Springtime Snowbird: Red Wing, MN & Golden Lantern

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The travel content in my blood had gotten pretty low so I decided it was time to get away for the weekend.  I booked a getaway in Red Wing, MN, home of the Golden Lantern.

While I love travel immensely, sometimes the travel part of travel can get mighty tedious.  My father has an interesting hobby in that he likes to look at atlases to plan his journeys or simply to learn more about the cities that I visit.  When I told him I was heading to Red Wing, I half jokingly asked him if he could plot a route that would be light on interstate.

Dad rose to the challenge and plotted a route.  I asked him how much time this would add to my trip and he asked what time I had planned on getting there.  When I said 3pm, he said I could leave at 6am.  I didn’t particularly relish the idea of tacking an extra 3 hours onto the drive so I figured it would be back to the interstate for me.

A few days before I left, I realized that the route to Minnesota takes me very close to my old hometown of Fort Dodge, IA.  I checked to see how much more time would be added if I went that route and found it would only add an extra hour to the drive.  I contacted my best friend, Josh Kudron, and asked if he wanted to meet me for lunch.  He said yes and I now had a much more satisfying drive on my hands.

It was a very pleasant drive as I drove the route I knew so well, passing through numerous small towns on my way to Fort Dodge.  It had been quite a while since I had visited the old burg and noticed a lot of changes to these small towns.  Just outside of Rockwell City, I found that they were tearing up the highway and had to take a detour which routed me through the tiny town of Rinard and I appreciated adding a new small town to the journey.

I ended up arriving in Fort Dodge about a half hour before I was to meet Josh.  I decided to take a quick jaunt down memory lane and actually get a picture of my first childhood home.  I still remember every nook and cranny of the place.  The house and property had once fallen into quite a bit of disrepair in the years since my family had moved out.  My dad’s lovingly maintained backyard had transformed into an overgrown jungle due to a dispute between the house owners and the owners of the convenience store next door.  At one point, the house had been condemned until it was bailed out by a new owner.

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My childhood home. It’s seen better days, but it’s also seen worse.

The new owner made the house look a lot better with a new siding job and I was stunned to see the backyard restored to quite a bit of its former glory.  I snapped a photo and drove off to my old elementary school.

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This was my old elementary school

The school had once been a Catholic school and church called Holy Rosary, but had been sold off many years prior.  It had been a rehabilitation center for young girls suffering from drug and alcohol addictions before being bought out by an evangelical church and renamed Community Christian School.  Though I only got one photo, a flood of childhood memories washed over me as a lot of the good times spent there ran through my mind.

Then it was time for lunch.  I met Josh at my favorite fast food joint, Taco Tico.  It’s a pity that there are only 16 of these restaurants in the United States because these are the best tacos ever made.  Josh picked up the tab and we spent a long lunch catching up on old times and filling each other in on recent events.  I ended up having to call an end to lunch as I had to get to Red Wing to check in and bad weather was looming.  Keep that last point in mind.

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Ah, Taco Tico!! Yum!!

Now it was off to the interstate to complete my drive to Red Wing.

I arrived in town about 5pm and made my way to the Golden Lantern.  I was greeted by the inn’s owner, Sioux Christensen, and led to my room, J.R.’s Suite.  The room had an incredible calming quality and is very. . .red from thee burgundy curtains and easy chairs to the red blanket on the king bed to the carpeting to the towels.

 

The Golden Lantern is a Tudor Revival mansion that was originally the home of Jesse R (J.R.) Sweazy who was the president of the famed Red Wing Shoe Company which is still in operation today.  The house remained in the family for several generations before his grandson sold the property in 1992 at which point it was renovated into a B & B.

 

I did my normal explorations and helped myself to some cheese and crackers in the living room.  After settling in, I headed to the main drag to have dinner at Bev’s Café.

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Bev’s Cafe

Bev’s is normally only open for breakfast and lunch, but stays open for dinner on Friday nights.  I ordered an Inferno burger with some crinkle cut French fries and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner as I continued reading Ten Little Aliens, a sci-fi retelling of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians.

I returned to the inn after dinner where I put my Jacuzzi tub through the paces, even adding a splash of pomegranate to the water because. . .why not.  I don’t know if it added to my relaxation, but I felt pretty sedate when the bath was over.

From there I posted pictures before going to sleep for the night.

Earlier I had mentioned that bad weather had been looming.  Well, I woke up the next morning to. . .wait for it. . .A SNOWSTORM. . .IN MID-APRIL.  I’m talking a full blown, wind whipping snowstorm which canceled all of my exploration plans for the day.

There are worse things than being forced to stay indoors in a comfortable inn.  Luckily I had arranged for even more relaxation by opting to have breakfast in bed that first day.  A tray was left outside my door at 9am and I enjoyed a long breakfast of bacon, fruit, orange juice, apple cinnamon roll, and a frittata/omelet entrée.

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Afterwards it was pretty much reading, a little TV, and working on the computer for the day.  I did take my car for a brief spin to keep the engine warm, but the wind was whipping around the snow so much that I was only out for 15-20 minutes.

About 5pm, I walked the block to St Joseph’s Catholic Church to attend worship services.  For a small town, the church was surprisingly big.  Almost as big as the church I attend back in Omaha.  The storm had mushroomed into a full blown blizzard threatening to dump up to a foot of snow by 7am the next day.  Due to the storm, less than 50 people attended the service and the sermon and songs were clipped a bit to get us back home.  Still, it was a good service, if a bit edited.

