A Cavalcade of Christmas, Finale: Have a Holly Jolly Trolley Christmas

The Holly Jolly Trolley

Today the road has brought me to Excelsior Springs, MO. . .again.

I first visited this town back in 2014 when I reviewed The Inn on Crescent Lake for my first proper Christmas B & B review.  I never miss a chance to stay here when I’m nearby (and you shouldn’t either).

  When I first visited this town, I actually came after Christmas so I missed some of the Christmas activities of this spa town. Well, I decided to rectify that by closing out the Cavalcade of Christmas by experiencing those activities.

God was certainly smiling on me this holiday season as I’ve been blessed with really great weather for all the traveling I’ve done over the past month (except for that storm in Storm Lake).  This day was no different.  The sun was shining.  The birds were singing.  And there was nary a cloud in the sky.  All was right with the world as I drove to Excelsior Springs.

Inn on Crescent Lake

About 4pm, I returned to the Inn on Crescent Lake where I had booked my regular room, the McCleary room.  Beverly Bohnert greeted me at the door and inquired into my recent travels before taking me to my sanctum sanctorum.

I had little time for down time as I needed to get to church.  I enjoyed a lovely little service at St Ann’s and then grabbed an early dinner at Applebee’s before heading back to the inn to put my feet up for a bit before heading out for the night.

I journeyed to downtown Excelsior Springs where I visited their Hall of Waters.  The Hall of Waters normally does double duty as the City Hall and a museum of the town’s mineral bath history, but it does triple duty during the Christmas season when the first floor is transformed into the Hall of Trees.

The Christmas fun actually begins outside the building with a Christmas display of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.

Inside is a room stuffed full of Christmas trees sponsored by local businesses.  A rather clever touch to this presentation is that each tree is designed according to the theme of the business.

Aside from visiting the Hall of Trees, I would also be taking part in the Holly Jolly Trolley lights tour.  Excelsior Springs still has an honest to goodness trolley system and it provides numerous tours throughout the year from paranormal tours to winery tours.

The tour would show us some of the Christmas displays of the town including 5 homes that were battling it out for the best Christmas display of Excelsior Springs before closing with a trip through the Lane of Lights.

According to the tour guide this was kind of an off year for seeing the Christmas lights of the city as Excelsior Springs had been battered by unusually cold weather during the months of October and November which prevented people from decorating their homes.  But there was still enough festivity to scratch my itch for Christmas cheer.

The tour had its amusing moments.  Shortly after we started the tour, the trolley got called back.  The earlier tour had been overbooked so they had to switch to a bigger trolley to accommodate the people.  For convenience’s sake, they decided to use the bigger trolley for the late tour as well.  However, the trolley driver got a call that the bigger trolley had been rented out for another event, which meant we had to go back to the garage and switch to the smaller trolley.

Another humorous incident is that the final home for the lighting contest had nothing going.  The house was dark as a tomb and the inflatables were flat as a pancake.  Given how close we are to Christmas, I assume the contestant is simply out of town.

And in a last bit of humor, the house I would have named the winner was not even participating in the contest.  We stopped by a home where the owner is a big fan of Christmas and had been doing great light displays for a number of years and won several awards.  This year he did the decorating, but opted not to be in the contest.  This was disappointing as he would have netted a 4.5 star rating from me. 

The last part of the tour is the Lane of Lights.  The Christmas committee sets up an homage to Christmas along the Lover’s Lane of their local park and it is pretty to behold.  My only disappointment is that it isn’t longer.  The most impressive part is a tunnel of lights you go through near the end which was added this year.  The juice needed to power the tunnel matched the juice needed to run the entire lane last year.

With the end of the tour, I headed back to Inn on Crescent Lake where I enjoyed a bath at just the perfect temperature while I nibbled on some of Beverly’s homemade chocolate chip cookies and read the fifth part of Mick Foley’s (a fellow Christmas aficionado) memoirs, Saint Mick, where he details his transition to a new calling in being an ambassador for Santa after the end of his professional wrestling career.

I felt the call of the land of Nod as I read and turned out the lights before my lights went out and I slept through the entirety of the night.

In the morning, the sun was shining brightly through my windows and I looked forward to a sunlit breakfast in the solarium.  Today’s repast was the Sunday signature: Strawberry cream cheese stuffed French Toast, little smokies, and honeydew with orange juice.  It was a peaceful meal and I thank Beverly for her praise of any little writing powers I may possess to another couple enjoying their breakfasts.

But with the end of my meal came the end of the Cavalcade of Christmas. Now it was back to home to enjoy Christmas with my family and friends. 

