Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: travel Page 1 of 19

Four Days on the Road to the Land of Lincoln

Dallas

Driving through Dallas.

DAY ONE: Our annual trek to and from (in this case, from) Austin, Texas is over.

We stayed in town for the Premiere of “Hit Man” at the Paramount in Austin (see previous article below) and I have included a pictorial representation of the journey.

First up: Dallas skyscapes. You will note that there is what appears to be precipitation on the highway. This is because we drove through a 400-mile wide derecho, which was NOT fun. It was so bad that we saw one truck which had crashed into the retaining wall without being forced there by another vehicle. By the time we passed that point on our 4-day journey the driver was gone—probably to a hospital, judging from the looks of his vehicle, which was facing the wrong way and had a smashed-in driver’s side.

Dallas during the derecho.

Driving through a derecho, near Dallas.

The weather was so bad by the time we reached Waco—which isn’t that far away from Austin—that we needed to get off the road and try to wait it out. We stopped at a Denny’s, only to be told that they had been struck by lightning and were unable to cook anything. They were running on a generator and the owner of this Denny’s, who was far away in Houston, had instructed them to close down for the day soon, as the generator would only work to keep their foodstuffs good for that amount of time.

I asked, “Can you at least give us a Diet Coke?” The waitress acknowledged that they could do that much, and I pushed further and asked if they could make us a sandwich, since it was still pouring outside and it was so bad that it was difficult to stay in your lane because you could not see for the downpour. We spoke with our son back in Austin and the deluge that had hit us twenty minutes earlier had now descended on Ava and Elise at their school, who were soaked as they awaited pick-up.

They did make us a club sandwich and poured me a Diet Coke and my spouse an iced tea, The sandwich was really good and we had promised payment in cash, since the cash register could not be operated due to the power outage.

Durant, Oklahoma, Indian casino.

Choctaw Indian Casino in Durant, Oklahoma.

FIRST NIGHT: We had pretty much had it by the time we reached the Choctaw Indian Casino in Durant, Oklahoma. This place has to be one of the largest casinos anywhere, with a variety of towers and the like. I failed to take a picture of the exterior from the road, so I have scavenged one from the Internet.

We were pretty tired from battling the elements and we decided to check into this extremely large mini Las Vegas in the wilds. But, as usual, we had the two suitcases meant to be taken into motels, the cosmetics bag, the spill-over bag with food in it for the trip, my twelve-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper, the laptop on which I am now typing this (in a pull case) and a jacket to compensate for A/C which, inevitably, would be overdone. We needed a cart to transport this assorted paraphernalia, although my husband suggested that we simply “pull our suitcases.” (Ha!) I had just seen a gold cart go by, although he had not and asserted there were none. I went over to the Manager of the suitcase-dropping-off area to ask for the use of one, since we were self-parking (Parking was $20 if they did it, but the parking lot was vast and very close). The guy literally spit on me (by accident) while denying that carts to move luggage existed.

Me: “I just saw a gold one go by.” (in incredulous tone)

Manager: “Well, we have to have someone go with the cart.”

I was standing next to a young man who seemed to not be doing much of anything. So, I said, “He wants to go with us.” (I will change his name to protect the employee, who had only been on the job for a short time, calling him Juan.)

He (Juan) was more than happy to accompany us to the tower—although he did not know exactly how to get there.

We found it and, on our way to the 7th floor, Juan shared that he was new and said “my manager is an a******.”  He described a previous job that sounded even worse, which was at a big box warehouse. [I hope that my husband tipped Juan well.]

Still wiping the spit from my arm from the unpleasant manager who lied to me about the existence of carts to transport our bags,  I agreed completely with Juan’s assessment. The goal was to force the cars into the “check in” lane and charge an additional $20 for the overnight parking, which was roughly 10 yards away and could easily be done yourself, if you didn’t buy into the whole “Park your car for you” thing. I understand the casino’s desire to make an additional $25 or so on the check-in portion of  entering the casino, but bald-faced lying to the would-be guest that suitcase carts don’t exist was weak.

Dallas skyline.

Dallas.

We decided on naps and casino, in that order, rather than eating after our Denny’s club sandwich. That meant that we had only a club sandwich for a meal all day.  I found myself eating Doritos in the wee hours of the morning, which was not a great idea. But, hey! We’re on the road. (I paid for that indiscretion with an upset stomach for hours. I needed Tums for half a day.)

The casino is so large that we could not find (or understand) half of the machines, which is all I was willing to play, since the cheapest Blackjack table was $25 a hand. My available cash after the Denny’s “you must pay with cash” experience had left me with $40 in ten-dollar bills, Period. The cash was left over from the recent Cancun trip, or I probably wouldn’t have had even that much, but I definitely did not have enough to bet $25 a hand at an Indian casino.

We wandered around trying to find the machines that let you change the game to be played from poker to Blackjack.  We did not find any. We found one that had Blackjack only and had a side bet called “Lucky Charlie,” which apparently was lucky only for Charlie. My kind and generous spouse gave me a $20 bill to put in the machine, which I promptly lost. I inserted one of my few remaining $10 bills and lost that, as well. So, minus $30 down, for me.

My much-luckier than me spouse lost $20—but he won most of his back in the morning hours while I slept in, stomach destroyed by Doritos in the middle of the night.

SECOND DAY

Next day: Friday. We ended up in Springfield, Missouri, after driving through Oklahoma, which has to be one of the least scenic states to traverse. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which was definitely a blast from the past. The hotel resembles the hotel interior popularized by the Mel Brooks film “High Anxiety.” The Radisson in downtown Davenport, Iowa, represents the same floor plan. The hotel did not have a refrigerator in the room (bad) and there was no small coffee-maker. However, in its defense, the breakfast was great! Fresh omelettes were made for us, and that carried us all day, just as eating at an I-Hop (breakfast eggs, pancakes, French toast,bacon, ham, sausage) had sustained us the previous day for our one on-the-road meal.

Uranus Fudge Factory in Missouri.