 

I still needed to eat and ending up finding a Perkins nearby where I started reading a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Red Tower, while I ate a Country Club Melt.  After dinner, I noted with relief that the snow had tapered off which gave the city plenty of time to clean up.  This meant I would be able to head for home tomorrow as extending my stay had been a very serious possibility.

I enjoyed another bath and began writing this article before retiring for the night.

When I woke up the next morning, I peeked out my window and noted that the streets were very clean.  Red Wing only got 5 inches of snow, but had I been just an hour west, I would have been buried.  The Twin Cities received a whopping 10.5” of snow and it was still falling.  At this writing, they are up to 18”.

I joined two other couples for breakfast where we enjoyed strawberries and cream, sausage patties, chocolate crepes, and Eggs Benedict.  A nourishing, tasty breakfast indeed.  Some interesting conversation followed and then I made the long drive home.

I’d like to give the city of Red Wing a redo at some point so I can truly experience the city, but the Golden Lantern is a fabulous inn and definitely gets a recommendation for a visit.  From the large rooms and bathtubs to the gourmet breakfasts, you will certainly have a grand and relaxing time.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

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A Winter’s Respite: Marshfield, MO & Dickey House Bed & Breakfast

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Taking advantage of a freak warm spell, I answered the call of the road once more.  This time the road would be taking me to Marshfield, MO where I would be visiting the Dickey House Bed and Breakfast.

Getting to Marshfield would prove to be. . .interesting.  Having been burned by Mapquest one time too many, I had recently taken to using Google Maps.  That app plotted a route that would take about 6 hours.  I was delayed from leaving by about 20 minutes, but nothing to worry about.

I enjoyed a pleasant, sunny car ride with surprisingly little traffic for a Friday.  About 3:45, I pulled over to a Hardee’s in Clinton, MO for a very late lunch or an early supper depending on one’s point of view.  With my slight delay and a brief stop for gas and to stretch my legs, I estimated that I should arrive at the inn by about 5:30pm.

However, the reality proved to be quite different.  The next road I was looking for was State Highway CC and I found it shortly after leaving town.  I thought it had come up a little too early, but I took the road as I figured 10 miles out of my way was better than 70.

As you may have guessed, it was the wrong CC.

Five miles in I saw a sign saying that the road would end in water so I know I was on the wrong path.  I turned around and drove back to my original road, probably losing another 20 minutes in the process.  I got back on the right road and found the CC highway I needed about 70 miles later.

I still thought I would be fairly on target until I reached State Highway E.  It was a pitch black road full of twists and turns that required constant adjustments of speed, eating up even more of my time.  I finally rolled into Marshfield and had difficulty locating the street I needed as there weren’t street signs on every corner.

Fortunately, I stopped at a Conoco and found Dickey House was a mere few blocks away and arrived at roughly 6:35.  Now at this point, you may be wondering why I was so focused on the time.

I had reached an agreement with the Springfield Little Theatre to review their production of West Side Story and that started at 7:30 and was about a half hour away from the inn.  Needless to say, I was feeling a bit under the gun.

I grabbed my laptop and luggage and rang the doorbell.  I was greeted by Michaelene Stevens, one of the owners of the inn.  She offered to give me a tour of the inn, but I had to decline due to being rushed.  Originally, I was to have stayed in the Fontaine Room, but Michaelene moved me to the Heritage Room which allowed me a connected bathroom.

I quickly put down my bag and laptop and knew I had to skip shaving and changing into my suit in order to reach the theatre.  On my way downstairs, I met Michaelene’s husband, Larry, and their dog, Miss Taylor.  Michaelene showed me how the door lock worked and I dashed off to my car and headed to Springfield.

The theatre is located in the downtown Springfield area which meant parking was not easily available.  Precious time ticked away as I searched for a spot.

At long last I caught a break when I noticed a sign pointing to parking and I found a free parking garage several blocks away from the theatre.  I parked my car and sprinted and I mean, SPRINTED, to the theatre.  I grabbed my tickets and reached my seat with 7 minutes to spare.

The trials and efforts were worth it as I watched the greatest community theatre musical I have ever seen.  You may read the review here.

After the show, I returned to the inn where I quietly began my explorations (I was the only guest) and took pictures.

Dickey House is a 108 year old Greek Revival mansion built for Sam Dickey around 1908.  Dickey was a lawyer who did a lot of pro-bono work for Confederate soldiers whom he thought were getting a bad deal from the government.  Having a massive interest in politics, Dickey hosted seven MO senators and governors during his lifetime.  This would include the governor who brought the World’s Fair to St Louis.  Dickey was also a friend of William Jennings Bryan of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial.

The home remained the family until the 1970s where it passed through several hands and then lay empty for several years.

In 1987 a couple from California bought the home and turned it into an inn before selling out to the Stevens in 1998.  The Stevens restored the house and grounds to its original glory and then some to become the fine inn it is today.

The Heritage Room was quite comfortable with a canopied queen bed, electric fireplace, and reading porch.  I was so exhausted after the day’s adventures I collapsed into bed and slept.

The next morning I banged out my play review, caught a shave and shower and headed down to breakfast.

