The Great River Road, Part 13: St Louis to New Madrid, MO

Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people. They nourish and refresh us and provide a home for dazzling varieties of fish and wildlife and trees and plants of every sort. We are a nation rich in rivers. – Charles Kuralt

 September 7, 2015 – Day 17 – Cape Girardeau, MO

 Every good journey needs a detour or two; a chance to get off the prescribed path and explore new side trails. Lil Jan’s detour was a good thing, an invitation to speak at the Ladies Day at Old Hickory Church of Christ in Nashville. My detour was not nearly as exciting, an invitation to have a root canal in Tullahoma. So we devised a plan to take care of these two commitments and knock out a few more cool stops along the way.

Job 1 was to store our RV along the Great River Road for about 10 days. I had hoped to store it in the RV storage lot at our old stomping grounds, Scott AFB. However, the gentlemen in charge of such things informed me that the lot was full. Sensing my disappointment, he said, “Well, there is another option. You could put your RV up for sale and that would allow you to park it in the used car lot.” Brilliant! Only problem was the RV is our home and we didn’t want to sell it. So, we listed it for $1 million, more then ten times its value. Problem solved. We then closed it up, piled into our spacious Honda Fit, and headed south to a hotel in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Downtown Metropolis
Downtown Metropolis

Not far from Cape Girardeau is the town of Metropolis, Illinois, home of Superman. Earlier this summer we had visited Metropolis with my dad on our trip to St Louis to visit Kyle. We ate lunch at Fat Edd’s Roadhouse and feasted on a chicken kabob and corn nuggets. And, of course, we toured the Superman museum and posed for photos with the Man of Steel himself.

September 8, 2015 – Day 18 – New Madrid, Missouri

 Our first stop today was New Madrid, Missouri. If you are ever going to be sucked into a gaping hole in the earth’s crust due to an earthquake, it will probably happen in or near New Madrid. The town is on the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and was the site for a series of over 1,000 earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. One of those quakes was a magnitude 8, the most powerful “non-subduction zone” earthquake ever recorded in the United States. (Don’t even ask about seduction zone quakes.) As we entered the Madrid Seismic Zone and town of New Madrid, I started to get my quake on, and began singing, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brains…” Just then, Lil Jan suggested we tour the historic Hunter-Dawson House. {Queue the soft, quaint historical music.}

Earthquake Alley
Earthquake Alley

The Hunter-Dawson House is a 15-room, 9-fireplace home built in 1860 by local storeowners William and Amanda Hunter. What sets this State Historic Site apart is that most of the original furnishings purchased by Amanda Hunter are still in the house. Our excellent tour guide explained the family’s history and provided insight on the various antiques inside. As she explained the age and function of the antique chamber pot chair, I just wanted to try it out. However, I showed restraint after being told that would not be “socially acceptable” and might even be illegal. We learned that Amanda Hunter’s husband died before construction on the house was finished and Amanda took over the project right as the Civil War began. She raised 7 children alone in this house and never remarried. As Lil Jan asked questions and soaked in all the history of the place, I paced nervously, wondering when the next earthquake would strike.

Hunter-Dawson House
Hunter-Dawson House

We headed downtown and stopped at the New Madrid Historical Museum. The museum contains Indian and Civil War artifacts, many of them donated by local residents with family connections to the pieces. Best of all, the museum documents the great earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. The earthquakes began on December 16, 1811, and continued for over a year. Among them was one of the greatest earthquakes in recorded history because of its severity and length. In fact, some of the shocks were felt 1100 miles away. Fortunately there was little loss of life due to the region being thinly settled. A museum map shows the location of recorded earthquakes along the Madrid fault, and a nearby seismograph eerily shows the continuing activity on the Madrid fault. I just wanted to stick my head out the museum door and scream, “People of New Madrid…get out now! You’re geographically hosed! Save yourselves!”

Antique Potty
Antique Potty

I composed myself and we walked a short distance from the museum and on to a platform overlooking the Mississippi River. In 1862 Union forces captured New Madrid and gained control of the river by means of a “canal” sawed through a submerged forest to a bayou. The most famous skirmish in the area was the Battle of Island Number 10 that took place not far from where we were standing. The Union victory marked the first time the Confederate Army lost a position on the Mississippi River in battle.

Visiting with The Family
Visiting with The Family

We escaped New Madrid without serious incident, earthquake or otherwise. It was now time to put our Great River Road journey on hold and head east. Our first stop was in Denmark, Tennessee (near Jackson) to visit our niece and her husband (Maegan and Daniel), their adorable new baby (Abby), and Janet’s sister (Cathy). One of the true blessings of full-time RVing is being able to visit with family and friends around the country more regularly than when we’re primarily anchored to one spot and several job responsibilities. We’re thankful for that, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to hold sweet little Abby.

Team Diamond + Luke
Team Diamond + Luke

The “family and friends” theme would continue over the next several days. We spent some time on the sprawling and gorgeous Diamond family farm near Dickson, Tennessee. I helped my good buddy Brad Diamond repair a barbed wire fence, and was rewarded with a massive BBQ dinner, some 4-wheeling around the property, and acquiring poison ivy. Those who know the Diamond girls know that this time was also spent listening and watching them sing, make a video, do yoga, dance, practice massage techniques, and do whatever their free spirits led them to do. Meanwhile, Lil Jan did an outstanding job (I’m told) as the keynote speaker for the Ladies Day at Old Hickory Church of Christ. Since I am not a lady I could not attend this Ladies Day. However, Lil Jan did receive a lot of moral support from her two dear friends, Jenny Diamond and Tami Genry. They stayed in a hotel in Nashville on Friday night and just chatted the night away I’m sure. Lil Jan worked tirelessly on her presentation and I’m so glad it went well. Over the years, it has been neat to see her progression from a reluctant Bible class teacher to a confident Ladies Bible class teacher to a Ladies Day keynote speaker in front of a large crowd. Each time, she goes a little more outside her comfort zone and each time, she grows a little more in her faith. Well done, Lil Jan…and a big thanks to Lisa Chambers for providing this opportunity.

Old Hickory Ladies Day
Old Hickory Ladies Day

After her presentation and a final night at the Diamond farm, we worshipped at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ with the Diamonds and Luke Beggs, a family friend and one of my former students and youth group leaders. We took Luke to Cracker Barrel for lunch and learned he is adjusting well as a freshman at our alma mater, Lipscomb University. Next we visited the Brentwood REI store to pick up a few needed items for my upcoming AT thru-hike. We then headed for Tullahoma to visit my dad for a few days and get my root canal.

Lil Jan Doin' Her Thing
Lil Jan Doin’ Her Thing

With our detours complete, and having visited with lots of family and friends, it was time to head back to Scott AFB, Illinois, to pick up our RV. But we decided on one more little detour…a chance to learn more about and pay tribute to my all-time favorite President. Yes, we were headed to Springfield, Illinois. More on that next time…Honestly…if I’m Able.

Big Steve

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