Part of the Uranus Fudge Factor and General Store complex along the Route 66 which we traveled for “Ghostly Tales of Route 66” books.

Uranus Fudge Factory in Missouri.

Part of the Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store complex in Missouri.

Uranus Fudge Factory in Missouri.

Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store.

On the last leg of the journey, we passed large billboards advertising Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store in Missouri. Since we had now deviated from the road to experience the casino, I suggested that we stop at Uranus, which turned out to be quite crowded with people with similar intentions.  They sell Route 66 paraphernalia, as it is on or near Route 66, which I know a lot about, after driving it and writing about 10 books focusing on “Ghostly Tales of Route 66.” It was a fun pit stop and we purchased one of their tee shirts for Mark’s June 7th birthday, as well as fudge to be eaten as dessert after dinner in St. Louis.

THIRD DAY

Uranus General Store.

The Uranus General Store.

Saturday we arrived at Uncle Mark’s house and got to see his new addition (still slightly under construction. Niece Megan and husband Aaron and their almost 3-year-old daughter, Winnie, came over and accompanied us to dinner. We all watched Saturday Night Live on the new porch addition and wished Megan and Aaron well as they await the birth of Child Number 2, a boy, in late June.

FOURTH DAY:

Today is Sunday and we are back in Illinois, where, last year, we encountered a completely ruined kitchen that took four months of work to fix. This year, so far, so good.

Dinner in St. Louis.

L to R) Craig, Mom-to-be Megan, husband Aaron Eddy, Mark Wilson, Winnie Eddy, me.

Cancun, 2024, Is In the Books

This will be a stream-of-consciousness column from Cancun—sunny, windy Cancun, Mexico.

This is either our 29th or 30th straight year of spending two weeks in Cancun at Royal Resorts time shares we purchased in the nineties. Last year was our last year at the Penthouse 9th floor digs (#4492) and the Royal Islander has been sold in its entirety to Holiday Inn Vacation Clubs.

When we first started coming to Cancun we stayed at the Fiesta Americana Condessa, which still exists. We needed 2 rooms, one for the kids, who were then 7 and 26. We stayed there for 2 years, but beach-front rooms cost us $3,000  30 years ago. No kitchen. And no connecting rooms the second year, which was a real problem, because the then-7-year old couldn’t open the doors by herself and her brother was off hitting the nightspots.

Our third year in Cancun we rented a unit at the Royal Mayan from a woman from Indianapolis who dropped a Big Gulp cup on my foot while showing pictures of the unit to those who had stayed in it that week.

An enterprising salesman named Ricardo pointed out that buying into the then-new Royal Islander would give us almost 30 years of time before Mexico took it back, while the Mayan clock had been ticking for a while. He was right.

The Mayan is no more and has become a different hotel entirely with a name like the Emporium. Meanwhile, the Islander is off the market right now and I’m not sure if it is going to be retooled as another resort or made into apartments or what. All I know is that the fantastic walk to our penthouse unit (the highest floor that the Royals ever built was #9) will be missed. We loved our time there.

It used to be that a fixed-week time share owner could stroll from the Royal Mayan to the Caribbean to the Royal Islander and, ultimately, to the Royal Sands. There were dining rooms at each of the properties, which would have made an All Inclusive deal slightly more attractive. The Conquistador has closed as has Captain’s Cove and both were traditions for us.

Now, there is just the Veranda and Sisal and they are supposed to be building more restaurants, which, if they are going to continue to push people onto the A.I. plan, they are going to need. We prefer eating breakfast and dinner in our unit, from food that we can buy locally at the Soriano market within Kukulcaan Plaza (or at the small resort store, for a much higher price). We like to dine out at the nice restaurants in the evening, although doing so with 13 to 17 people is quite the challenge. This is still my Paradise on Earth, “the poor man’s Hawaii” and I remind all in the family that it was MY find and we’ll be deeding this family tradition on to the son and daughter until the year 2050, which will mean when our oldest child (father of the twins) is 82–older than we are now, even.

Now, within the Royal Sands,  we move from the first floor to the fifth floor and we have a decent view of the ocean, but not the spectacular penthouse view we had at the Islander. Still, time marches on and we are adjusting to our new digs this week.

The son and wife and granddaughters had to leave a day early. Elise had a volleyball tournament in Dallas. Go, Elise! They are still playing as I write this.

The daughter left today (picture below) traveling back to her home in Nashville and her job with SW Airlines.

We have five more days in Paradise.

Here are some photos. Enjoy.

Daughter Stacey and granddaughter Elise Wilson in Cancun, Mexico.

VietJet Airlines Offers Unique Experience

According to the October 27th issue of “This Week” magazine:

“A giant albino rat and a foot-long otter triggered panic on a flight from Bangkok to Taipei when they escaped from a passenger’s carry-on bag and roamed the cabin.  The rat bit one of the flight attendants on the VietJet flight as they tried to catch the animals.  A search of the plane uncovered a box holding 28 live turtles, a snake, a marmot, two otters, and two other unidentified rodents.”

rat

An albino rat was found on a VietJet airline flight from Bangkok to Taipei.

 

And a partridge in a pear tree?

“Limbo” and “Christmess:” Two Australian Films Promoting Family Togetherness

In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen two Australian films, one via screener and one at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival. I love Australian films. I really looked forward to seeing each. The first was “Limbo,” directed and written by Ivan Sen. “A white detective investigates the twenty-year-old cold case of a murdered indigenous girl in this outback-set noir.” The second was “Christmess,” the fourth film from Aussie director Heath Davis, and a continuation of his partnership on film with the star, Steve LeMarquand.

LOCATION SETTING OF “LIMBO”

I was really looking forward to “Limbo.” Here are the good things about “Limbo:” the settings in the Australian Outback are about as foreign as anything on Earth. It looked like it was shot on another planet. There are a variety of rock formations that I’ve never seen anywhere before and the area seemed to be filled with abandoned mines, mine shafts, and/or caves. Unfortunately, the film was shot in black-and-white, so the settings (often seen from an interesting aerial point-of-view) came off as dull and monochromatic. This opal-mining area of Australia was fascinating. Even the Limbo Motel where the lead character stays is dug from inside a cave or rock formation. [There are 27 still shots of the interesting terrain on IMBD.com which you should really check out.]