I had a long conversation with Larry and Michaelene over orange juice, fruit, cookie, and a puff pastry filled with ham, veggies, and other goodies.  I learned that Larry was a talented artist with a studio on the property.  So if you’re an artist or enjoy paintings, this is the inn for you.  And if you ask really nicely, Larry might show you his sanctum sanctorum (his studio).

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After a long drive the previous day, I didn’t feel like running all over Springfield which I had visited on a previous excursion.  I decided to simply take it easy.  I took a long walk about noon.  Finished a novel.  Watched a little educational TV.  I had forgotten the simple pleasure of really doing nothing.

About 5:40, I headed out for the evening.  I started by attending services at Holy Trinity Parish which has to be the smallest church I have ever visited.  From there, I drove back to the downtown Springfield area where I had dinner at Riad.  This is a Mediterranean restaurant and I enjoyed a gyro with a small side of fries.  As I dined I was surprised to notice that I saw far more cars than I had seen on Friday, but I was seeing fewer people and I wondered how that worked.

After my dinner I went around the corner to 1984 where, for $7.50, I could play all the vintage arcade games I wanted.  I certainly got my money’s worth as it took me twice as much as the entry fee to defeat P.O.W. Prisoners of War.  I also played Tron, Marble Madness, Shinobi, Burgertime, Q-Bert, Rampage, Sinistar, and Tapper.  I did get a great deal of fun out of it, but had hoped for a more varied selection of games as most of these games are available in the vintage arcade in my hometown.

From there it was back to Dickey House and a good night’s sleep.

The next morning featured another great conversation with Larry and Michaelene about movies and travels while I enjoyed a fruit parfait and an oven baked German apple pancake along with my orange juice.  Afterwards I got a quick peek at Larry’s studio before settling my tab and making the drive back home.

Larry and Michaelene have been some of my favorite innkeepers and they are great conversationalists and cooks.  Come to Dickey House.  You’ll stay in a beautiful home, visit with some lovely people, have some great food, and have the benefit of a major city nearby for activities.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Ho Ho Homicide: Mont Rest & Bellevue, IA

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Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast

Ah, Christmas!  Without question it is my favorite time of the year.  I love the feelings of goodwill, the sense of family, the music, the decorations, going to church, the lights, everything.  I also especially enjoy visiting bed and breakfasts during the holiday season just to see how they ring in the holidays.  So, it is with great pleasure that I bring to you the tale of my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.

For this journey, I would be visiting Iowa’s most luxurious inn, Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast of Bellevue, IA, owned by Christine Zraick.  I had been looking forward to this inn for quite a long time due to its penchant for offering nearly weekly murder mystery events.  When I found out the inn also really enjoys going all out for Christmas, I finally booked the trip.

Mont Rest has a very interesting history.  It was built in 1893 by Seth Luellyn Baker, a wealthy land developer for the price of $6,000.  Nicknamed “The Castle”, Mont Rest soon developed a reputation for illegal high stakes poker games.  His passion for poker would end up biting Baker hard as he once put the deed to Mont Rest up against a doctor for a $6,000 pot.  After the hand, Baker went downstairs and told his wife they had 2 weeks to vacate the property.

Fast forward to 1986, when the property, long since dilapidated and falling to pieces, was purchased by its current owner, Christine Zraick.  She began the long arduous process of refurbishing it back to its Victorian glory and opening it as a country inn.  It soon developed a stellar reputation for its murder mystery parties.

On Dec 24, 1996, the tale of Mont Rest almost came to an end when a devastating fire broke out and gutted the house from top to bottom.  Christine almost threw in the towel, but support from the citizens of Bellevue and her own sense of stewardship compelled her to roll up her sleeves and begin the process of rebuilding Mont Rest in the spring of 1997.

Needless to say, it was a massive success and today Mont Rest stands as Iowa’s most luxurious inn.

I was truly blessed with some unseasonably beautiful weather for my long trek to Bellevue.  When I arrived in town, I was immediately struck by its quaintness.  It is a peaceful town right on the coast of the Mississippi River.

I readily found the inn where my eyes confirmed what the photos had suggested.  This was easily the biggest inn I had ever seen.  The nickname of “The Castle” was well suited as the inn stands alone on top of a large hill and takes up the equivalent of a city block or two and holds an astonishing 13 bedrooms.

As I made the way from my car to the large wraparound porch, I smiled at the visage of Jolly old Saint Nick meeting me on the porch.  The inn was already into the spirit of Christmas as tinsel decorated the porch and decorations were being set up in the front yard.

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The kindly staff warmly welcomed me inside and gave me the nickel tour culminating in a stop at the gift shop which holds a representation of the World’s Fair complete with lights, sound, and animation.

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From there, I was led to Ginny’s Woodlawn View, my base of operations for the next few days.

When I think of B & B rooms, Ginny’s Woodlawn View is what springs to mind.  It has an understated elegance with its soft, blue-green carpet, electric wood fireplace, and Jacuzzi bathtub.  With Christmas on the horizon, it even had a lovely little Christmas tree and a stocking hung by the chimney with care.

From there, I did my normal explorations which took a little longer than normal.  As I said, this mansion is huge.  One could easily get lost in here.  I wandered about the house enjoying the numerous Christmas trees and decorations littered throughout the home.  The inn even has an observation deck on the top of the home which holds a hot tub as well as magnificent views of Bellevue and the Mississippi.

