. In 1803, William Clark (George's brother) and Meriwether Lewis stopped by on their way to the St. Louis Arch. In the visitors center lobby Dear Husband chatted up Billy, who invited us along for the boat ride down the Ohio, as you can see on the right.

The third room in the visitors center holds museum-quality exhibition cases with artifacts, reproductions, and a few hands-on items for the kiddos. Outside, the fort buildings are blocked off with a fence, as they are purportedly undergoing maintenance. That will all have to be done by October, when 100,000 people descend on this sleepy hollow to dress up in red face and 18th-century costumes. There was an album of photographs from the 2000 celebration, at which there was an "authentic" wedding. We might have made some slightly inappropriate jokes about what made it authentic, how big the sticks he could beat her with could be, etc.

DH wanted to try one of the trails in the park, but we didn't make it far before the heat, the poor quality of the bicycles, and the stench from a stagnant creek caused us to turn around. We had to shower and change clothes after we made it back to the B&B, but we spent the rest of the morning in the mansion's parlor reading and writing thank-you notes.

Ricky the Raccoon says, "Hi. I'm not creepy at all."

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