Simon Baker looked like a cross between a more athletic Walter White (“Breaking Bad) and a more scruffed-up Ray Donovan, with tattoos, a beard, and, as we learn in the opening scenes, a heroin habit. He’s a jaded cop. Baker’s performance is spot-on. However, the writer really needed to give him a phrase other than “Fair enough” to continue to mutter. He said it at least four times; it got annoying.

PLOT

In the first of these two Australian films, “Limbo,” the reunion of a young boy, Zach, with his father is ultimately what emerges as the final theme. The attempt to look into this cold case of Charlotte’s disappearance by hard-boiled detective Trevor Hurley (Simon Baker) goes nowhere fast. Everybody that ever knew anything about Charlotte’s disappearance is either dead, dying or refuses to speak to Trevor.  Charlie (an excellent Rob Collins), her brother, is too screwed up to be of much help in possibly solving Charlotte’s long-ago disappearance.

We finally are pretty much left to believe that Joseph and Leon, two old-timers, definitely had something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance, but Leon is already dead and Joseph will be soon. Joseph almost gets his come-uppance in a strange scene near the end involving Trevor, Joseph and a gun, but ultimately Trevor  rides off into the sunset.

The intrepid detective is called back to the office and we all forget about poor Charlotte. We are left only with the return of Zach to  neglectful father Charlie’s arms. (Charlie says, early on, “I was out of the picture fairly quickly. And I guess that was just the easiest for everyone.”)  In one last gasp of the slow-moving plot, Trevor drives teenaged son Zach out to Charlie’s remote trailer so the two can have a very low-key reunion.

It’s the best you’re going to get for closure on this one.

CHRISTMESS

Steve LeMarquand

Steve LeMarquand as Chris; LeMarquand has appeared in 3 of Director Heath Davis’ four films.

The second film, “Christmess” deals with a once good actor who has become drug and alcohol-addicted and is reduced to serving as a store Santa in a mall. He accidentally encounters his long-lost daughter, Nicole (Nicole Pastor), while performing his duties, and attempts to re-connect with her. Most of the rest of the film is about keeping Steve off drugs and alcohol (AA meetings, conversations with his sponsor Nick) and maybe reuniting him with his daughter for a Christmas day dinner.

HANNAH JOY

Hannah Joy

Hannah Joy of “Middle Kids” rock band, playing Joy in “Christmess” in her film debut.

Aspiring singer of the alternative indie band Middle Kids makes her film debut and contributes a lot of songs. One lyric that comes through is “Life is a mess, but despite it all, Love takes a hand and leads you on.” Matt Sladen also composed some of the original music.

The lead, once again, is Steve LeMarquand, who has appeared in three of Writer/Director Heath Davis’ other films. He is known for “Last Train to Freo” and portrayed Chris Flint in this film.

Darren Gilshenan and Steve LeMarquand

Chris (Steve LeMarquand), right, and his sponsor Nick (Darren Gilshenan) in “Christmess.”

His sponsor in the film is played by Aaron Glenane (“Snowpiercer”). Nicole Pastor plays Steve’s long-lost daughter (who seems to want to stay lost) and Hannah Joy played Joy.

In a “Variety” interview, Writer/Director Davis said, “At its heart, Christmess is a celebration of the human spirit, the kindness of strangers, and the healing power of forgiveness.”

Okay. Two Australian films with good leads (Steve LeMarquand and Simon Baker) where we almost feel that we should all join hands and sing “Kumbayah” as part of the plot’s attempt to bring love to Christmas. Or else, let Hannah Joy do another song (she sang several).

The film shot for three weeks in Campbelltown, New South Wales. LeMarquand has been in three of Davis’ other films: “Book Week,” “Broke,” and “Locusts.”

I still like Australian films very much, but I cannot say that I was overwhelmed by these two. I honestly found myself yawning in one (I won’t say which one). [I seldom, if ever, fall asleep in the movies.] So, good location(s), good acting. Plot, screenplay, and pacing need some work.

My suggestion would be to take these two very interesting leads (Steve LeMarquand and Simon Baker) and find a project for them to do together that is more representative of the kick-ass Australian films I have learned to love over the years.

Nashville Film Festival Screens

“Caterpillar” Documentary to Screen at Nashville Film Festival

Nashville Film Festival Screens

This was a fascinating documentary about a new YouTube fad, changing one’s eye color, which is done, surgically, in India. It sounded very dicey, and, as it turns out, it is.

The documentary, written and directed by Liza Mandelup of the Parts & Labor film enterprise, followed the journey of Raymond David Taylor of Miami as he set off for India to have his brown eyes turned into a color described as “frost.”

It seems that there is a thriving cosmetic industry in Cairo, Mexico, Panama, and India and, of course, the recent deaths of two American citizens in Matamoros, Mexico, (we now know), was a trip for cosmetic surgery. A friend of mine flew to Costa Rica for dental work, so I’m surprised I had not heard of this latest vision fad, but I don’t spend much time watching videos on YouTube.

David had a very rough childhood, even getting kicked out of the house while young, at one point, and he (and most of the other patients) seem to think that “Changing me will change my outlook on life.” As David says, “If I feel sad one more day, I don’t know if I’m going to make it.”

“Caterpillar” to screen at Nashville Film Festival. (Raymond David Taylor).

He doesn’t have the money for the surgery, but a well-written letter to BrightOcular explaining his desire for the implants brings an offer from them to come have the cosmetic procedure for free, if he will let the company use his story and his photos for advertising purposes.

We then meet others on this medically unregulated journey, including Izzy, a woman from New Delhi, a young man from Japan, a male underwear model and a beautiful girl from Jamaica, but the focus is on David, which filmmaker/writer  Mandelop explained was her attempt to initially start out with three main characters and trace their journeys, with one emerging as central to the story.