In lieu of my normal sign off line, I wish you the merriest and happiest of Christmases this year.

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Cotton Patchin Time Again: Hannibal, MO & Garth Woodside Mansion

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Garth Woodside Mansion

Today the road has brought me to Hannibal, MO.

I had actually had this journey on my mind for quite a while.  When the opportunity arose to review a professional production of Cotton Patch Gospel, I knew I would be making my way to Hannibal and a visit to Garth Woodside Mansion, owned and operated by John and Julie Rolsen.

It was an absolutely perfect day for a road trip.  The sky was sunny and clear and the temperatures were downright springish.  I had a fairly smooth ride into Hannibal, though Google Maps tried to make me take a left turn at Albuquerque.  I ended up finding the road I needed anyway, so neener neener Google!

The inn is located in a secluded area along a gravel road and is of great historical interest as it has a direct connection to the town’s most famous resident, Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain.

The original owners of the inn were John Garth, a successful Hannibal businessman, and his wife, Helen.  The home was built on his farm, Woodside, in the late 1800s.  John and Helen were lifelong friends of Twain who often visited the mansion.  In fact, one of the rooms in the inn is called the Samuel Clemens and Twain actually stayed in the room whenever he visited the Garths.

As I pulled up to the inn, I took a moment to soak in the impressive structure. When you think bed & breakfast, this is the type of building that springs to mind. If the inside was anything like the outside, I knew I was falling into the lap of luxury.  I bumped into another couple on my way to the front door and we were met by Julie Rolsen.  Julie is easily one of the most gregarious innkeepers I have met on my travels and she and her husband have wickedly sharp senses of humor.  If you stay here, read the book on the inn in your room and you’ll agree with me.

After giving us the nickel tour, Julie showed me to the Rosewood, my base of operations for the next few days.  Admittedly, I wanted to stay in the Samuel Clemens to really absorb the inn’s sense of history, but I had been beaten to the punch.  On the other hand, I did get to become a part of a unique piece of inn trivia.

The bed in my room is called the most expensive bed in Missouri.  It’s a hand carved piece of artistry insured for $55K.

After settling in, I did my explorations.  And there is a lot to explore.  Not only is this place one of the most beautiful and luxurious inns I have visited, but it is also one of the largest.  The first floor gives you a sense of history as the furniture is original to the home.  The entire property is remarkably preserved which I attribute to the small number of owners which the property has had.  The Rolsens are only the sixth owners.  Pretty impressive for a 100 plus year old mansion.

I had scheduled a ghost tour for 7pm, so I headed to downtown Hannibal for an early dinner before learning about the haunted history of Hannibal.

I opted to try the Mark Twain Dinette and it was a bit of a mixed bag.  The ambiance is quite nice, but the food was just OK.  I had a Roughin It burger which included pepper jack, chili ranch, and bacon which did fill the cavity.

Afterwards, I explored the main street area.  Though I, to my chagrin, failed to observe them, take a look at the artistic fire hydrants.  They were all painted by Julie.

Downtown Hannibal is pretty compact and most of the interesting sites are all pretty close to one another.  I went down to the Hannibal History Museum and picked up my ticket for the tour.  As the trolley wouldn’t load until 6:50pm, I continued looking around the downtown area and found the Bluff City Theater and City Hall.  Believe it or not, the two buildings are actually connected for my upcoming play review as the theatre is producing the show, but the play is being presented environmentally at City Hall in the council room located on the second floor.

About 6:50, I returned to the museum where I boarded the trolley.  Ghost tours are always an interesting way to learn about a town’s history and Hannibal is reportedly one of the most haunted cities in the country.  The tour consists of traveling to various buildings and hearing about the hauntings and there were some very interesting tales.

One such tale was the story of three boys who disappeared when they went off to explore one of the numerous caves under Hannibal.  In spite of an intense search costing over one million dollars and lasting over a month, the boys were never found as the caves under the town are deep and labyrinthine.

One of the boys reportedly haunts a family, but it is a good haunting.  The ghost is the friend of the family’s little girl, who calls him Shippa.  Our guide showed us a photo of Shippa taken by the little girl on her fake tablet and even I admit that it is a pretty impressive piece of evidence that bears a remarkable similarity to one of the missing boys.

The other tale was a sensitive point in the history of Hannibal.  There was a wealthy businessman named Amos Stillwell who had a younger wife named Fanny who was the belle of the ball.  One winter’s night, Fanny was asleep with her children and her husband came home late from a card party held at the home from his good friend, Captain Munger.  Not wanting to disturb his wife and children, Stillwell retired to his bedroom.

