Friday, September 2, 2011

Road Trip, Part III

Steve, Dogs & Topeka Capitol

OK, so I'm a little behind here, but that, above, was me on the steps of the Kansas Capitol on Topeka on Tuesday. This is where, in the summer of 1993, my fascination with statehouses began. As an intern at the Topeka Capital-Journal, I used to sit on those steps at sunset and write letters. The steps were as lovely and broad as I recalled, and I did sit to write some letters there, too. But holy Christ it was hot out, so the recreation of a younger self's romantic habit was sort of rushed so as to not kill my dogs. They lived, by the way, as seen here with my travel companion, Amy:

Amy & Pups at Kansas Capitol

All this said, it seems appropriate that I'd discover upon my return visit to Topeka that I'd been doing the state capitols thing all wrong all this time. I chatted up the visitors reception desk lady, told her of my hobby and how it all started here, and she says to me, "Well, do you have The Book?"

Uh, what book?!?

Turns out, there's a book. And hobbyists are supposed to get them stamped when they visit different capitol buildings. Yes, there's a frigging stamp, too. See?

Kansas Capitol Stamper

I kinda wish someone had told me about this, say, 18 years and 35 capitols ago. Grrr.

There are plenty of interior photos of the Topeka capitol in the Flickr slideshow for days 5 and 6 of the big road trip to Michigan, the player for which you'll find at the end of this post.

But the big revelation of this leg of the trip was the sensational Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, which was simply so impressive. I was blown away from the entry to the gorgeous dome and meaningful artwork throughout, but then I also got sort of lucky.

You see, I always ask if there's any way to climb to the top of the dome. This worked in Providence, you may recall. And here, the word from the visitors reception folks was that you could do it only if you were escorted by "someone with a key." Who have keys? Every state representative. One fellow on an elevator -- I asked if he was a state rep! -- told me to just go into any rep's office and ask. So I stepped in here...

Missouri Rep. Mary Nichols' assistant took Steve up Missouri Capitol Dome

...and the wonderful lady who works with Rep. Mary Nichols, D-Maryland Heights, Mo., was happy to do it. That meant walking me behind the upper edge of the House chambers, which resulted in this Death Star-esque photo:

Death Star-like lattice behind Missouri House chamber

Then she unlocked a padlock, came with me part of the way to shoot this...

Steve in Missouri Dome, 2

...and told me where to go before letting me climb up there by myself. There's a little walkway that encircles the very top, and I got some wonderful shots of Jefferson City and the Missouri River it straddles.

Many more images of this adventure are in the Flickr show. But it was interesting to spot this sign:

Tornado Shelter in Topeka

It was surprising to see such explicit art on the grounds of the building once overseen by ex-Gov. John Ashcroft, who had the Department of Justice cover up naughty bits of statues in DC when he was the Attorney General. Go ahead, enlarge this to see that the sculptor clearly gave this stone statue some, uh, wood:

Sexy Statue at Missouri Capitol

People ask what the attraction of capitols is. I'm not terribly interested in museums, but I think I enjoy learning about history and seeing great art in buildings that continue to function and where history continues to be made. In other words, it's a living, breathing edifice. And I find out all sorts of tidbits I didn't know, such as that both Lewis AND Clark were once governors of Missouri:

Ex-Govs. Lewis & Clark Portraits @ Missouri Capitol

And yes, I got The Stamp.

After Jefferson City, Amy and I headed east once more, this time en route to Springfield, Ill., to spent the night. We stayed almost entirely off the Interstates, which gave us some wonderful opportunities for diversions and discoveries. For instance, we headed through tiny Louisiana, Mo., a town right on Mississippi River. Before we got into town, we happened to drive past...

Jewish Cemetery Gate, Louisiana, MO

...a 140-year-old Jewish cemetery?!? It was an awfully unlikely find, so we stopped and browsed the 40-odd graves. As you can see in the Flickr slideshow, most of the stones are very well kept up, even though only one is even remotely new. Here's a website on this cemetery, proving we're not the only ones fascinated.

After that, Amy and I got some take-out -- it's very difficult to eat in with dogs when traveling in hot weather -- and sat in this gazebo having lunch as we gazed at the mighty Mississippi.

Lunch gazebo on Mississippi River at Louisiana, MO


Meanwhile, I'm getting closer to finishing my capitols tour -- down to about 14 or so left, mostly in the northeast and the mid-Atlantic states -- and I'm going to need something else. As we made our way through Kansas and I saw this...

Steve's next hobby, presidential libraries

...and realized the next thing should be Presidential Libraries. Miles' reaction was, and I quote, "Zzzzz." But who cares? I just wonder if there's a Book.

More tomorrow on the last couple days of The Trip, including Springfield and Indiana capitols. But for now, here's the slideshow. It opens in Colby, Kan., on Monday, takes us to Topeka, then on Tuesday to Jefferson City and Louisiana, Mo., before we crashed in Springfield for the night. Enjoy.