She described this engrossing film journey into eye surgery this way:  “I wanted to visually convey it. I wanted to do something that people wouldn’t think was cinematic, like eye surgery, but make it cinematic. It became an emotional journey. David allowed me to make the film that I was craving.”

In the course of the journey, we meet David’s mother, who also suffered a rough, abusive life, but tried her best as a young single mother to care for her children on wages of $2.35 an hour. David’s mother and David don’t agree on a lot of things. She is okay with David’s being gay, but she says, “I cannot deal with that if you start cutting parts of your body off and adding stuff.” She adds that she thought he was a great female impersonator. Mom’s point-of-view is, “You’re stubborn. You don’t listen.” She adds, “You’re never satisfied with the way you look.” Others in the film describe the cosmetic procedure as “a bandaid to the past.” Most of the others have selected jade green as the color their brown eyes

It is a big blow to David when they do three patients’ surgeries simultaneously and, in the process, he is given jade green eye color by mistake, rather than frost. This will mean another eye surgery to fix the error.

If you are thinking, “This can’t be safe,” you’re right. It is only about four months post-surgery after David undergoes the procedure that he describes it as “the worst mistake of my life” when headaches and visual problems begin.

All of the prospective patients seem to want to transform to some ideal person they have created in their heads. When the subject of the film appeared before us in person, however, the audience got the feeling that the subject of “Caterpillar” has, in fact, bettered his life, moving back to Brooklyn and now working as an EMT. He explained his mother’s absence from the showing as his way of “avoiding drama.”

Director Liza Mandelup and David Raymond, subject of the SXSW documentary “Caterpillar”on Opening Night, March 10, 2023.

On the left, Director Liza Mandelup and Raymond David Taylor, subject of the SXSW documentary “Caterpillar”on SXSW Opening Night, March 10, 2023.

Some other patients, we learn, who did not heed the United States opthalmalogists’ warning about the damage the implants have done (or are doing)  to their eyes ended up blind or partially blind.  One former patient whom David tracks down after he begins encountering headaches and blurry vision said that he woke up after 5 years with blood on his cornea. “I had to remove them or go blind.”

The unfettered access to the surgery and the patients seems quite unusual. That is, until we learn that the leadership of BrightOcular is very circumspect. No one ever comes forward to represent BrightOcular or another entity called Spectra. These agencies exist and are offering this service and heavily advertising how it will “change your life” on social media, with beautiful pictures of patients like David. They are not as forthcoming about the negatives of the procedure. The Indian physician who says he, personally, would not undergo the procedure knows this is a very risky way to change one’s outlook on life and seems to convey that through his reticence to heartily endorse the procedure.

David bought into it with words like, “This is my new beginning. I’m changing,” or “Beauty matters. Beauty gets you through the door.

Musical selections like “Stand By Me” and “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” selected by Music Supervisor Melissa Chapman, merge with the early upbeat theme of positive change seamlessly and add much to the extremely well-done production.

Afterwards, the writer/director (Liza Mandelup) and David, the chief subject, answered questions about the inspiration for the film and its aftermath. Liza said she had been doing research on the apps that can change one’s appearance when she learned of this eye surgery. She sent the BrightOcular company an e-mail asking I f she could do a documentary about the process. They were very positive in their response and never really surfaced as an entity. Their leadership remains a mystery.

Writer-Director Liza Mandelup.

She cautions that David was one of the few patients who listened to the warnings from U.S. eye doctors, post-surgery,  and had his implants removed fairly quickly. Others have faced the need to have cornea transplants and some have gone blind because they refused to give up the implants over a period of years. One patient, asked what she would be content with in regards to improving her appearance, answered, “What am I content with? Just more.”

Among the best compliments of the terrific job the filmmaker did with this riveting documentary was a woman who stood up in the back during the Q&A and said, in heavily accented English, “You mean this was a documentary? I thought it was a movie!”

  
Nashville Film Festival Screens

Nashville Film Festival Screens from September 28th to October 4th, 2023

Nashville Film Festival September 28th through October 4th, 2023.

The Nashville Film Festival commences September 28th, and I will be there, in person, covering it. It runs from September 28th until October 4th. The Nashville Film Festival presents more than 125 film screenings, a selection of post-film Q&As and in-depth discussions with attending filmmakers.

NashFilm hosts events and programs that highlight the many aspects of filmmaking, including: a Screenwriting Competition (September 28-October 4); a Music Supervisors Program; the Creators Conference (film and music industry panels; and live music performances and new artist showcases throughout the week.

The festival opens with the documentary “I Will Survive,” from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville. It is the story of the career and resurgence of Gloria Gaynor and Gaynor, plus director Betsy Schechter will be present at the post-party afterwards at Anzie Blue.

On Friday, in addition to composer Mark Isham (“Crash”) in conference, the short “The Hit Man” (18 minutes) with Richard Kind and Peter Riegert and Nancy Allen screens at the Rothschild Black Box Theatre. Later that night, “Another Body,” about a coed who finds fake nude photos of herself online, will show at the same theater.

Saturday, 9/30, a Joan Baez documentary (“I Am A Noise”) is up, along with a documentary entitled “The Disappearance of Sheri Hite.” (Sheri Hite wrote a groundbreaking book on female sexuality and then largely disappeared from public view.)

Sunday, October 1st, I am looking forward to some documentary shorts, as well as David Straithorn in “Remember This.” David Strathairn portrays Jan Karski in this genre-defying true story of a reluctant World War II hero and Holocaust witness. After surviving the devastation of the Blitzkrieg, Karski swears allegiance to the Polish Underground and risks his life to carry the first eyewitness reports of war-torn Poland to the Western world, and ultimately, the Oval Office. Escaping a Gestapo prison, bearing witness to the despair of the Warsaw ghetto and confronted by the inhumanity of a death camp, Karski endures unspeakable mental anguish and physical torture to stand tall in the halls of power and speak the truth.

Monday, October 2nd, brings a Minnie Pearl documentary, “Facing the Laughter” and a documentary entitled “The Tuba Thieves,” about real-life thefts of that instrument in California.