Around midnight, Fanny heard her husband stir in the other room and say, “Fanny?  Is that you?”  At that point a hidden intruder rose out of the darkness and killed Stillwell with a double bladed axe.   Fanny stayed hidden with the children until she was certain the coast was clear, left the children with the maid, and rushed to get their family friend, a doctor, who lived a few blocks away.

The doctor told Fanny he’d be over immediately and that’s when things started getting weird.  Instead of going to the police who were next door to the doctor, Fanny returned home and started cleaning up the gruesome crime scene.  The doctor came over and was shocked at Fanny’s actions and called the police.

The police came with the city physician.  Needless to say, the police were very upset that the crime scene had been tampered with.  Then another strange thing happened.  The city physician refused to let the police question Fanny Stillwell, saying she was too distraught.  This further angered the police as they now had a useless crime scene and a witness whom they couldn’t question.  Even with the help of the Pinkertons, the police were never able to gather much evidence in the mystery.

Nine months later, Fanny married the city physician which was very suspicious and enraged the citizens of Hannibal who literally chased the couple out of town.  The couple would return to visit friends several years later and were arrested for the crime.  However, with the passage of several years, there was even less evidence than before and the city physician was found not guilty and charges against Fanny were dropped.

A book was written about the case and one of the last remaining copies exists at the Hannibal Public Library.  The reason for the book being out of print is that the writer did not get permission from all family members and printing was halted.

Today, it’s reported that the ghost of Amos Stillwell roams the old home of Captain Munger which is now a restaurant known as LaBinnah Bistro.  The reason for this being is that Stillwell spent many happy hours at card parties here and his original home was demolished in the hopes of stopping hauntings there.

Our tour ended in an old Baptist cemetery where we were given dowsing rods to sense paranormal activity.  Allegedly, spirits exude a magnetic field and the rods will be pulled towards it and cross at the point of activity.  Honestly, I did feel the tug and the rods did cross, but dowsing rods also locate water, so while interesting I leave it for the reader to decide if it was science or spirits.

Still, it was a very interesting experience and, as I’ve said, always a good way to learn about local history.

From there it was back to the mansion, where the day’s long drive and activity finally caught up with me.  I drew a bath in the clawfoot tub that was just the perfect temperature, soaked, then curled up in my bed to get a $55K sleep.

I awoke refreshed and hungry.  About 9am, I headed downstairs to breakfast.  John and Julie were clearly born to the B & B business.  Both are natural hosts, chatting with guests and making sure they are provided for.  I sat down to a goblet of Garth Juice.  As John says, “It tastes good and it’s good for you.”  Julie prepared a hot chocolate for me and John also brought me water and milk while I worked through a dish of fruit and a muffin.

The main entrée was a quiche filled with broccoli, cheese, eggs, and ham.  It was a tasty way to start the day and provided needed fuel for a day filled with activities.

I got things going immediately after breakfast with a visit to Mark Twain Cave.

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This name isn’t an attempt to cash in on Twain’s name.  Twain often explored this cave as a boy and he uses this cave in several of his books.  It’s an entertaining and informative little tour, but you may want to bring a jacket as the cave stays at 53 degrees year round.

I really wanted to explore Cameron Cave as well, but the next available tour wasn’t until noon and that tour is 90 minutes and I had an appointment at 1:30.  So, it’s something to look forward to in another visit, especially since you’re provided your own lantern to explore this cave.

From Mark Twain Cave, I headed to the Haunted House on Hill Street.  They were offering a special where for $10 I could tour the house and Karlocks Kars and Pop Culture.  I took them up on the offer.

There isn’t much to the haunted house.  It actually opens with a room filled with 25 intricately sculpted wax figures of Mark Twain, his family, and characters.  Narration is provided giving a history of Mark Twain, his family, and the inspiration for his characters.  Afterwards, you go through a cheesy little haunted house not unlike ones you’d find at a county fair.

Karlocks was a bit more interesting.  It’s a museum filled with vintage cars and sundry pop culture items.  There’s even a bit of a vintage arcade, but playing the games costs quarters.

After my brief tours, I headed over to the Mark Twain Riverboat for a little cruise on the Mississippi.

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The Mark Twain

I took a seat on the top deck outside the pilot house.  Before setting sail, several blasts are made on the whistle and those by the pilot house need to cover your ears.  It was quite a relaxing jaunt as Captain Steve pointed out several points of interests such as Lover’s Leap and Jackson Island which also found its way into the stories of Mark Twain.