I had very little time to get settled in as I had a heavy night of activities planned.  Within an hour of my arrival, I was already back on the road seeking an early dinner.  I opted for a little good old fashioned comfort food as I stopped at Richman’s Café.

Like the name suggests, it’s a quiet little diner, but it dishes up a mean patty melt and shoestring fries.  Having the cavity filled, I was then off to the nearby town of Dubuque, IA to begin my night’s activities.

As I truly love holiday lighting displays, the staff at Mont Rest told me about Reflections in the Park, an elaborate display showcased at Louis Murphy Park.  This event has been a Christmas tradition for over two decades and I would like to thank the staff at the event for giving me a free pass to experience this tradition.

If you are in or near Dubuque during the holidays, visit Reflections in the Park.  It is a truly beautiful and entrancing display of lights and holiday cheer that will brighten your night both literally and emotionally.

From there, I went to the famed Grand Opera House of Dubuque where I took in a production of It’s a Wonderful Life.  For the first time in years, I attended this play purely as a patron, but was so moved and impressed by the production that I decided to review it anyway.  You can read it here.

After the fabulous show, I returned to Mont Rest when I settled into bed with a bone aching weariness where I instantly succumbed to oblivion.

In the morning, I took a long Jacuzzi bath before heading downstairs to breakfast.  There I met Doug & Pamela and Mark & Holly who would also be joining me for the murder mystery dinner later that night.  Breakfast at Mont Rest is served family style so we all enjoyed dishes of fruit along with a repast of blueberry muffins, cherry turnovers, bacon, hash browns, and 2 kinds of omelets along with some conversation.

Normally I like to schedule a lot of activities to get the full experience of the towns I visit.  This time I decided to put the brakes on.  After breakfast, I simply wrote my play review and organized my photos.  Then I took a very long walk along the riverside where I shared a phone conversation with my best friend and stopped in at Grandpa’s Parlor for a vanilla shake.  From there, I went back to inn, sampled some delicious homemade brownies, and caught a quick nap.

When I regained consciousness, I walked the few blocks to attend worship services at St Joseph’s Catholic Church.  After I got my praise on, I returned to the inn for the mystery.

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St Joseph Catholic Church

I went downstairs to the living room where I once again met Mark and Holly and began sharing conversation.  Shortly later, we were joined by Jim and Elizabeth and by Doug and Pamela a little after that.  As we talked, we were treated to some light hors d’ouevres of canapés, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, crackers, cheese, meats, and veggies.

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Mmm!! Hors d’ouevres.

We would take part in the mystery of Where There’s a Will, There’s Away.  We were assigned characters and told that one of us was a murderer, but that the murderer would be unaware of that fact.  A very intriguing twist on the mystery.

I picked the character of Dr. Benjamin Pike.  He was a very successful doctor who had grown bored with his work.  He had been the personal physician of the wealthy businessman for the past 10 years and was preparing to lead a UNICEF group funded by his friend to teach advanced medical techniques to the locals in South America.  Dr. Pike was connected to two other suspects:  the businessman’s widow, Marion, with whom he had an intense and instant dislike and Nurse Freda Moore with whom he’d had a brief fling.  Freda had taken the break-up quite badly and Pike had fired her hoping to put their relationship in the past by keeping her away.

The inn has costumes for the event and I was dressed in a tuxedo dress shirtt, black dress pants, a black vest, gray cravat, and white dinner jacket.  In my room were waiting my personal dress shoes and socks to complete the illusion.  As I read the dossier, I drew on my theatre background and decided Pike should be an arrogant, sharp tongued jerk, but tempered with a powerful sense of morality.

Once downstairs, we were met by Gloria Gottrocks, the queen of accessorizing, who furthered our outfits.  From Ms Gottrocks, I received a gray fedora, stethoscope, and organ transplant bag.  I don’t want to spoil the mystery, but I will say the key is to use your knowledge of the characters and their relationships to ferret out clues that point to the truth.

But the centerpiece of the event is the dinner.  I’d gladly do this again and again simply for the meal.  Our night began with a dinner salad with a berry vinaigrette dressing and some fluffy, buttery croissant rolls.  During the first course, Officer Ima Fuzz joined us and told us of the death of Arthur and to take our preparation orders.  Amazingly, all of us had ordered the Steak Lilli.

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Officer Ima Fuzz

As we discussed the case, the chef brought out the main course of Steak Lilli, butternut squash, and rice pilaf.  As I began to cut my medium steak, I noted how tender it was.  But after that first bite, I was in heaven.  Hands down, the very best steak I have ever tasted.  During the main course, Officer Fuzz came back with the autopsy report and pieces of evidence found at the scene of the crime and to take orders for dessert.

I opted for Death by Chocolate.  As I savored dessert, Officer Fuzz came back one more time to bring Arthur’s will to his lawyer.  We had the reading of the will, a final discussion, and then Officer Fuzz solved the crime.

It was truly a grand evening.  Once done, I got back into my civvies and shared some conversation with Pamela, Doug, Jim, and Elizabeth before retiring to my room for the evening.

This was the best sleep I had enjoyed in ages.  I rose early to begin writing and went down to breakfast at 9am where I met the usual crowd and we were joined by another couple, Steve & Sheryl.