Tuesday, October 3rd, is a day to do some streaming, with many options there.

Wednesday, October 4th is closing night at the Belcourt, featuring the film “Foe” with Saiorse Ronan, with a closing night party at Exit/In. Earlier, there is a documentary entitled “Silver Dollar Road,” also at the Belcourt, From Academy-Award Nominee Raoul Peck, Silver Dollar Road follows the story of the Reels family as told by the matriarch Mamie Reels Ellison and her niece Kim Renee Duhon, two fierce and clear-eyed women bending to safeguard valiantly their ancestors’ land and their brothers and uncles Melvin and Licurtis, who were wrongfully imprisoned for eight years – the longest sentence for civil contempt in North Carolina history.

 

 

Family Fest 2023 in Austin, Texas Is In the Books

My son (Scott) and his wife (Jessica) and their girls (14-year-old twins Ava and Elise) just concluded another successful Family Fest at their home in Austin, Texas.

People normally fly in from St. Louis, Denver, the Quad Cities, Boston, Nashville and our numbers have been as high as 30, although this year there were some defections in the ranks and we topped out at 14.

Of that number, eleven slept at his house and three of us commuted back and forth from the Hills of Bear Creek (Mench aaca) 3.3 miles away.

On Sunday, most of the group floated for 3 and ½ hours down a river in inner tubes. I think it was the Calumne River, but don’t quote me on that.

Son Scott grilled many things: sausage, ribs, brisket. Jessica made many delicious side dishes and I contributed a Texas sheet cake and deviled eggs. On Labor Day we had a birthday cake for the 2-year-old, Winnie Eddy.

Craig, Connie, Stacey, Megan (blue suit kids).

The Ken Paxton impeachment trial is ongoing, creating a major political scandal in the Longhorn state. The “New York Times” was covering it on an hourly basis.

There was a shoot-out in nearby Buda today and the temperature here is predicted to top 100 degrees for the foreseeable future.

Most days and nights, we staked out the pool, playing water volleyball, bags, and other games. Only one board game was used, Baby boomers versus Millennials, which was way too easy.

A birthday cake was secured for Winnie Eddy, the youngest member of the group, who had recently turned two.

Wrigley, the dog, had a good time and neighbors Bill Kohl and Satch and Brandi Nanda and daughter Kira stopped by, along with the Beans from next door, who came with Jackson, Penny and Milly in tow. (Penny was very excited about the idea of a baby in the house.)

 

 

 

Scott at outdoor bar in Buda, Texas.

A good time was had by all.

Underground Independence

“Underground Independence” Takes Us On A Stroll Down Memory Lane in Independence, Iowa on Aug. 19, 2023

Independence, Iowa, was named as the seat of Buchanan County in June of 1847.  A second town, New Haven, and its mill, were located on the west bank of the river.  In 1854, the State Legislature merged the two towns.  Ten years later, in 1864, Independence was incorporated. Quasqueton, then called Quasquetuk, which I wrote about as the location of a Frank Lloyd Wright home, is quite near Independence (located on what is often referred to as the Independence/Quaskie diagonal). Quasqueton was originally the county seat, but that distinction was moved to Independence in 1847 at a time when there were only 15 residents in Independence.

The bridge connecting the East and West banks of the city had become impassable.  Built just above river level, the bridge was at the mercy of floods and frost. A flood in 1865 finally swept the bridge away entirely.  [I’ve heard stories about an elephant falling through the other downtown bridge, while in town for a circus, but I’ve never been able to document that interesting bit of trivia. I will say that, on my visit there for the Mini Reunion on Aug. 11th, we had to use this secondary bridge because the city fathers had blocked off Main Street for something called Music on Main.]

How Underground Independence Came to Be:

It was decided to raise the bridge to make it less vulnerable. In doing so, the level of the street on the East side would also need to be raised, thereby changing the grade of the entire street.  A massive project began. Retaining walls were constructed.  Dirt was hauled from further up the hill to the East to raise the street from the river to beyond 3rd Avenue N.E.  As it progressed, the entrances to stores fell below street level.  A walkway was maintained so that merchants and customers could still do business. I’ve been told that the revelation of this “buried” level of the city was not fully realized until about 2011. I grew up there and knew nothing of it, but the Episcopalian minister of St. James Episcopalian Church, Sue Ann Raymond, whose father owned Raymond Printing Company for years, said she was aware of this subterranean nature of the city, because part of it was located beneath her father’s store.

By 1866, the new bridge was completed.  Samuel Sherwood began to make plans to erect a new, much larger woolen mill, which is now known as the Wapsipinicon Mill. The 1867 mill, now called the Wapsipinicon Mill, was a source of electrical energy from 1915 to 1940. Some structural restoration occurred in recent years, and the mill now functions partly as an historical museum. We visited the Mill, the Loft Chamber of Commerce at 112 1st St. E, the Gedney Bakery at 116 1st St. E, the Sanity Room at 117, 1st St. E, Eschen’s Clothing at 211 1st St. E, and Quilter’s Quarters at 213 1st St. E. Tours are self-guided and stairs are steep: be warned.

A courthouse was built in 1857, on the east side of the town, on a site described at that time as “the highest tract of land in the neighborhood,” which offers “a fine view of the city of Independence, the valley of the Wapsipinicon, and the surrounding Country”. The original courthouse was replaced in 1939 by a Moderne or Art Deco structure. My father was then the Democratic County Treasurer of Buchanan County (partially a fluke, as his Republican opponent died before he could be sworn in, and they offered the post to my father, who was re-elected for a total of four terms. Dad helped lay the cornerstone of the new County Courthouse. He was 37 years old.)

Dad began thinking about establishing a second bank in town as his term was coming to a close, contacting the bank examiners and being put in touch with investors from other parts of the state like Mason City. Security State Bank opened in 1941. I have the first check that cleared the bank framed on the wall of my study. Check Number One is dated October 8, 1941, between the  Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Security State Bank in the amount of $971.97.  I learned that what is now called NSB (Northeast Security Bank) now has deposits of $421,617,000 with branches in Independence, Dysart, Fredericksburg, Decorah, Fairbank (my dad’s home town, where he began in banking as a cashier), Sumner, Rowley and Fayette.