During the ride you will actually cross the state line into Illinois and you may just see some wild life.  I saw a couple of alligators silently swimming in the Mississippi and I finally understood just how dangerous they could be as the way they swim do make them seem like sticks or logs.

After a journey on the mighty Mississippi, I returned to Garth Woodside to get cleaned up for church and the show.

I attended services at Holy Family Catholic Church and I would like to clone this church and replicate it for all of my journeys.  This is what worship needs to be like.  Everyone was happy to be there and was ready for Jesus.  You could genuinely feel His presence.  And they were so welcoming.  Father Jim Wheeler asked if there were any visitors and asked us where we were from.  The congregation was so welcoming as I had several brief conversations after church.  Father Jim also gave a great sermon about us needing to be Jesus with skin on which provided a lot of inspiration and food for thought.

Worship certainly prepped me for the faith inspired play, Cotton Patch Gospel, which was being performed at Hannibal City Hall.  It was an interesting and original take on the story and you can read my review here.

After the show, it was back to Garth Woodside and another good night’s sleep.

Somehow the alarm on my clock was turned on and buzzed me up at 6am.  Getting back to sleep wasn’t happening so I wrote my review on the play and got back to work on this article.  I got to this point and went downstairs to breakfast.

OK, I’m back.  Today’s meal consisted of Garth juice, milk, fruit, peach muffin, and breakfast pizza which consisted of egg whites, bacon, sausage, and a pita or sourdough crust.  Julie also made me a mug of English Toffee hot chocolate topped with crushed Heath bits because chocolate makes everything better.

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Breakfast pizza

I ended up having a lively little conversation with the Rolsen family before returning to my room to finish the article and dilly dally until checkout time at Julie’s insistence.  😉

And that about wraps it up for this edition.  If you’re in the Hannibal area, get a room at Garth Woodside Mansion.  It’s a wonderful inn hosted by great people in a private locale and the food is fantastic.

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.

The Wamego Files: A Case Study of Victory Inn, Oz, a Headless Horseman, and Zombies

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Victory Inn

Well, October is here which brings visions of colorful leaves, Halloween, haunted houses, and a return to the road.

This leg of the road would bring me to Wamego, KS as I had negotiated a media ticket with the famed Columbian Theatre to review their production of Sleepy Hollow.  My home away from home would be the Victory Inn Bed and Breakfast owned and operated by Francis and Margaret Feyh.

I was particularly looking forward to traveling this time as I would actually be going in a new direction.  Nothing but highways going west and south.  New scenery, at last.  It was a pleasant afternoon for a drive and I enjoyed passing through the small towns of our great country.  About 1pm, my thoughts turned to lunch just as I began to pass through the town of Tecumseh in Nebraska.

Lo and behold I saw a place called Frazier’s Café off to my left and decided it would be a make for a good break.  I glanced through the menu looking for something different when my eyes fell upon a meal listed as the H Bomb which described itself as a spicy chicken fried steak sandwich.  I decided to order one though I thought the price was a little high at $9.95.  That is I thought it was a little high until I actually got the sandwich.

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Frazier’s Cafe

This sucker was about the size of an H Bomb as well.  It was so big that I needed a knife and fork to eat it.  It was tasty and big enough for 2 meals which is exactly what I made out of it.

Full from lunch, I continued my drive which included traveling through Burchard, NE, the birthplace of silent film star, Harold Lloyd.  About 3:30pm I entered Wamego and parked in its downtown area.  I wandered up and down the street admiring the buildings.  I stepped into the library and thumbed through a few books before I finally headed over to Victory Inn.

I was immediately struck by the beauty of the inn.  It had a well manicured backyard with a little waterfall and gazebo.  I rang the doorbell of the back door and waited a few minutes.  Upon hearing nothing, I began to search out the front door when I heard the turn of doorknob.  I did an about face and retraced my steps as Margaret welcomed me into her home.

She quickly led me to the Victory Inn Suite before leaving me to my own devices.  I got myself settled and goggled at the palace sized bathroom which housed a Jacuzzi bathtub before exploring the house.  I admired the antiques and glassware and bumped into Margaret’s husband, Francis who quietly welcomed me to the inn.

After wandering about the home, I drew a hot bath and enjoyed a good long soak before slipping into my suit and heading over to the Columbian Theatre.

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Columbian Theatre

The theatre is quite an impressive edifice.  It was built in the late 1800s as a music hall and that same hall still serves as the theatre’s performance space.

The show itself was rather disappointing. After a rough show, I walked back to the inn where I wrote a very difficult review and then retired for the night.

In the morning I was ready for breakfast and Margaret had a nice repast waiting.  There was nothing fancy about the meal.  It was just good old-fashioned home cooking with eggs, bacon, cinnamon coffee cake, some amazing hash browns, and juice.

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Old fashioned country breakfast

I needed some exercise so I spent the next two hours wandering around Wamego where I visited the park, saw the town’s famed windmill, and then I stopped at the famed Oz Museum.

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The windmill of Wamego

The Wizard of Oz is very big in this town.  Not only do they have a museum dedicated to all things Oz but several businesses are named after items in the story such as Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz.

The Oz Museum has brought in visitors from all over the globe and it was actually an interesting little visit.  The history of L Frank Baum (author of the series), the birth of the stories, the creation of the famed movie, and other Ozian things came to life before my eyes.  The most surprising piece of trivia I learned was that the books were so popular that other writers were brought on to create more stories after Baum’s passing.  Baum had written 15 stories, but the series ended after the 40th novel written in the late 1960s.  For those who have the time or desire, the film is also shown all day.

When I stepped outside it looked like it was about ready to rain so I decided to while away the afternoon in my room where I watched the Iowa Hawkeyes pummel the Purdue Boilermakers.

After thoroughly enjoying Iowa’s shellacking of Purdue, I took another Jacuzzi bath and then headed over to St Bernard’s Catholic Church for worship.  The church is a pretty impressive edifice and looked fairly new to my eyes.  My eyes did not deceive as the building was erected in 2010.

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St Bernard Catholic Church

It was a pretty good service and Father had a very thought-provoking sermon about how 80% of Catholics no longer attend services which got me to thinking as to how much the attendance rate had fallen amongst all denominations.  His most telling statement was, “I don’t think it’s because we (he was an elderly man) were old-fashioned.  I think we’ve just lost faith.”  Very profound food for thought.

After services, I had hoped to eat at the Friendly Cooker, a diner on the main street of Wamego.  However, the only nights they serve supper are Thursdays and Fridays.  Instead, I decided to try the cuisine at Toto’s Tacoz.

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Toto’s Tacoz

Twas not a bad choice at all.  I had the namesake food which ended up being shredded beef, cheese, onions, lettuce, cilantro, sour cream, and tomatoes on a tortilla.  It was seasoned quite nicely and a little of it goes quite far.

Then I headed over to Junction City, a military town (Fort Riley is nearby) to experience Zombie Toxin.  As a teenager in Omaha, I rather enjoyed the haunted house attractions available in the city and we have some pretty good ones.  While my interest in them has waned as I’ve gotten older, this one made me curious as it touted itself as the #1 haunted attraction in Kansas.

After visiting it, I can say that those claims are perfectly valid.  I would also like to give a special shout-out to Rob for providing me with a speed pass media ticket so I could enjoy Zombie Toxin.

First off, this attraction pays meticulous attention to the details.  It begins with the story of Dr. Von Monschture which I absolutely love because it gives a sense of reality to the attraction.  Once inside, you appreciate the care that went into this place.  Each room has a specific atmosphere and a lot of creativity went into creating the numerous experiments in Von Monschture’s quest to revivify corpses.  There’s nothing cheap about the horrors here.  It has the quality of a big budget horror flick.

Aside from the horrifying beasts, you’ll have to deal with crackling electricity, falling barrels, giant wolf’s heads and a maze in darkness in your attempts to escape from the mad scientist.  Oh, and be wary.  The weird creations and characters of the house pop out anywhere and anytime.  I’m still trying to figure out who or what grabbed my jacket at about the halfway point.

If you live in the vicinity of Junction City and are looking for something to do this Halloween season, visit Zombie Toxin.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

After visiting the haunted house, it was time to head back to the inn for the night.

For some reason my sleep was a little fitful.  I popped out of my sleep due to goofy dreams on a couple of occasions, but still felt well rested when I woke up for good around 7am.

Another old fashioned breakfast was on the table consisting of pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, cinnamon pecan rolls, juice, and water.  Once more I ate my fill, then came back to finish writing.

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Another leg of the road has been completed and Wamego is a quaint little town with friendly folk and a bit to do.  Take in a show at the Columbian.  Travel to the merry old land of Oz.  And for those who need more, the town of Manhattan is less than 30 minutes away.  But make sure you get a room at Victory Inn, you’ll get comfort, hospitality, and a good meal.

Until the next time.

I’ve Gotta Get Back in Thyme. . .Again

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Friday, July 29:  the day the road took me to my most poignant place.