Today’s meal consisted of fried potatoes (perhaps with some rosemary), a dish of fruit, sausage, and a quiche made of eggs, peppers, and mushrooms.  Again it was another fantastic meal made all the more memorable by great conversation.  Sadly, it all had to come to an end and we had to break up the group to go our separate ways.  This was the best group of people I had met at an inn and I hope to stay in touch and, God willing, I hope our paths cross again.

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Quiche, fried potatoes, sausage.

I had a feeling that this particular outing was going to be something special and my instincts were correct.  Mont Rest Inn is a must see experience and it gets my highest recommendation for a visit. If you want to experience a vintage B & B, then you need to go to Mont Rest. Naomi and Company are wonderful cooks and hostesses.  The inn is comfortable and beautiful.  There’s much to do in the area.  And there is a plethora of dining events to be enjoyed at the inn, though I certainly would recommend your taking part in a murder mystery.  This is an inn that I’m going to make a point of returning to at some point in the future.  They also know how to do Christmas right.

Until the next time, happy travels.

An Independent Man in Independence, MO: The Silver Heart Inn

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It was a scorching summer’s day to start another of my little road trips.  But a little AC and some tunes made for a very quick and pleasant drive.

I was off to Independence, MO where I would be staying at the Silver Heart Inn, owned and operated by Perry and Melanie Johnson, as well as reviewing The Crucible for the Barn Players.

I only made one miscalculation for the trip.  With only an overnight stay planned, I had to be selective in the activities I chose to do.  I decided to visit the Truman Presidential Museum and Library and figured an hour would be enough time to get through it.

It was not enough time.

I did manage to get through Truman’s presidential years, but did not make it through the section detailing his personal life.  Rest assured, I will rectify this error if and when my travels bring me through this area again.

Truman was a very interesting President.  He was a common man who came from a period where you didn’t have to be wealthy to run for the Presidency.  He was a simple farmer who had deep ties to labor.  He wasn’t a good speaker.  He was put into power by a political machine, yet he was a incredibly honest man who vowed to get things done the right way.  Despite holding the prejudices of his time and place, Truman helped launch the Civil Rights movement after observing the horrible treatment of black people after World War II.  He made the decision to drop the atomic bomb.  Truman also had the biggest upset in political history when he was reelected to the Presidency in his own right when it was believed he would be crushed by his opponent, Thomas Dewey.  This was due to his Whistlestop Campaign where he rode a train through numerous communities to share his message, sometimes speaking at a dozen stops a day.

What I found most interesting about Truman was that he seemed to have no aspirations to be President.  It was his everyman quality (especially his ties to farming and labor) that secured his nomination for the Vice Presidency.  In reality, the Democrats were really looking for the next President as it was obvious FDR would not be long for the world.  In fact, he died shortly after he was reelected to his fourth term.

I also had great respect for Truman’s decency.  When his term of office expired, he was not a wealthy man and could have earned fat fees doing public speaking tours, but he refused to trade on the office of President.  Instead, he founded the Presidential Library which was the first in our country and I look forward to completing my tour of the museum some future day.

About 3pm, I headed to Silver Heart Inn to check in.  I pulled into the parking area, sidestepped a few chickens wandering about the property, and headed to the back door entrance where I was quickly greeted and led to my room.

I had been expecting to stay in the Roy Gamble Room, but was upgraded to the Napolian Stone Room instead.  It was one of the smaller rooms I had stayed in, but I enjoyed the rich brown of the walls, the soft and comfortable queen bed, and the gas fireplace.  I made my normal explorations and then killed a couple of hours reading Face to Face by Ellery Queen and brushing up on Silver Heart Inn’s history.

The Silver Heart Inn was built 1856 by local businessman, Napolian Stone.  The house used to be twice its original size and originally built in a T formation.  That changed when Judge George Jennings, the house’s owner in 1923 had the house split in half and moved to the same side of the street.  This was done as Jennings recognized that Noland Street (where the home is located) was becoming Independence’s main thoroughfare.  The inn, itself, was the back wing of the house.  The front wing fell into disrepair and was destroyed in the 1960s.

At 5pm, I headed off for an early dinner.  I once again dined at Corner Café, which you may remember from my trip to Liberty, MO about a year ago.

The restaurant was packed so I took advantage of my solo status to dine at the counter.  I ordered the Turkey Melt, one of the house specials, with a side of loaded French Fries.  Within five minutes of my hour, a plate of piping hot food appeared which I relished as I continued to read my novel.

Once fed, I drove to Mission, KS to enjoy another stellar production by the Barn Players.  It was one of the finest dramas I had ever watched and I could not wait to get back to the inn to start writing.  You can read the review here.

After I finished writing, I curled up in my bed for a restful night’s slumber.

When I awoke the next morning, I drew a hot bath and enjoyed a long soak before wandering downstairs in search of breakfast.

Breakfast was a rather pleasant, if quiet, affair.  I continued reading my mystery as I enjoyed a dish of yogurt, blueberries, granola, and cream for an appetizer followed by the main entrée of turkey sausage (I think) and an Eggs Benedict omelet served with goblets of water and orange juice.  After this tasty affair, I settled up my bill and headed off to worship services at St Mark’s before heading for home.

I definitely would recommend a stay at Silver Heart Inn if you find yourself in the Independence area.  It’s quiet and comfortable and you’ll get yourself a tasty meal (and some other perks offered by the inn if you’re so inclined).  You’ll just be minutes away from the Truman Museum and can’t pick up a little history if you wish.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Scenic South Dakota: Sioux Falls & Steever House

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Steever House

It was one of those weekends where everything falls into place.  I’m just finishing up a stay at the Steever House in Lennox, SD and my only regret is that I can’t stay for an extra day or two.

But let’s start at the beginning.

It was an absolutely perfect spring day for one of my jaunts.  The sun was bright.  There wasn’t a cloud to be seen.  And the temperature was, mmm, just right.

I hopped into my car and began the drive to the Sioux Falls area of South Dakota where I would be staying at Steever House as well as reviewing Jesus Christ Superstar for the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.

The drive was great and it was nice to enjoy some new scenery as I headed north to South Dakota.  Once I crossed the border into the state, I admit I did a double take when I saw the 80mph speed limit.  Maybe I’ll try the max speed on the empty Sunday roads, but not being used to that type of speed, I kept things to about 75mph.

I arrived in town about 12:30pm.  Regrettably, I was only doing an overnight so I didn’t have the normal time that I usually allow my explorations.  But if I were going to do one thing, it had to be a visit to the town’s namesake falls.  So off I went to Falls City Park.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in a park in my life.  As a testament to the absolutely gorgeous day, families galore were having picnics, exploring the Sioux Falls, riding bikes, and meandering.  Heck, a group was even taking wedding photos there.

The Sioux Falls once powered a hydroelectric plant for the city and you can actually take a self-guided walking tour full of informative tidbits about the falls’ past including the remains of the first hydroelectric plant and mill.

The falls themselves were quite the sight and I found myself mesmerized by the beautiful waterfalls and even saw salmon trying to swim upstream for the first time.  The day was so pleasant that I took a nice shady spot under a tree to catch up on my reading.

About 2:15, I headed over to the small town of Lennox to check into Steever House, owned and operated by John & Sara Steever.  This lovely home is certain to trigger relaxation as it is on a secluded piece of property about ten miles outside of Sioux Falls.

As I pulled into the driveway, I was greeted by John who introduced me to his wife Sara.  He led me to the Dakota Suite, the inn’s newest room and my base of operations for the night.  This is the biggest room I’ve ever had at a B&B and I instantly felt calmer with the room’s soft blue walls and carpeting.  It consisted of a massive bedroom/living room area with a comfortable king sized bed and a couple of plush leather easy chairs set in front a fireplace.  I also had a sitting room and a ginormous bathroom with a whirlpool bathtub.

I had an early dinner reservation so I organized my belongings and drew a bath.  The tub was actually a “smart” tub with a little computer panel to activate the jets and even warm up the water (so I assume as I saw the temperature go up a few degrees during my bath).  I rested my head on the bath pillow and let the jets work their magic.  There was a set of jets shooting water into the small of my back and it felt like a massage therapist knuckling the area.  I could have sat there for an hour or more having the area kneaded.

But since I didn’t have an hour or more, I lingered for as long as I could then got into my suit for dinner and a night of theatre.

I had made dinner reservations at Carnaval Brazilian Grill and, trust me, if you’re in the area, you need to eat here.  Reservations are highly recommended as the place was packed when I got there and it was only 5pm.  Thanks to my reservation, I was immediately led to my table where I ordered a Brazilian cream soda and the famed Rodizio meal.

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Carnaval Brazilian Grill

Brazilian steakhouses are fun because it’s almost like a buffet.  Instead of ordering a standard meal, you get to visit a hot and cold salad bar plus waiters will bring skewers of meat to your table so you can have as much or as little as you want.

This was probably the most in depth and impressive salad bar I have seen with gourmet style vegetables such as champagne soaked onions.  I whipped up a little plate of spinach salad topped with onions, fresh jalapenos, bacon bits, and ranch dressing along with a spoonful of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and caviar medley.

I returned to my table to enjoy my salad, then flipped my tower for the meats.  Brazilian steakhouses give you a disc (or a tower in my case) that is green on one side and red on the other.  When you want some meat, you turn it to green so the waiters will stop by with their skewers and flip it to red when you want a break.  Over the next 90 minutes, I had a sampling of top sirloin, lamb, glazed barbecue pork, and a signature beef marinated in Carnival’s homemade marinade.  That last was the tastiest dish.  I also tasted grilled pineapple basted in cinnamon which was amazing.  Coming from me, that’s something as pineapple is one of the few foods that I genuinely dislike.

I realized I had made a wise choice in having an early dinner as I exited.  Where the restaurant had been packed before, it was now overflowing and spilling out the doors.

From there I hopped into my car and made my way to the downtown area of Sioux Falls which is quite reminiscent of the Old Market area of my hometown of Omaha, NE right down to the lack of parking.  I easily found the Sioux Empire Community Theatre and you are permitted to use most of the empty business parking lots in the area which one-ups Omaha since you now have to pay at the Old Market parking meters during the weekend.

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Sioux Empire Community Theatre

This was one of the best nights of theatre I have experienced.  The theatre is beautiful and it was a sensational production.  You can read my review here.  I even had the pleasure of meeting the theatre’s artistic director Patrick Pope and the show’s director, Eric Parrish.  Patrick told me I’d be welcome back at the theatre any time so I look forward to reviewing more shows at this little jewel.

Then it was back to Steever House for a little writing and a most restful night’s sleep on my bed’s soft mattress.

I felt fully refreshed when I awoke the next morning and went downstairs to enjoy a tasty meal of fruit, granola and yogurt, ham, Dutch baby, and baked apples.  I also had a pleasant conversation with the Steevers and another couple staying at the inn.

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But now it’s back to reality.  But if you’re in the Sioux Falls area, stay a night at Steever House.  It’s comfortable, secluded, quiet, and the hospitality can’t be beat.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Cotton Patch Really Redux, Days 3-4: Historical Jaunts

When I awoke in the morning, I was ready for some more of Norma’s fine home cooking.  Today’s morning repast was a dish of oranges, blueberries, and strawberries, French Toast, bacon, and scrambled eggs.  Once again I enjoyed a blissful breakfast while continuing to read my Sherlock Holmes mystery and keeping myself up to date with the daily news.

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I was dedicating today to the exploration of several historic sites around the area.  The first two were in or just outside of Petersburg and they were the grave of Ann Rutledge at Oakland Cemetery and Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site.

Ann Rutledge is widely considered to be the first love of Abraham Lincoln.  Nobody is entirely certain of the extent of their relationship.  What is known is that Lincoln was devastated after her death.  So hard did he take it that a friend of his took away his pocketknife because he was afraid Lincoln would hurt himself.

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Ann Rutledge’s Tombstone

Lincoln had lived in New Salem for about six years.  It was considered a turning point in his life because he was a little lost when he first arrived, but discovered his calling to politics while in this town.  When he left town to pursue this calling, the town folded up shortly afterwards.  It was almost as if it had come into existence solely to inspire the future president.

The site is not without some features of interest with an exhibit hall that tells of Lincoln’s time in New Salem and holding some of his surveying equipment, but the village is a pretty good reproduction of the actual town and a few of the buildings are original.  Still I thought the site lacked a certain oomph and I quickly made my way through it.

From there, I returned to Springfield where I visited the Dana-Thomas House, a construction of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wright designed the house for Susan Lawrence Dana.  She had been the daughter of the mayor of Springfield and when her father and husband perished in rapid succession, she opted to use her $3 million inheritance (modern day equivalent nearly $80 million) to have the family home completely redesigned.  She wanted a place that could serve as a home, a place for the arts, and a place for entertaining people.

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Dana-Thomas House

The house is actually a marvel in architecture, but I was disappointed that pictures inside the house were disallowed.  It featured stain glass windows with a butterfly motif, murals with a sumac motif, a bowling alley, a ballroom, an intercom system, and even a doorbell alert system due to the numerous doors of the estate.  It is free (donations encouraged) and certainly worth a look around.

Afterwards I visited the tomb of one of the greatest men in the history of our country (possibly even in general history).  The mausoleum is certainly an awesome sight.  In front is a giant bust of Lincoln and people often touch its nose for good luck.  The path to the tomb is peppered with statues of Lincoln along with various quotations of his.  His tombstone is massive and there was a certain weightiness to knowing that the man who saved our country lay 10 feet under my feet.  Across from Lincoln’s tombstone lay the remains of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their sons.  The fourth is buried in Arlington, VA at the request of his wife.

I certainly felt humbled as I left the tomb and returned to Branson House to begin writing my articles.  At 4:10 it was time for church.

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St Peter Catholic Church

I attended services at St Peter Catholic Church and went through a rather speedy service (it was finished in 40 minutes and that included a full contingent of hymns).  Even with the quicker than normal service, I did get a rather fascinating sermon from either a deacon or a visiting priest.  It was a very humble homily talking about how nobodies are still somebodies in the eyes of God.  The speaker was quite honest about feeling like a nobody in his youth until he realized the simple truth.

When services ended, I decided to eat dinner.  I was weary after the multiple round trip visits to Springfield and decided to eat in town.  I visited Los Rancheros which proved to be an excellent choice.  I chose the Rancheros Burrito which came with a side of Spanish rice and refried beans.

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With another relaxing meal under my belt, I decided tonight would be a good night to write, organize photos, and just put my feet up in general.  And I did just that before calling it a night.

After a hot shower and shave, the next morning, I was greeted with a breakfast of cinnamon rolls, oranges and cream, and egg bake filled with cheese, sausages, and onions.  I ended up having a great conversation with John about my adventures and he gave me a little history on the town.

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Alas, the time had come for me to head for home.  But if you’re in the neighborhood, give Branson House Bed and Breakfast a visit.  It’s nice and comfortable in a quiet little town and you can experience a lot of history in the area, especially in Springfield.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Cotton Patch Really Redux, Days 1-2: Experiencing Lincoln & Cotton Patchful

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Sometimes fate gives you a chance at redemption.

As my regular readers may remember, about a year ago I was in Arlington, TX in order to review Cotton Patch Gospel for the Repertory Company Theatre when a series of unfortunate circumstances exploded that attempt.  If you need a refresher or just need to read the story for the first time, click here.  A few months ago I found that the show would be playing in the much, much closer venue of Springfield, IL at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.  I got in touch with their executive and artistic director, Gus Gordon, and arranged a media ticket to review the show and looked forward to a trip to Illinois’ capital city in early March.

My journey did not start with the normal sense of joy that I usually have with these road trips.  Part of it was just general antsyness about wanting to get to Illinois.  The other part was my irritation at being unceremoniously turned away from an event I was asked to be part of on the previous night.

A rest stop in Hannibal, MO served to restore much of my good humor.  After lunching at Wendy’s, I found myself in a decidedly better frame of mind and the rest of the drive felt like my normal road experiences.

A few hours later, I found myself in Petersburg (about 20 miles outside of Springfield) and my home away from home:  Branson House Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by Norma and John Stiltz.  John also happens to be the mayor of Petersburg.

Branson House is an Eastlake Victorian home built in 1876 by Nathaniel Branson for his wife, Frances.  The house boasts 7 marble fireplaces and, believe it or not, an elevator.  When I rang the doorbell, I was greeted by Norma who gave me the nickel tour of the home before leading me to Uncle Billy’s Retreat, my room for the next few nights.  And, yes, of course I used the elevator.  It would have been impolite not to have used it.

Uncle Billy’s Retreat was a most comfortable room, indeed.  It boasted a large iron framed king bed with an electric fireplace, sitting chair & footstool, and a day bed in the corner.  After doing my usual reconnaissance, I relaxed for a bit before heading over to Springfield to get some dinner and locate the Hoogland.

Downtown Springfield does require a little getting used to as the roads are a criss cross of one way streets, but after I went back and forth a couple of times, I found myself expertly navigating the streets.  Within a short time, I arrived at D & J’s Café for a little old fashioned comfort food.

Any lingering frustrations to the start of my day vanished with that meal.  I enjoyed a patty melt with bacon which was apparently just what the doctor ordered.  A side of crinkle fries and a Mountain Dew helped to complete the cure as I chewed merrily away and completed a rereading of Ellery Queen’s The Siamese Twin Mystery.

Upon returning to the inn, I organized some photos and then hit the sack.

The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed.  I headed to my bathroom and took a long hot shower before heading downstairs to breakfast.  Norma had prepared some wonderfully thick pancakes with a dish of kiwi, blueberries, and strawberries, plus an egg pizza with cheese and chives.  I’m not usually a fan of strawberries, but these were quite delectable and I savored every mouthful of my meal while reading Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma, the latest novel from my favorite Holmesian pastiche writer, Larry Millet.  I also formally met John who graciously brought me the local paper.

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Pancakes, fruit, and egg pizza

With the inner man restored, I headed to Springfield to indulge in a bit of history.  Springfield was the home of our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln and his tomb, museum, and library are all located in downtown Springfield.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is well worth a visit for a very interactive study of the life of Mr. Lincoln.  I’ve always had a great deal of admiration and respect for Honest Abe, but I was stunned to find out how much I didn’t know about him.

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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

His formal schooling lasted less than a year and he was a self-taught reader and lawyer.  I was even more shocked to find out that he began his presidency as our most hated leader.  Let that one sink in.  It was a particularly contentious election with 4 candidates.  Lincoln managed to win a decisive Electoral College victory thanks to the northern states (he actually didn’t make the ballot in many southern states), but only had 40% of the popular vote.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  It also seemed like he could do no right as anything and everything he did brought hatred and vitriol upon him.  I was genuinely shocked to see the numerous hateful articles and political cartoons written and drawn about Lincoln.  History, of course, has vindicated him.

The museum is split into several sections.  One is dedicated to his life before the White House, another to his presidency and the Civil War, another to the Library next door, another to rare family treasures, but the best section is an interactive movie theatre that briefly describes Lincoln’s life.  The film showed me that Lincoln had an interesting duality in personality.  Despite being a popular wit and storyteller, Lincoln was also plagued by doubt and melancholy.  I also learned that Lincoln may very well have been near death even without the aid of John Wilkes Booth’s bullet.

Two busts of Lincoln done after he won the presidency each time show the ravage that leading during the Civil War wrought on him.  Underweight to begin with, Lincoln was almost skeletal going into his second term.  One noted sculptor thought the second bust was a death mask.  Studies of pictures of Lincoln after his first term seem to support the theory that he may not have been long for the world.

After my moving and enlightening education, I took a walk down to the Hoogland to get a picture of it.  On my walk, I passed the old and current state capitols and also met a homeless guy who needed a sympathetic ear.  He was quite philosophical and well versed on our current state of politics.  I ended up giving him $5 so he could get a sandwich.

I got my picture of the Hoogland, then returned to my car where I drove back to Branson House to relax a bit before dinner.

At 4:30, I got cleaned up and into my suit for the evening’s activities.  I drove back to Springfield, hoping to eat at the Chesapeake Seafood House, but it was jammed to the rafters.  It would have taken 45 minutes just to seat me.  Luckily, I remembered passing a restaurant called Alexander’s Steakhouse as I entered town, so I rushed back then, where I was able to be seated immediately.

I think I ended up getting the better deal as Alexander’s had one of the best salad bars I have enjoyed.  They also brought me a perfectly chargrilled Atlantic salmon with some hand cut Idaho steak fries.  After a tasty dinner, I hopped over to the Hoogland.

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Hoogland Center for the Arts

It was a magical night of theatre.  The Hoogland is actually home to several theatres and I met Gus Gordon who was a warm and friendly guy.  I also met Ken Bradbury, the director of Cotton Patch Gospel whose expression of “I’ll be damned” still brings a smile to my face when he found out I had traveled from Omaha to review his show.  And the show was excellent.  You can read my review here.

With bluegrass music playing in my head, I returned to the inn to write my review and get a good night’s rest.