In November of 1873, a fire started behind what is now Hartig Drug Store and burned the buildings going East.  Six months later, in May of 1874, a second larger fire began in the middle of the West side of 2nd Avenue, N.E. (my old home street). It burned the entire West side of the street. Everything from the river to what is now the NSB (Northeast Security Bank Corner), formerly the Security State Bank that my father founded in 1941.  A livery, four residences, and a church in the block behind were also burned.

In May of 1874 a second larger fire began in the middle of the West side of 2nd Avenue, consuming the buildings on the north side of 1st St. E to the river. High winds allowed the fire to jump to the south side of the street. Within 10 days of the second fire, merchants and land owners began rebuilding on the existing limestone foundations, leaving underground storefronts as they were.  The devastation led to an opportunity to recreate the downtown with beauty and continuity.  The buildings were crafted in the Italianate architectural style of the day.

The block on the West side of 2nd Avenue burned down again in 1960, something I vividly remember, as a high school student who was viewing the film “Exodus” at the Malek Theater, one short block from my house at 214 2nd Avenue, when the fire broke out. Because sparks were landing on the roof of the theater, we were asked to exit the theater and I began trying to walk home, which was not easy, because fire trucks and firemen were clogging up 2nd Avenue directly in front of the post office. The locker plant across the street was destroyed as were all other buildings on the block.

I finally took the alley behind St. James Episcopal Church back to my house at 214 2nd Avenue N.E., the former railroad station master’s house. My father was out on the front hill with a garden house watering the area down as sparks drifted across the street. I was 15 years old.  I remember it vividly, just as I remember the Independence Senior High School burning down in 1956. (It was just before I was to enter 7th grade in “the new junior high school,” which quickly became the high school/junior high combined. This building, Jefferson High School, was torn down and a new high school was erected in 2013.)

Rush Park: Axtell & Allerton

For a few years in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Independence was a nationally known horse-racing center, and was sometimes referred to as the “Lexington of the North”. This came about as a result of the meteoric financial success of Charles W. Williams. A telegraph operator and creamery owner from nearby Jesup, Iowa, Williams (with no experience in breeding horses) purchased in 1885 two mares, each of which within a year gave birth to a stallion. These two stallions, which Williams named Axtel and Allerton, went on to set world trotting records, with the result that Williams’ earnings enabled him to publish a racing newspaper titled The American Trotter, to build a large three-story hotel and opera house called The Gedney, and to construct a figure-eight kite-shaped race track on the west edge of town, on a large section of land called Rush Park, where he also built a magnificent horse barn and his family mansion. Williams eventually (1889) sold Axtell for $105,000, a record price for any horse at the time. (*Axtell broke down as a 4-year-old and never raced again.)

The grand opening day for the kite track was  August 25, 1890. At least 225 horses valued at over one million dollars were on exhibition for the price of $1.00 at the gate.  Season tickets, admitting the holder to all 5 days, could be purchased for $4. Season tickets for a lady and gentleman cost $7. There was no extra charge for teams or admission to the grandstand.

The burgeoning community was soon home to other mansions, churches, and even a trolley-car service. My mother used to tell me about the Gedney Opera House burning down; I believe that the trolley car came down 2nd Avenue (Chatham Street) to the Gedney, bringing big name horse racing enthusiasts to the races. That street was paved with red brick throughout much of my growing-up years in Independence, and you could hear the Amish buggies clip-clopping down the street to the sale barn on weekends.

The Wapsipinicon Old Mill basement.

The horse races at Rush Park were an effective magnet. The fifty cents admission fee paid by over eight thousand spectators must have delighted Charles W. Williams. Charles W. Williams would have beamed with joy as he saw twenty-five hundred people jammed into his $10,000 amphitheater, happy to pay an additional thirty-five cents for the privilege. Purses totaling $2400 had lured many of the fastest horses in the state to Independence.

Williams went on to raise other record-breaking horses, but he lost much of his fortune in the Panic of 1893. Williams subsequently moved to Galesburg, Illinois, where (among other things) he became acquainted with the young Carl Sandburg (as mentioned in Sandburg’s autobiography, Always the Young Strangers). Today, the location of Williams’ race track (which was the original site of the Buchanan County Fairgrounds) is a corn field. His house is still standing, but, in recent years, the Rush Park barn was demolished by a bulldozer, to make way for a fast food drive-in and an auto parts store. There was a point when two wealthy California natives tried to make an upscale supper club within the famed Rush Park barn, but that, too, ended up being short-lived.

In the years that followed the race track days, the town lost most of its importance when the railroad terminal at Independence was pushed further west to Waterloo, Iowa. Today, the old depot stands on the highway that leads to Oelwein and serves as a visitor center, but it is no longer a functioning depot. I remember my parents taking the train to Chicago and staying at the Palmer House for bankers’ meetings, but that would be impossible today, just as my trips from Iowa City to Chicago would be impossible with the sub-par rail service in Iowa today.

Of additional interest are several other buildings of historic and architectural value. Among these are the Christian Seeland House and Brewery at 1010 4th Street Northeast (1873), an Italianate style mansion and brewery; Saint John’s Roman Catholic Church at 2nd Street and 4th Avenue Northeast (1911); the Munson Building, formerly the Independence Free Public Library, at 210 2nd Street Northeast (1893–95); Saint James Episcopal Church on 2nd Avenue Northeast, just north of 2nd Street (1863, 1873); and the Depression-era United States Post Office Building at 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue Northeast (1934), not for its architecture, but because hanging inside in the lobby is a WPA mural from the 1930s, titled Postman in the Snow, painted by a former Independence resident named Robert Tabor. (*There was another Tabor painting of a small child wearing white galoshes and a pink coat and holding a book up to the librarian to check out. I was told by the librarian that that child was me, then aged about 5, which would have been painted when Mr. Tabor (who did not begin painting until he was 52) was about 68 in 1950, as he was born in 1882. Since I spent all of my free time at the library, I can believe this.)