On this sunny day I began a journey nearly 14 years in the making.  For it was on this day that I headed to Bonner Springs, KS to be a guest at Back in Thyme Bed and Breakfast and to review The Elephant Man for The Barn Players of Mission, KS.

If you’re a first time visitor to this website, The Elephant Man is my favorite play and it played a rather profound moment in my life.  For the full details of that story, click here.  I had long made my peace with the events of that day which is why I was so excited to finally have an opportunity to see the show and come fullish circle.  The timing couldn’t be more appropriate as this article will be posted on the 14th anniversary that I heard the results of that audition.

Bonner Springs is a suburb of Kansas City so it provides a unique blend of small town living with the perks of a nearby major metropolitan area for things to do.  Back in Thyme, owned and operated by Judy Vickers, is a beautiful “new-old” Queen Anne house nestled on a secluded acreage near Nettleton Avenue.

Given the size of the house I was surprised that it only boasted 3 bedrooms for rental.  On the other hand, the limited number of rooms does make it ideal for peace and quiet.  As I climbed the porch steps, I met Brantley and Ashley, fellow guests who were in the area to see a Rascal Flatts concert.  As I reached the top step, I was greeted by Judy, a very hospitable host and a fount of knowledge on fun things to do in the area.

Judy led me to the Bay Laurel Room which would serve as my base of operations.  It’s one of the most comfortable rooms in which I’ve stayed with its soft armchairs, burgundy walls, feather pillows, and a queen bed with a firm mattress.  The room also boasts a fireplace and I mildly wished it were colder so I could get a crackling blaze going.

I unwound in my room for a while before sprucing up for the show and enjoying a 6pm appetizer with Judy and a couple of her friends.  I ended up in a great conversation with Fred, a rather intelligent man who is currently writing three books.  I enjoyed a pleasant hour conversing with Fred as we nibbled on cheese, olives, crackers, and baba ganoush.

When Fred noticed traffic starting to back up on the highway, I decided to head over to the Barn Players.  Once more, Mapquest tried to put one over on me by telling me to make a right turn on a street when it should have been a left.  Shades of Richardson, TX flashed through my brain as I got my bearings and got back on the right track.  Luckily, I made it to the theatre with about 7 minutes to spare.

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The Barn Players is a bit of an institution in Mission and has quite an impressive reputation.  Many of its alumni have gone on to professional acting careers, most notably Chris Cooper.  The show was almost everything that I hoped it would be.  A few flaws kept it out of the excellent region, but it was still very good and thoroughly enjoyable.  You can read my review for the show here.

I returned to Back in Thyme where I wrote my review and curled up in my bed for a good night’s rest.

After a comfy night’s sleep, I awoke ravenous.  I headed downstairs and enjoyed chit-chat with Brantley and Ashley as we dined on Judy’s wonderful scrambled eggs cooked in thyme butter, crispy bacon, French toast, and fried apples.

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Having restored the inner man, I went upstairs to do a little work on the computer before deciding to take advantage of the pleasant day and walk along some trails I found behind the house.  Normally I like communing with nature, but I got a faceful of nature in the most literal sense as I stumbled through myriad spider webs as I wandered through the woods.  I escaped from the woods yanking webbing off of my face and hair.

Judy had suggested several areas of interest, some of which I will save for a future visit to the K.C. area, but I did take time to visit Bonner Springs’ famed Moon Marble Company.

As the name implies, the store is famed for its marbles and even gives demonstrations into a making of marbles, but the store is so much more than that.  The store also specializes in board games, puzzles, and classic toys.  I was amazed at all of the hard to find toys and games located in the shop.  Duncan Yo-yos, rare board games, Jacob’s ladders, Fisher-Price toys that I remembered from my childhood.  If you like vintage toys and games, take some time to visit Moon Marble Company if you find yourselves in Bonner Springs.

After I drove around the downtown area, I returned to the inn where I killed a few hours watching a mystery series before cleaning up for church and dinner.

I attended services at Good Shepherd Catholic Community in Shawnee, KS where I enjoyed a wonderful service preached by Fr. Oswaldo.  When services were done, I headed over to Hereford House for dinner.

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Hereford House is a Kansas City institution and this was one of the tastiest meals I have ever eaten.  I indulged in a small salad with creamy Italian dressing before supping on the main course of a 12 oz ribeye blackened with garlic butter and a side of Cheddar Ranch potatoes and a bit of bread.  Most of my dinner came back with me where it currently rests in the inn’s guest fridge for a future meal.

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I spent the remainder of the evening working on this article before turning in for the night.

I awoke to a rather gloomy day and am expecting some rain on the drive home.  I spent a bit of time editing this article and then went downstairs for another rousing breakfast.

At the table, I met Courtney and Ashley from Olathe, KS who had just come in from having coffee on the porch and we chatted while Judy served us a sumptuous meal of sausage, green chile egg casserole with salsa (now one of my favorite dishes), zucchini muffins, and cantaloupe.  The pleasant meal and talk was over much too quickly and I began to pack up for the drive home.

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So if you find yourself in the Kansas City area, spend an evening at Back in Thyme in Bonner Springs.  You’ll find some good (and healthy) home cooking on a peaceful estate with plenty to do nearby.

Two Plays & a Place to Stay: Macon, MO & Phillips Place Bed and Breakfast

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Summer has arrived which means it was time to answer the call of the road once more.

This time my journeys took me to the small town of Macon, MO where I would be reviewing a pair of shows for the Maples Repertory Theatre and staying at Phillips Place Bed & Breakfast.  And, no, to those of you who may be remembering my misadventures in Arlington, TX, I had no difficulty finding the theatre.  Everything I needed was within walking distance.

I enjoyed a rather pleasant drive through Missouri.  Traffic was light and the foliage was lush.  I pulled off the road in the little burg of Cameron for a bite of lunch at Wendy’s.  I ate a Spicy Chicken sandwich while Ellery Queen puzzled over the murder of Abigail Doorn in The Dutch Shoe Mystery, my latest novel.  After my lunch I noticed a machine that dispensed lottery tickets at the rest stop and bought tickets for Powerball and Mega Millions.  Then I looked for my change and found that the machine did not dispense change.  I then proceeded to buy 2 Monopoly scratch-offs and a Win It All scratch-off.  I won enough money off one of the Monopoly games to offset my forced expenditures.

About 4pm, I arrived in Macon and easily found my way to Phillips Place, owned and operated by Carol Phillips.  I met Carol’s assistant, Michael, and his feisty dog who led me to me to the Turner Suite, my temporary home.

Phillips Place is a rather large Classical Revival home that only has 2 rooms for rent (Turner and Rubey Suites), but they are large and comfortable.  In fact, I consider the Turner Suite to be the most comfortable room I have enjoyed as my three room suite contained a bedroom with a very soft bed, a spacious bathroom, and a rather quaint sitting room.

After I took a quick turn about the place, I met Carol Phillips who brought me a glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon.  Like myself, she was a big theatre buff and would also be attending the production of Of Mice and Men that I was reviewing.  The next day she and a friend, Chuck Koopmann (also a theatre buff and treasurer of Maples Repertory Theatre) were going to head to the Amana Colonies to watch a performance of Million Dollar Quartet featuring some past Maples Rep performers.

After the tea and talk, I took a constitutional around the neighborhood and downtown area to find the theatre and Immaculate Conception Church where I would be attending worship services the next night.  When I returned to the inn, I met Chuck who invited me to share dinner with himself and Carol.

I enjoyed a fine dinner of BBQ ribs, potatoes, salad, and some green beans.  It was a lovely meal with the conversation equally so as we talked theatre, the history of Maples Rep, and my various adventures in travel and theatre.

Upon dinner’s completion, I spruced myself up for the night’s entertainment.  Maples Repertory Theatre is a well hidden jewel in Missouri.  It attracts theatrical talent from all over the country and they put on one terrific production.  You can read my review of the show here.

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On opening night, Maples Rep hosts an event called Afterglow where they serve drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and have a little cabaret production.  I watched a little of the cabaret and had a conversation with Brandon McShaffrey who directed the play.  Then I returned to the inn to write the review and sleep soundly through the night.

The next morning, I had breakfast with Carol and Chuck where I enjoyed biscuits basted with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar with sausage gravy, bacon, cheesy eggs, fried potatoes, milk, and orange juice and another great conversation.  Afterwards I returned to my room to do a little work and grab a quick catnap as my sleep the previous night had been sound, but not long due to my being up late to write.

At noon, I settled my bill with Carol due to her leaving for the Amana colonies and I took another walk around the area.  I stopped at a Rexall’s Drugstore which actually had an old-fashioned soda fountain.  I ordered a vanilla ice cream soda which was delicious and then returned to the inn to get out of the heat.  I spent the afternoon writing up this article and watching Lt. Columbo capturing killers.

In the late afternoon, I got dolled up for church and the show.  I attended evening services at Immaculate Conception Church where the service was said by Father Kevin Gormley, a lovable Irishman, now retired, who subs for priests all over the state.  As he says, now he is truly a “Roaming” Catholic.

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Immaculate Conception Church

After worship had ended, I walked a few blocks up the road to the Apple Basket Café for dinner.  It’s a quaint little diner and I was very tempted to indulge in the Saturday night special of a 12 oz ribeye steak.  But, with the show starting in less than an hour, I opted for something that could be prepared and eaten a little more quickly.  I had a turkey club sandwich on sourdough with a side of fries and a cup of chili.  It filled the cavity nicely.

Feeling satiated, I returned to Maples Rep for another fantastic production.  You can read my review for Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash here.

During intermission, I met Todd Davison, the artistic director for Maples Rep.  I was quite shocked to learn that I was the first critic in the theatre’s 14 year history.  That morning, Chuck had asked for permission to send my first review to the town’s local newspaper, so I hope my words drum up some business.  This theatre is such a fine little jewel that I may send them an audition for next season.

At the show’s end I returned to Phillips Place where I wrote up the review and conked out for the night.

Breakfast was a more subdued, quiet affair this morning.  Carol had prepared a frittata with cheese, eggs, spinach, and yellow peppers along with milk, orange juice, a lemon puff, and a croissant.  Michael had heated up my meal and I ate a quicker meal than normal for me.

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And that wraps up this article.  Macon is truly a nice, friendly little town.  It’s the type of town where everybody knows everybody.  You’ll enter a stranger and leave as a friend.  And I would make it a strong recommendation to visit this little town.  You won’t find a better inn than Phillips Place in terms of comfort and hospitality and you’ll do yourself a favor by taking in a night at Maples Repertory.  I guarantee it.

Cotton Patch Redux, Day 5: Serenity Bed and Breakfast Inn is Serene, Indeed

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Serenity Bed and Breakfast Inn

One thing I’ve always liked about traveling on Sunday is that it’s (usually) peaceful and quiet.  This one was no exception and the traffic was so light through the construction that it was as if no work was being done.

For this final leg of the journey I would be stopping in Wichita, KS where I would be staying at the Serenity Bed & Breakfast Inn.  I was more than ready to stop for the night after a long day of driving and sketchy sleep over the two previous evenings.

This was actually a bit of a milestone as Serenity Inn was the 30th B & B I have visited and I must say that I really hit the jackpot with this one.  Serenity Inn, owned and operated by Ken Elliott, has all of those features of interest that make for a fine B & B.  It’s an older, elegant home with a lot of interesting history as Ken gave me a brief walking tour of the estate.  It’s also famed for its murder mystery dinners.

After the tour, Ken led me to Jordan’s Suite which served as my final home away from home for this little jaunt.  It was perfect.  From the four poster, canopy bed to the Jacuzzi bathtub, it just radiated comfort and peace.  In short, it was just what I needed.

I was so weary that I was unable to engage in any sort of exploration of the area.  Heck, I was so exhausted that I didn’t even eat that night.  I just arranged my things and had just enough juice to watch the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl and, more likely than not, send Peyton Manning into the sunset as a champion.

I slept like a baby that night.  My lights went out and didn’t relight until the next morning.  I awoke, fully refreshed, and enjoyed a nice long bath in the morning.

I was starving after having nothing to eat, aside from a small snack, since the previous morning.  The Serenity Inn is famed for its LARGE breakfasts and that is a truthful claim.  I opted for room service and goggled at the huge meal Ken brought to my room.  A massive Mexican omelet, a full banana, a cinnamon roll, grapefruit, salsa, water, coffee, orange juice, and tortillas.

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A breakfast fit for a king. Several, actually.

The cinnamon roll was piping hot and one of the best I had ever eaten.  The Mexican omelet was light and fluffy and stuffed with black beans, cheese, and corn.  Under ordinary circumstances, I would not have been able to eat very much.  Hungry as I was, I still didn’t do much damage to the meal, but more than I would have thought possible.  I would recommend that the portions be trimmed down to at least half their size, but there are certainly no gripes about the quality of the food.

After breakfast, I said my good-byes to Ken and drove the final leg to Omaha.  If you want to enjoy a classic B & B and you find yourself in Wichita, do yourself a favor and get a room at Serenity Inn where you will enjoy a fabulous house and a fine, filling meal.

And on a final note, don’t feel too bad for me because I missed out on the play.  Outside of a mild disappointment, it did nothing to damper the trip.  I enjoyed some great inns, met some great people, and had a great adventure.  I’ll get another shot at Cotton Patch Gospel as either actor, reviewer, or both.  Hopefully, it will be showing somewhere in or around my homestead in the not too distant future.