About 10 miles east of Independence, south of U.S. Highway 20, near Quasqueton, is the Lowell Walter house or Cedar Rock, a state-owned Frank Lloyd Wright house that is open to the public from May through October. (See previous blog article.)

For me, as a St. John’s student from 1950 to 1959, I worshiped weekly at St. John’s Church a block away from my childhood home. I remember when a tornado tore the roof off St. John’s Church (established 1911) and deposited the wreckage in our back yard in about 1947. My father made a playhouse out of the shingles and boards, which my parents referred to as “the hookey.”

The Library mentioned was right down the alley. I made almost daily trips there to read, as we did not purchase a television set until I was a junior in high school in 1962. (My mother’s prescient remark was: “Pictures were never meant to fly through the air;” she had pronounced television to be a fleeting fad.)

St. James Episcopal Church, the oldest continuously operating church in town, is one house away from my childhood home. I remember when my parents hired a Chicago architect to remodel our home in 1957. He was quite smitten with the church with its beautiful stained glass windows, and made frequent trips the 100 yards to tour it on his own.

One of my favorite library stories was when the librarian thought I was too young to check out a book about the Zulu uprising in Africa. She called my mother at home and asked her if she should allow me to check out the book. Mom replied, “Sure. Go ahead.” (Good going, Mom!)

At the 2000 census there were 6,014 people in 2,432 households, including 1,588 families, in the city.

Points of Interest:

Historic Downtown

AXTELL

Year of Birth: 1886
Immortal: Yes
Elected as Immortal: 1955
Year of Death: 1906
Gait: Trotter
Record: t, 2:12
Sire: William L.
Dam: Lou
Mambrino Boy

Axtell was foaled in 1886, son of William L. out of the non-Standard mare Lou. His breeder was C. W. Williams of Independence, Iowa. Axtell was trained and raced by Williams on the famed Independence kite-shaped track. He lowered the two-year-old stallion record to 2:23 and won every race in which he started. As a three-year-old Axtell again won every start and lowered the world’s stallion record to 2:12. In 1889 Williams made history by selling Axtell to a syndicate for $105,000, the highest price ever paid for a horse of any kind at that time. Axtell broke down as a four-year-old and never raced again, but retired to stud. His progeny included the foundation sire Axworthy 2:15 1/2, and he became one of the highest priced sires of his day. His 1891 stud fee was $1,000. Axtell died on August 19, 1906 in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home at Cedar Rock in Quasqueton, Iowa

Frank Lloyd Wright Home at Cedar Rock in Quasqueton, Iowa

On our way to my old hometown of Independence (Iowa) to take the Underground Independence tour, we visited Cedar Rock, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Quasqueton, Iowa. I had always known that this example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian homes was near my old hometown, but I only became aware of the specifics of its location when driving to Independence for the “Mini Reunion” mentioned in a previous post.

Kitchen at Cedar Rock.

The owners of the Quasqueton house wanted Cedar Rock to be a retirement home, with their winters being spent in Des Moines, where Lowell and Agnes Walter lived and where Lowell had offices for his company, the Iowa Road Building Company. The Walters sold their road building company in 1944; they owned the patent on a chemical that helped keep the dust down on country roads. The family invested profits into Buchanan County land and owned 17 farms and 3,800 acres of land. The building site for Cedar Rock was 11.5 acres, The Kucharo Construction Company of Des Moines were general contractors and builders for the site. Budgeted amount was initially $50,000 in 1945, but it is estimated that it ultimately cost $120,000 to $150,000 to build the house, which was completed in 1950.

The Walters wrote to Wright on January 25, 1945, and asked if he would design this home for them. Even then, they had the idea of deeding it to the state, as has been done.

Wright obviously agreed and used materials he is known for, including glass and concrete. The design called for 17 tons of reinforced concrete. The roof would be flat, like many of Wright’s designs.

Wright also designed the furniture within the house. On the exterior of the house appears a red tile, which was Wright’s seal of approval, stating that the house had been completed to his specifications. Of the 10 Frank Lloyd Wright structures in Iowa, Cedar Rock is the only signed one. (Other Wright structures in Iowa are the Stockman residence in 1908 in Mason City; the National Bank & Park Inn Hotel in 1909 in Mason City; the Miller residence in 1946 in Charles City; the Meier residence in 1917 in Monona; the Sunday residence in 1955 in Marshalltown; the Grant residence in 1946 in Marion; the Alsop residence in 1948 in Oskaloosa; the Lamberson residence in 1948 in Oskaloose; and Cedar Rock (1948) in Quasqueton.)

Living room at Cedar Rock.

The Cedar Rock house also has a boathouse that has the ability to sleep inside it, which most do not have. The house and the boathouse are both situated high above the Wapsi Pinicon River, which, according to the guidebook, was a place that many selected for picnics and swimming and had indigenous importance. The architecture is of such major national significance that Cedar Rock was accepted for nomination prior to the buildings being 50 years old, by notable two-time exception of the National Parks Service. (Only a few sites with this distinction are listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2 listings prior to meeting the age pre-requisite.) The building design is Wright’s only executed design of its particular type and construction: solid brick masonry and cast-in-place concrete used structurally and three-dimensionally, with lots of red brick. It is the only Wright design in which concern for treating a site already of historical importance, significant to indigenous American history, influenced Wright’s design and placement of the buildings. It is said that the layout of the house is like a tadpole. William Wesley Peters and John deKoven Hill, two of Wright’s most trusted students from the Taliesin School of Architecture, oversaw the building of the Cedar Rock house.

Dining area with inter-locking table(s).

 

Among characteristics of the house that are known to appear in Frank Lloyd Wright homes, the entrance is dark, but opens to a very light room with sky lights helping bring nature into the space. The bathrooms were very small and the design of the movable sink, which swiveled, was odd. (We were told it was not Wright’s bathroom design, however.)

The bedrooms were very small and the hallway that led past the bedrooms were dark, with built-in cabinetry. However, Wright did not believe in having basements or garages or attics. He also nixed the use of an attached garage and the family had a car port, instead, with a small house that they lived in during construction later being moved to the perimeter of the site and used for housing cars. There was also a maid’s quarters, although the couple did not employ a maid.

The entire house seemed very small and it didn’t look like there would be much of an opportunity to escape from each other to any rooms within the structure.  In the original letter to Wright, the letter suggested 30’ x 60.’ The closet space was sorely lacking. The bathroom and hallway outside it were less than optimal and very small.

On a positive note, the tables that Wright designed that were made to fit together were quite ingenious. Also, the overall site on the river is unique and beautiful, with a winding road leading up to the house through gorgeous trees.

Wright designed more than 1,000 structures over 70 years. He lived from 1867 to 1959, so Cedar Rock was near the end of Wright’s career, as it was only 9 years before he died.

I had the opportunity to play the Steinway piano in the living room of Cedar Rock, which was unique.

Although most of us are aware of the significance of Frank Lloyd Wright in architecture, the tragedies of his life included two divorces, an intentionally set fire tat led to the murders of 7 people, including Wright’s mistress, Mamah Cheney, her two children, studio and site employees, and the carpenter’s son by an ax-wielding handyman, Julian Carlton.  Wright continued to be plagued, years later, by a second fire ignited by a lightning strike and lifelong financial struggles.

 

Mini-Reunion Goes Down Without a Hitch on Aug. 11, 2023

There is a reunion scheduled for my high school graduating class, but it is scheduled the very same date as Printers’ Row in Chicago, the largest outdoor book fair in the United States. I have participated in Printers’ Row many years as a member of the Illinois chapter of National Presswomen. This reunion is a full 6 decades post high school. How many of the 12 girls in my circle are even alive? How many who are alive would be attending? (From the latest reports, only 35 people have signed up at all, and that includes spouses, so a class of 110 has shrunk to perhaps 20, tops.)

(L to R) Connie, Marcy, and Candy.

I ran through the names and statuses of the girls I ran around with in high school:

Jane – died at age 69.

Marcia – died from a brain aneurysm while mowing the lawn.

Joan – died from a massive stroke in October after a lifetime of chain smoking.

Linda – died of cancer

Carol – died of cancer

Kaye – dead of suicide

Still living?

Candy, Beverley, Marcy, Pat and me.

I also am aware that my high school steady boyfriend died on May 20, 2021, during some routine maintenance on his pace maker. (RIP, Verne).

So, I organized a Mini Reunion, which involved three (of 5) of the remaining class members. It just so happened that there was also supposed to be something called Music on Main involving live music, supposedly, on main street the night that we selected (Aug. 11th). We did  go downtown to explore this activity late (9 p.m,) but it seemed to be more “canned” music than “live” music and there were only a few high school aged people out and about. It was a lovely night and we enjoyed the stroll past old businesses that we remember from our youth, which now have new functions.

Marcy’s soon-to-be Corvette, as restored by husband Dave.

Initially, I drove to Alburnett, Iowa and joined forces with Marcy, who lives nearby. We traveled the rest of the way (a roughly 2 and ½ hour trip for me) in Marcy’s car, but I must share the project her husband is working on for her right now.

We dined at Denali’s on the River (prime rib) and caught up on what has been going on in everyone’s life. Candy’s husband just had open heart surgery. Marcy had just attended at least three funerals for close friends. I am still staying on top of 1/27/2022 cancer surgery, and Candy has some mobility issues she is addressing.

We raised our glasses to our three wonderful husbands. We also had a drink in honor and in memory of the female friends who have shuffled off this mortal coil, and wished Beverley (far away in Oregon) well with her own battles with colon cancer and chronic pain.

I didn’t attend the 50th class reunion—also in conflict with a film festival commitment. It seems that Candy, who is a quilt-maker par excellence, has really excelled in this post-career hobby. Marcy has traveled extensively (China, Egypt) and she and her husband, Dave, will celebrate his 80th birthday on August 17th.

Dave has had both hips and both knees replaced and also had a corneal transplant. He is retired now, but farmed 2,000 acres at one time, with partners. Their home was destroyed by a tornado in 2009 and they built a new home high on a hill in a truly lovely pastoral setting. One of their children lives just below the hill where their house is located.

Candy has 9 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren, with the longest marriage of the three of us (59 years, I believe). All together, all of us have been married over 50 years, with our 56 years this year coming in as shortest time span.

Entrance to the new house.

I polished off the weekend staying overnight with Marcy and talking until 1:30 A.M. In the morning, we drove to my nephew’s new home and got to see it the very day they were moving in. It is a palace. I couldn’t be happier for Chris, D.J., Sophia and Owen.

It was a memorable Mini Reunion, and I am so glad that the three  of us could get together. I wish the rest of my classmates well as they gather at Wolfie’s (in Quasqueton, Iowa, which is a town I had never visited for reasons I do not totally understand). Next time, maybe the number of still mobile graduates will be so small that we can gather in  DeNali’s small banquet room. Or maybe another restaurant in town will open, as the one that the locals seemed to favor (Bill’s) was not only closed, but boarded up.

We did walk up and down Main Street, discussing the various businesses that exist there now and those of yesteryear. I learned that my father’s Security State Bank now goes by NSB, meaning Northeast Security Bank. It says there are 8 branches and that the bank, founded by my father (John Corcoran, Jr.) in 1941 is owned by Independence Bancshares, Inc.. and has assets of $427,617,000. The locations were listed as being Independence, Dysart, Fredricksburg, Decorah, Fairbank, Sumner, Rowley, and Fayette.

Since my father started out in the bank in Fairbank, Iowa, as a cashier, and the bank listed agri-business as its chief focus, it seemed that it might still be holding firm to his vision of serving the rural community and not becoming part of a huge chain like Wells Fargo or Bank of America.

I’ll report more on my stroll down memory lane after next weekend’s journey to view Underground Independence. (google it).

 

Page 1 of 19

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén