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.

Cotton Patch Redux, Day 2: Whispering Pines is a Diner’s Delight

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The Whispering Pines

After a pleasant day at the Woodward I found myself back on the road and heading to Norman, OK.

The one issue with driving through Kansas is that there is precious little scenery.  Adding to that issue is one must use the Kansas Turnpike which has to be one of the most mind-numbing drives one can take.  I had to take the turnpike on a trip to Texas several years ago and I seem to recall wondering if the turnpike had been sponsored by Amoco and McDonald’s as those were the only places one would see at rest areas along the way.

Well, some changes have been made in the ensuing years as Amoco seems to have been pushed out in favor of Valero and there was a Hardee’s or two to break up the McDonald’s.  Sadly, that was the limit of the scenery for the drive.

A day’s worth of driving brought me to Norman, OK where once again Mapquest had failed me utterly.  From the pictures I had seen for my next inn, I suspected it was outside the city, but the directions planted me right in the middle of downtown Norman.  Luckily, I found the Norman Public Library where Courtney graciously Googled Mapped better directions that took me to my next inn, the Whispering Pines Bed and Breakfast.

Whispering Pines, owned and operated by Rany and Thavory Kchao, is rather secluded as it is located a bit out of town in the country.  That seclusion was rather good for my writing sensibilities due to the peace and quiet.  The property consists of the main house which holds several rooms and several luxury cottages located on various parts of the land.

Whispering Pines is unusual as it lacks many of the features of interest that I would expect to find at B & Bs.  I’m rather fond of exploring the houses as I enjoy the various ornate rooms and history.  Whispering Pines has more of the feel of a high class hotel as the lower floor consists of a check-in area and a dining room which serves as the location of Whispering Pines’ gourmet restaurant.

After checking in, I was led to the English Hunt Room which was a very comfortable room.  The centerpiece of the room was a luxurious king bed.  The room also has a small, but elegant bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub, and a private breakfast nook.

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The English Hunt Room

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Breakfast nook

What Whispering Pines lacks in terms of the traditional B & B experience, it more than makes up for in its magnificent perks.  As I stated earlier, the inn’s dining room serves as the eating area for Whispering Pines’ gourmet restaurant.  The reservations only restaurant is actually the primary focus of Whispering Pines as it is open to both guests and non-guests.

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Whispering Pines’ gourmet restaurant

If you find yourself in the area, make a reservation to eat here as the cuisine of French continental chefs, Chinda and Rany Kchao is a glorious experience.  I was seated by the fireplace where I was brought a basket of freshly baked rolls which were served with a homemade butter which had honey and dill mixed into it.  The taste was heavenly.

My meal opened with a Hungarian mushroom soup with Hungarian paprika.  The rich and thick orange broth had a lovely hint of spice and was deliciously creamy.

Between the soup and main course I was served a lemon-lime sorbet which was a dandy little palate cleanser.  For the main course I had an herb-potato encrusted salmon filet served with asparagus, zucchini, and scalloped potatoes.  The chef also included a slightly toasted potato which was carved into the shape of a rosebud.  It was both artful and tasty.

The salmon was cooked perfectly and served with a splendid champagne cream sauce.  The herb-potato added just the right bit of crunch and flavor.  The vegetables were fresh and crispy and the scalloped potatoes were wonderful.

After I finished the superb meal, I returned to my room where I enjoyed a nice long Jacuzzi bath.  I then grabbed a soda from the complimentary treats cabinet on the first floor and sipped Coca-Cola while continuing my latest Nero Wolfe novel until I fell into slumber.

Another perk of the inn is that each room has a breakfast nook and breakfast is served directly to your room.  A menu of choices is available in each room and you write your order down and place it in a box at the end of the first hallway with your preferred breakfast time.

At 9am sharp, my breakfast was delivered.  I had opted for a glass of orange juice with an omelet stuffed with cheese, onions, mushrooms, ham, and green peppers.  On the side was a serving of fried potatoes, mixed fruit, and a toasted roll.  Normally I like to provide a picture of the fine meals provided by B & Bs, but as I sit here and write, I have just realized that I enjoyed that fantastic repast without snapping a photo.

But take my word, it was quite wonderful and it looked good, too.  The fried potatoes had just the right blend of crunch, salt, and pepper.  The omelet was a taster’s delight.  The roll was made just so and the fruit was nice and fresh.

Now I’m just going to pack and kill a little time before beginning the final leg of my journey to Arlington, TX.  And, yes, I used Google Maps to refigure my route out of Norman.

 

A Holiday Excursion, Days 2-3: Mushing and Slushing to Dug Road Inn

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It was a gray and blustery day.

I’m still in shock that I am able to tell you this story.  The winter storm caught up to me with a seething ferocity.  The snow blew so hard that it was nearly a complete whiteout.  Then it happened.  Some nut in a red Corvette came roaring by in the other lane like a bat out of heck.  The unknown driver cut me off and clipped the front end of my car.  My car careened off the road and rolled over 4 times.  I have a vague realization of my seat belt coming loose and being thrown from my vehicle.

I awoke in a hospital somewhere around Dows, IA.  Both of my arms were broken and the nurse to whom I’m now dictating this story informed me that my gas line had ruptured and my car had exploded.  Its burning carcass was seen through the snowy haze by motorists who summoned help and I was found thirty feet from the smoldering remains of my Focus.

Wow!  That’s a great start to a fiction story.

But what really happened was that the drive was not too bad.  Des Moines was the worst of it so I took things very slowly until I reached I-35.  There wasn’t a lot of snow, but it was blowing around quite a bit due to the strong wind and would get whipped around pretty good when semi trucks drove by.  I kept things well under the speed limit to be extra safe unless I was on completely clear stretches of road.  I was aided by the fact that the roads were virtually empty and what few motorists were on the road also drove quite safely with one or two exceptions.

Due to my safety measures, an extra 90 minutes were tacked onto my drive, but I wasn’t in a rush in the first place.  About 2pm, I found myself in the Norwegian community of Decorah, IA.  Thankfully, the owner of my next inn, Dug Road Inn, had given me a call to check to see if I were still coming and he let me check in an hour early due to the weather.

Dug Road Inn is an Italianate style home originally built by Lt Colonel William T Baker back in the 1860s.  Its current owners are Doug and Shirleen Sturtz and the inn is touted as an eco-friendly B & B famed for its 3 course organic breakfasts.

I was greeted in the driveway by Doug who helped me get my luggage into the house.  He led me to the Duncan Room which would serve as my headquarters for the next 2 days.  After getting my stuff settled, I returned to the living room where Doug brought me a glass of wine and we spent a little time conversing about my project and Iowa football.

After our conversation, I returned to my room where I continued reading a new Nero Wolfe novel before the exhaustion of my long drive caused me to doze off for a brief nap.

When I awoke, I glanced out the window and was met by a night and day difference.  The storm had reached its peak and snow was falling steadily and the wind was howling.  I really did not want to go outside, but I needed to eat.  Luckily, the main drag was only 2 blocks away, so I donned my coat, hat, and gloves and headed outside.  I decided not to press my luck and just eat at the first available place I could find.

That would end up being the Old Armory BBQ which is one of the top 10 BBQ restaurants in Iowa.  When I entered the place, it seemed as if they were closing up and that fact was confirmed a few moments later by one of the employees.  They still had some food left out and said they could prepare something for me.

I settled for a hamburger with homemade pickles which was pretty good, though I couldn’t linger over it as I didn’t want to keep these people in here longer than necessary.  I’m grateful that Old Armory kept me from going hungry that night so I left a good tip for the sandwich before trudging back to Dug Road Inn.

I drew a hot bath after I returned to my room though the jets on the Jacuzzi tub didn’t seem to be working.  But I enjoyed the bath as it was just the right temperature.  Afterwards, I read myself to sleep with Rex Stout’s brilliant, if slothful, detective.

The next morning, I met Doug’s wife, Shirleen, who had prepared my breakfast.  The first course was a dish of mixed fruit (apples, grapes, and, I believe, pomegranate) in a dish of cream.  The second course was baked bacon with a small salad of greens and tomatoes, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, and a wonderful food item that I could best describe as a stuffed pancake.  The third course was a dessert course consisting of chocolate gelato and lefse.  This meal I did do justice to as I blissfully enjoyed every bite.  Regrettably, I had forgotten my camera upstairs so you’ll have to use your imaginations for this meal.

I wanted some exercise so I got into my winter accessories and wandered around the downtown area to work off the meal.  Downtown Decorah reminds me very much of my grandparents’ old hometown of Storm Lake, IA as it is mostly locally owned businesses.  There is even a small J.C. Penney on one of the corners just like the one in Storm Lake.

My meanderings brought me to GamesXP.  If you’re a vintage video game connoisseur like I am, then this is the store for you.  I was amazed by the classic games and systems this store had.  Odyssey, Intellivision, Atari, Super Famicom, this place had it all.  I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to continue building my Sega CD library as their selection was limited and didn’t have anything I wanted, but this is a store that I will surely visit again if my journeys bring me back.

I returned to the inn where I found Doug scraping the ice from my vehicle, a personal touch of hospitality which I very much appreciated.  I read a few more chapters before getting into my car and seeing what there was to see.

I had hoped to visit the Ice Cave, but when I reached the road leading to it, I found it covered with snow.  Remembering my misadventure back in Greenfield, I opted to turn back.  However, I did find Dunnings’ Spring which has a 200 foot waterfall.  I hiked up the steep hill through the new fallen snow and managed to grab some good pics of this natural beauty.

Afterwards, I drove back to the inn where I read for a while and dried out my clothes.  Around 4:30, I decided to take another hot bath to get the chill out of bones.  After soaking for nearly an hour, I headed back downtown in search of supper.

I ended up at Restauration in the famed Hotel Winneshiek.  This is a small fine dining establishment that is well worth a visit.  My meal began with a mixed green salad with a homemade ranch dressing with some homemade bread.  The main course was an Iowa specialty, pork chop, with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, and red onions).

The salad was excellent, though I had hoped for hot bread.  The presentation of the main course was superior, especially the grill marks on the Iowa chop which was, mmm, cooked to perfection.  The vegetables were fresh and crisp, but the potatoes needed some more garlic.

After the satisfying meal, I went back to Dug Road Inn and called it a night.

I really didn’t want to get out of my comfortable bed the next morning, but the smell of fine cooking galvanized me to make the attempt.  The Inn’s regular chef was able to make it in today and the meal once again began with mixed fruit (orange, grapes, pomegranate) with cream and granola.  The main entrée was a tiny dish of cherry tomatoes in a dressing with Eggs Florentine cooked with parmesan cheese and spinach.  Also included were fried potatoes with feta cheese, oregano, and chili powder and sausage.  Each bite was heavenly.  For dessert was apple-cranberry crisp with whipped cream that melted in my mouth.

I was disappointed when my meal ended for I knew that my stay had come to a close.  Dug Road Inn is certainly well worth a visit and Decorah is a fine little city, though probably best visited in the warmer months when there is more to see and do.  If your travels brings you to Decorah, get a room at Dug Road Inn where you’ll enter as strangers and leave as friends.

A Holiday Excursion, Day 1: Bravo, Butler House

003Well, it was my first time back on the road since September and I was in for several post-Christmas surprises.  I always try to schedule a review or two around the Christmas season because I enjoy seeing how the inns decorate for the holidays.  However, since I operate out of the Midwest, I’ve always got to keep an eye on the weather because I never quite know what’s going to happen.

Nebraska had actually been enjoying a rather tepid December and I was rather looking forward to a pleasant drive through Iowa and that’s exactly what I got on Sunday.  It was a little cold, but the sky was clear and the drive was smooth.  Monday may be a different story, however.

A winter storm is set to pummel Nebraska and do a number on Iowa.  Fortunately, my good luck seems to be with me as the storm is set to strike Nebraska first and move its way slowly to Iowa.  As I’m already in Des Moines, I’m actually a few hours ahead of the storm and it will have just started by the time I hit the road so I should manage to stay just ahead of it.  I’ll just be playing things by ear and possibly moving quite slowly.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here.

A brief two hour drive brought me to Des Moines, IA and Butler House on Grand owned and operated by Clark Smith and Lauren Kernen Smith.  Butler House on Grand is a 6100 square foot Tudor mansion nestled close to the downtown area and the artistic center of the city as the Des Moines Playhouse and Arts Center are a hop, skip, and jump away.

I was greeted by Clark who led me to the Dynasty Suite which would serve as my home away from home for at least one night.

The Dynasty Suite is probably one of the biggest rooms I’ve enjoyed since I started this project.  The suite is quite roomy and is highlighted by an en suite Jacuzzi and writing desk.  The mansion, itself, has a very pleasant feel to it and I was quite impressed with the Christmas decorations, especially in the living room which featured a real Christmas tree, Christmas village, and various Christmas knickknacks.

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The Dynasty Suite

I took it easy in my room for a few hours as I kept my eye on the weather reports.  After a few hours, I decided it was time for dinner and decided to enjoy a nice meal at Taki Japanese Steakhouse.

I’m quite partial to teppanyaki cooking, but I can’t say that I would recommend Taki.  The restaurant seemed a mite understaffed as I had to wait nearly an hour for a table.  Mind you, I don’t put all of the blame for the wait on the restaurant.  I did not have a reservation so I did expect to wait, but the teppanyaki room was not very full which suggests a lack of wait staff and/or chefs for the evening.  I did get a free Guinness for my long wait and I was able to pass the time with another adventure of Nero Wolfe, the armchair detective whose genius is matched only by his laziness.

I ended up sharing a tale with a group of high school girls and it was rather amusing to hear their views on college as at least one seemed to think that partying was going to take priority over studying.  Ah, youth.

The meal was simply OK and definitely not worth the long wait.  It took quite a while for our drinks, soup, and salads to arrive.  As a gesture of goodwill, I was not charged for my soda.  The clear soup wasn’t very hot and needed a bit more salt.  The salad was quite good with the ginger vinaigrette dressing being right on the money.

My steak, chicken, and shrimp were cooked well, but needed more seasoning.  When all is said and done, I give Taki a thumbs slightly down.

After dinner, I returned to the inn where I grabbed a can of soda from the fridge as I looked forward to a long soak and shave.  When I entered my room, I was pleasantly surprised that my bed had been turned down with a caramel waiting on my pillows.  After a relaxing bath, I tuned in to the weather reports to find that the winter storm warning now engulfed the entire state of Iowa as opposed to just the south & central portions.  As I said earlier, snow was not due to hit the Des Moines area until 6am which meant it will have barely started before I hit the road to my next stop.  Luckily it will be moving slowly northward which means I should keep on its outskirts for most, if not all, of the drive.

The queen bed was quite comfortable with a thick blanket that was so cozy that I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I finally forced myself to just so I could see what the weather was doing.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw it wasn’t too terrible.  A fine, powdery snow was falling and the weather report now said the Des Moines area was only expected to get 6 to 8 inches with little to no ice accumulation and it was the northwestern and southeastern parts of Iowa that were expected to be hazardous.  Now knowing my drive would be safer, if slower, I went downstairs for a bracing breakfast.

There’s nothing quite like a hot meal on a cold day to start your day off right and Clark and Lauren provided a terrific breakfast.  The meal started with hot ginger snap pears served with goblets of water, milk, and orange juice.  The main course consisted of a cinnamon roll, fried rosemary potatoes, cheese soufflé with salsa, and sausage patties.  I engaged in some conversation with Clark, Lauren, and another couple before returning to my room to polish up this article and begin my snowy trek.

Butler House on Grand is a fine little oasis in the city of Des Moines and the hospitality and cooking of Clark and Lauren will make your stay grand, indeed.

Meandering through Missouri, Day 1: A Night at Whiskey Mansion

Whiskey Mansion

Whiskey Mansion

Believe it or not, dear readers, we have reached the 2nd anniversary of Chris’ Corner.  So, in celebration, I am bringing you along as I explore not one, but two, bed and breakfasts.

Ultimately, my road would be taking me to Springfield, MO, but I decided to have a brief stopover in St Joseph, MO where I would visit Whiskey Mansion.

Unlike most of the towns I have visited to experience bed and breakfasts, St Joseph is actually a big town with a population of nearly 80,000 people.  It self-describes as a sleepy river town, but don’t let that moniker fool you.  It is actually quite a bustling town with a lot of things to see and do and was once a very wealthy town due to its reputation as a wholesale distribution center.

My journey took me to the historic district of St Joseph.  This area is a fixer-upper’s dream.  There are quite a few mansions and old homes in the area, some in pristine condition and some which could use some fixing up.  The area is known for two hills:  Mansion Hill and Cathedral Hill.  Yes, the names are self-explanatory.  Mansion Hill is famous for mansions and Cathedral Hill is notable for its numerous churches.

I pulled up to Whiskey Mansion and immediately began searching for a way in.  The front door is actually tucked away on the patio, if you choose to visit.  I saw no sign of a doorbell, so I tested the handle on the door and found it unlocked.  I entered the inn where I slowly walked through the living room, soaking up the scenery of the mansion.  I heard the clank of dishes somewhere in the back of the house and called out, “Hello.”

A few moments later I met Mark who was taking care of Whiskey Mansion for the owner that weekend.  He gave me a brief tour of the home and led me to the Tower Room which would serve as my abode for the night.

Tower Room

Tower Room

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The Tower Room is a bit of a misnomer as it is actually on the second floor of the house.  It is a very quaint and cozy room, dominated by a queen bed and a sitting area by two bay windows.  After settling in, I began my explorations of the house.

The interesting thing about Whiskey Mansion is that it feels like a very old house as opposed to an inn.  As Mark said, it is not a museum, so people are welcome to go wherever they like in the house.  This gives it a very quaint, lived in quality.

Mark showed me a pictorial history of Whiskey Mansion and the house had been gutted by arson in the mid 1990s.  The fire destroyed the third floor of the house and smoke damaged the rest.   It was at this point that the current owner bought the place and he slowly restored the mansion to its current state.

A picture of Whiskey Mansion after the fire that destroyed it in the mid 1990s.

A picture of Whiskey Mansion after the fire that destroyed it in the mid 1990s.

Under Mark’s suggestion, I visited Boudreaux’s Louisiana Seafood for dinner.  I definitely recommend this eatery, if you find yourself in St Joseph.

The restaurant is in the bottom floor of a warehouse on Robidoux Row and this was some of the best Cajun cuisine I had ever tasted.  I began with a cup of shrimp gumbo which I thought was a bit overpriced at $5.99, but it tasted so good, I felt it was worth the cost.  The spicy brown broth was absolutely delicious and the shrimp were anything but small as each was nearly the length of my pinkie finger.  Throw a little rice into the soup and you have a tasty dish.

For the main entrée, I had a chicken Po’Boy half sandwich with a side of Cajun mashed potatoes.  The sandwich was perfect.  Everything from the crunch of the lightly toasted baguette, to the slightly blackened chicken, to the tasty cheese, and tantalizing special sauce was a delight to my tongue.  And the potatoes were the best I have ever eaten.  Zesty and fluffy.  If you eat anything at this restaurant, try this.

With my stomach full, I returned to the inn to do a little work before crawling under the thick blankets and resting my head on the feather pillows for a good night’s sleep.

Upon awaking the next morning, I was ready for a good meal.  It was a beautiful day so I decided to enjoy breakfast out on the patio. Let me assure you that the breakfast at Whiskey Mansion is not one to be missed.  The food was worth the stay by itself.

Mark started me off with a small dish of mixed fruit (grapes, strawberries, and banana) served with a goblet of water and a glass of orange juice.  That was followed with two slices of fresh baked cranberry bread.  It was amazing!  I haven’t had fresh baked bread since I was a kid and a lot of fond memories were awakened with the smell of warm bread wafting in the air.  The bread was lightly drizzled with honey, butter, and I thought I detected a whiff of cinnamon.  Mark told me that the owner bakes three different kinds of bread, so it would be worth coming back just to sample the other varieties.

Some mixed fruit, water, and OJ to start the day.

Some mixed fruit, water, and OJ to start the day.

Mmmmm!!!  Fresh baked cranberry bread with honey.

Mmmmm!!! Fresh baked cranberry bread with honey.

Cheese quiche

Cheese quiche

The main course was a sensational cheese quiche.  I slowly indulged my taste buds as I read through The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout, a tale of the great armchair detective, Nero Wolfe (who also happens to be a gourmet and gourmand).

After breakfast, Mark gave me a tour of the unoccupied guest rooms and I returned to my room to finish my article and continue to Springfield.

Whiskey Mansion is worthy of a visit if you find yourself in St Joseph, MO.  You’ll find clean and comfortable rooms in a house filled with character and you will enjoy one of the finest breakfasts you can imagine.

A B & B Sojourn

Marsh House

Marsh House

Twas the day before spring

And I had an itch

To travel the road once more

And hoped for no hitch.

Cheesy verse aside, I did once more yield to the call of the road.  This time I was heading to Galena, IL which bills itself as the most beautiful city in America.

Night 1

As I knew this would, more likely than not, be my last B & B outing until the summertime, I wanted to do something special.  So I decided to turn my visit into a B & B sojourn.  In order to have more exploration time in Galena and to kill two birds with one stone, I drove half of the trip on the first day.  I ended up stopping at the town of Grinnell in Iowa so I could visit Marsh House.

Grinnell was actually a surprising little city.  I was expecting a traditional small town, but this place was quite vibrant.  It had a bustling main street, a nice movie theater, a community theatre, and a wide variety of restaurants.  I soaked up the sights of the pleasant little burg and soon found myself at the doorway of Marsh House.

I was greeted by Linda who gave me a brief tour of the place.  I was struck by the elegance of Marsh House.  From the decanter of sherry by the front door to the period furniture throughout the home, I felt transported to a bygone time.  Linda led me to the Prairie Bedroom before leaving me to my own devices.

The Prairie Bedroom.

The Prairie Bedroom.

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That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

I spent a few hours relaxing before heading out to dinner at the Frontier Café.  It was a quaint establishment and I took a seat at the corner where I ordered a Cowboy Burger that came with a cup of chili and French fries.  The burger was quite delicious, flavored with tortilla chips, bacon bits, and fresh jalapenos.  The chili was tasty enough, but was rather thin and watery.

I returned to Marsh House where I prepared and slowly sipped a sherry.  After an afternoon of driving, I was ready for a long, hot bath and a movie.  Unfortunately, Linda had forgotten to include any soap and shampoo in the bathroom, so my hopes for a bath went poof.  Right before turning my phone off for the evening, I received a call from Dave who was one of the owners of the B & B I would be staying at in Galena.  Apparently there had been an emergency and he would not be available for my 1pm check-in the next day, but would be in at 4pm.

With that news, I settled into bed for the night and enjoyed the solitude.  You see, I was literally the only person in the inn as even the owners did not live on property.

Day 1 & Night 2

The next morning I went downstairs for breakfast where Linda had prepared a vegetarian meal for my Lenten sensibilities.  I enjoyed a delicious fruit parfait, followed by a feta cheese omelet with a side of fried potatoes seasoned with garlic, and a blueberry muffin.  Linda apologized for too much garlic on the potatoes, but I assured her there was no such thing.

I read the newspaper as I ate watching my NCAA bracket go down in flames due to the upsets on the first day.  I polished off everything except the muffin which I decided to feed to the birds.  After breakfast, I asked Linda for some soap and shampoo so I could get cleaned up.  I returned Dave’s phone call where he told me that someone would be able to meet me at 1pm so I could have a base of operations while I explored the town.

I performed my ablutions, settled my bill, and got into the Chrismobile to complete my journey to Galena.  However, do get a room at Marsh House if you happen to be in Grinnell as it was a jewel in an oasis.

Bernadine's Stillman Inn

Bernadine’s Stillman Inn

I arrived at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn, owned by Dave and Bernadette at 1pm.  I called Dave who said Christian would meet me at the front door.  Christian gave me the nickel tour and led me to my room, the Royalty II.  After exploring the inn and snapping photos, I began to explore the town.

The Royalty II

The Royalty II

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Galena is an extremely hilly city, so get ready for a workout as you navigate the terrain.  My first stop was the visit the Grant home which happened to be right across the street.  Ulysses S Grant had lived in Galena where he worked for his family’s leather goods store.  Prior to the Civil War, Grant rented a modest two story home for $100 a year.  Due to his service during the Civil War, a group of wealthy citizens got together and gifted him with a permanent home.

Ironically, Grant did not get to spend a lot of time in his home as he had to be away a lot to wind down operations in the aftermath of the Civil War, then spent 8 years in Washington D.C. as President, and toured over 30 countries after his term of office expired.  Grant’s children decided to gift the home back to the city.  Oddly enough, while it is a nice house, it is fairly modest in its own right.

Grant's home.

Grant’s home.

Grant's dining room.  This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

Grant’s dining room. This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

After visiting the home, I began touring the city.  Galena calls itself the most beautiful city in America and there may be some argument for that.  This city is littered with historic homes and bed and breakfasts.  Some of these buildings were shipped into the city just to beautify the place.

Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S Grant

Belvedere Mansion

Belvedere Mansion

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I wandered down to Main Street and discovered they have a rather bustling economy.  Numerous restaurants and shops made up the main drag.  My eye caught a sign called Root Beer Revelry and I decided to visit the establishment.  The sign was quite truthful as the store sold nothing but root beer in all varieties and all shapes and sizes.  I indulged in a root beer float.

I returned to the inn for a little bit, but went back downtown to have dinner at the DeSoto House in the Green Street Tavern.  I enjoyed a grilled salmon sandwich and then went to the lobby where I continued my forays into the supernatural by taking the All About a Ghost Tour, guided by Steven Rupp.

Steven works at the Galena library and has accumulated quite a bit of knowledge about the city.  It ended up being a personally guided tour as I was the only who showed up.  Another couple seemed interested, but left to get some cash and never returned.  Could they have been. . .spirits????  Nah!

It was a pleasant evening for a walk and Steven shared all sorts of tales about the city.  It was more history and less mystery, though there were a few tales about the supernatural peppered throughout the night.  The most interesting tale was when a businesswoman contacted Steven and asked him if he had ever heard about a haunting in a new house.  He had to confess that he had not.

The businesswoman had rented a newly built house in Galena for a weekend so she could do some shopping in town after a seminar.  After the seminar, she was putting her feet up in the rental home when she happened to look towards the bathroom.  She saw a little girl staring into the bathroom, her back to the businesswoman.  Suddenly the girl’s head turned to face the businesswoman and just the head.  The body stayed still.  Then she went into the bathroom where she disappeared.  Steven was unable to discover any stories about the area, but theorized that old homes may have been demolished to make room for these rental homes which is why a ghost could be in a new home.

After the tour, I walked back to the inn where I had the best night’s sleep I’ve experienced in quite a while.  I didn’t wake up during the night and didn’t budge a muscle.

Day 2 & Night 3

In the morning, I was finally able to meet Dave and Bernadette.  Dave and I had been exchanging phone calls over most of Friday, but never had the chance to meet until breakfast that morning.  The repast began with a cream and peach yogurt sprinkled with pumpkin flaxseed granola.  Superb!!  After that, I elected to have a ham and cheese omelet with a side of turkey bacon and some cinnamon swirl toast.  The omelet and bacon were perfect, but they forgot my toast.  But that was okay because I was full from the other items.

Galena Trolley Tour

Galena Trolley Tour

I spent most of the morning writing before heading downtown for a trolley tour.  I was a little taken aback by the $19.50 price tag, but the tour would last for an hour.  I had a good time seeing some more of Galena’s beautiful architecture and learning something of Galena’s unique history.  In its heyday, Galena was the richest city in the country due to a lead rush.  In fact, 90% of the lead used in America is from Galena or the nearby area.

The conductor/tour guide also had a terrific story about how Ulysses S Grant came into the Presidency.  There was a powerful political family known as the Washburnes and Elihu Washburne badly wanted to be President, but would not be elected because his family already held powerful political positions which would make people be unwilling to vote for him.  Instead he and some friends decided to find a quiet, shy man they could propel into the office as a proxy.  They decided to support Grant as he was riding a tidal wave of popularity.  Grant was elected into office and he gave Washburne the position of Secretary of State.  However, Washburne had underestimated Grant’s backbone and integrity as he refused to govern the way Washburne wanted him and bounced him from the post after 11 days, through he did appoint him as a minister to France.

When the tour ended, the group was given a coupon for a free small popcorn at the American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor.  I decided to get a little snack and was hoping I could get an old fashioned ice cream soda, too, but the dispenser was broken.  I ended up returning to Root Beer Revelry and enjoyed another root beer float.

I returned to the inn to relax for a bit and then headed to St Michael’s for worship services.  It was a particularly good sermon from Father Reese who talked removing the “I” or emptying ourselves for Jesus and why the cross offends.

After a nice service, I headed over to Gobbie’s for a bit of dinner.  The food at Gobbie’s must be amazing because the wait was unbelievable.  If I wanted a table, I would have had to wait for 45 minutes as there were 21 people waiting.  I ended up taking a seat at the bar and ordered the gyro platter with a Greek salad.  This was probably the tastiest gyro I have ever eaten so I definitely recommend a visit to this eatery.

Once I had finished eating, I went to the P.T. Murphy magic show where I met two new acquaintances, Ken & Cindy of Davenport, IA.  This was an intimate performance.  The theater can only hold about 24 people, so all of the illusions and tricks are performed up close and personal.  P.T. Murphy is an excellent magician and performer with a sharp sense of humor and a well developed sense of improvisation.

Yours truly even got involved in the act.  At one point, P.T. Murphy asked the audience if anybody had a $50 bill as he was dedicating the trick to Ulysses S Grant.  Nobody had one, though one audience member was reluctant to part with a $100 bill.  I offered up $20 which P.T. Murphy had me sign on Jackson’s forehead.  Then I folded up the bill a number of times and placed it into an envelope.  P.T. Murphy then brought out two other envelopes with similarly folded pieces of paper.  Then he mixed up the envelopes and labeled them 1, 2, and 3.

P.T. Murphy asked me to select an audience member to pick an envelope so I picked my new friend, Cindy, who selected 2.  P.T. Murphy then proceeded to burn the other 2 envelopes.  He opened number 2 and iniside was a white piece of paper.  He carefully unfolded it to reveal the message, “Oops”.

Then P.T. Murphy asked me to bring over a box that was sitting in the corner.  He gave me the key and I unlocked the box and inside. . .was another box.  P.T. Murphy gave me the key to that box which I unlocked and inside. . .was a paper bag.  Inside the paper bag was on orange.  P.T. Murphy cut the orange in half and in the center was my signed $20 bill.

This was truly one of the most enjoyable events of my project.  If you find yourself in the Galena area, get a ticket to this show.  Afterwards, I returned to my room for a well deserved rest.

Last Morning

I had awoken at what I believed to be 6:30am according to the clock in my bedroom.  Since breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30, I just decided to putter around, relax, watch the news, repack,  and take a long shower.  After 90 minutes, I decided to go online to check the news and discovered that it was actually nearly 9am!!  My clock was an hour slow.

I threw on some clothes, quickly cleaned up, and made a speedy appearance in the dining room.  Today’s menus featured lovecakes (heart shaped pancakes) infused with cinnamon, banana, and/or blueberries, cinnamon swirl toast, a spinach quiche (with or without sausage), and linkers (sausages) or turkey bacon.  I opted for cinnamon lovecakes with the sausage and spinach quiche, turkey bacon, and cinnamon swirl toast (which I did get this time).  Once more it was a tasty meal with some delightful conversation.

With the end of breakfast came the end of my little sojourn.  Galena is a fun little town and my only regret was similar to my time in Abilene, KS as I came a little off-season.  There is so much to do here, but you need to come during the May-October season.  But there was more than enough to keep me occupied, interested, and entertained for the weekend.

And if you’re in the Galena area, get a room at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.  You’ll enjoy some great food and a most entertaining host and you just may have a bit of fun, educational or otherwise.

Rivercene Plantation: A Most Mysterious Mansion

Rivercene Plantation

Rivercene Plantation

I started this project to share the incredible tales of inns and their towns, but I think I am going to be hard pressed to find a tale to match that woven by Rivercene Plantation, owned by Donn Upp and Dr. Joe Ely.

It was an atypically warm day in February as I answered the call of the road which would be bringing me to the dual cities of New Franklin and Boonville.  New Franklin is the home of Rivercene Plantation while Boonville (a mere 500 feet away) is a historical town of forgotten significance.

I actually made it into the region much earlier than planned due to basing my drive time on Mapquest’s estimates.  I’ve concluded that Mapquest estimates are clearly made by someone who drives about 30 miles under the limit.  In any event, I puzzled over how to spend my extra time and passed a sign suggesting I visit historic Blackwater.  Why not?

So I made my unexpected side trip and passed through the microscopic town (the population is only 199) and noted that it did have the feel of a bygone era.  The main drag actually seems more like an old west town.  I quickly said hello and good-bye to historic Blackwater and made my way to the historic site of Arrow Rock.

Now I was expecting Arrow Rock to be, well, a rock.  In actuality, it is a pioneer village covering about a mile and a half.  Tours are actually available, but are very limited during the winter months.  But I was able to amuse myself with a little jaunt around the village, snapping a photo here and there until it was nearly time to check in to Rivercene.

As I said earlier, Rivercene Plantation is a hop, skip, and jump from the town of Boonville and is located just beyond the Boonslick Bridge which crosses the mighty Missouri River.  The mansion, itself, is on a very secluded acreage.  I bounded up the stairs and turned the old fashioned doorbell key and was soon greeted by Donn Upp.

Donn is not only one of the owners of the mansion, but he is also an author of horror novels.  He is also, without question, one of the most energetic people I have ever met and a raconteur par excellence.  Donn led me up to Cora’s Room which would serve as my base of operations for the next couple of days.  I was floored by the sheer massiveness of the room.  Easily, the largest room I have ever stayed in.  For an avid reader like myself, I especially appreciated the sitting area by the gas fireplace.

Cora's Room.

Cora’s Room.

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After being left to my own devices, I quickly settled in and discovered a history of the mansion in my room.  And, trust me, this mansion is chock full of history.  The house was paid for by Matilda Clarke Kinney, the second wife of Captain Joseph Kinney (founder of Kinney’s Shoes and a steamboat magnate) after her husband gave her a wedding gift of $50,000 to build her dream home.  Construction of the house began in 1864 and would be completed in 1869.  Rivercene Plantation served as the Kinney’s summer home until Captain Kinney’s retirement, at which point they relocated to the mansion permanently.

Aside from the history of the mansion, the folder also contained Donn’s story of how he became the owner of Rivercene and the many ideas he has for the place over the coming years.  One of his most intriguing plans is what he calls Ridgecliffe Manor.

Ridgecliffe Manor (set to begin in 2016) is going to be a mystery event unlike any other.  Essentially, the guests are going to get to live one of Donn’s novels and the groundwork is actually going to begin next month with YouTube videos, a Facebook page, and a website.  Characters will be introduced and people can get to know the story before getting dropped into the middle of it with Ridgecliffe Manor.  From listening to Donn, Ridgecliffe Manor sounds like it will be a combination of interactive theatre and a top flight Hollywood production and I will certainly do my best to attend one of those events.

Speaking of mysteries, Rivercene Plantation has an unsolved mystery of its own.  In 1895, Nobel Kinney, the son of Joseph and Matilda, died under mysterious circumstances when he fell over the second floor balcony and landed on the 8th and 9th steps of the main staircase.  The truth of what happened never left the house.  Nobel was the favored child of Matilda who mourned herself to death over the next year.

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The mystery of that night hangs over the inn to this day.  When Donn and Joe were preparing Nobel’s room to be rented out, strange things happened from the start.  The shower would spontaneously turn off and on.  Temperatures would go from one extreme to the other.  Donn said there was a sensation that nobody was allowed to use that room.  The room is not available for rent.

The home has been visited by paranormal investigators who say that the place is a hotbed for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena).  So if you are into ghost chasing, chances are you’ll want to visit this place and Donn will have some stories for you.

After Donn’s tour, I made the walk into Boonville to do a little exploring and then decided to get some dinner.  I had read of a restaurant called the 87 Diner which claimed to have “The Best Darn Cooking in the County”.  Well, I certainly had to put that to the test.

I arrived at the diner and it was packed!!  That certainly seemed to be a testament to the cooking.  I managed to find a table in the corner and was soon presented with a menu.  Nothing flashy.  Just good old fashioned comfort food.  I went for a turkey club and got it in an amazingly short amount of time considering how busy things were.

I can officially say there is some credence to the 87 Diner’s claims.  This was the best club sandwich I had ever eaten.  The bread was toasted just right, the bacon was firm, but chewy, and the turkey was the freshest I think I have ever tasted.  Definitely get a meal here.

I returned to the inn where I spent the rest of the evening organizing photos and enjoying the adventures of Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman burglar, Arsene Lupin, on my Kindle.

After a good night’s sleep I made my way downstairs to breakfast and met the other owner and chef, Dr. Joe Ely.  It was a fabulous meal due to both food and the company.  The inn was fully booked, so there was a large group to converse with and the food couldn’t have been better.  Mixed fruit, pecan cinnamon rolls, and a breakfast casserole fleshed out this excellent repast.  After 2 hours and buoyed by a good meal, I headed outside to begin a historical walking tour of Boonville.

The Grand Dining Room

The Grand Dining Room

As I’ve said, Boonville is a city of forgotten historical significance.  The Civil War plays a big role in Boonville’s history.  Heck, one battle was fought in the front yard of Rivercene Plantation.  The city is loaded with historical buildings such as the famed Kemper Military School which became defunct back in 2002.  Part of the campus has now been transformed into State Fair Community College.

Do you enjoy being outdoors?  If so, then take a walk on the Katy Trail.  This is a 225 mile hiking and biking trail.  Given that it was a blustery day and I had no food and water with me, I skipped the trail and settled for the 10 mile historical tour.

About halfway through the tour, my camera batteries died, so I finished the tour and then headed back to the inn, hoping to get back out later to finish my photography.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make it back out as the sharp wind and massive temperature changed caused a whanging headache so I rested in my room until it was time for worship.

I attended Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church which was very elegant, for lack of a better word.  It just seemed to possess a unique quality.  What made it better was that you could feel Jesus’ presence all throughout the service.  The deacon, who was an excellent speaker, gave an awesome sermon about the power of touch (both God’s and actual contact) based off the story in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus heals the leper.  It was the type of service that makes you feel like you’re floating 5 feet off the ground when the service is done.

Once services ended, I headed over to The Palace for some dinner.  Once again I had found a restaurant that was crammed to the rafters which is a good sign.  The place was so full that they actually had to makeshift a table for me behind the salad bar.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich which filled the cavity nicely.

From there, I headed back to Rivercene where I joined other guests and Donn in the parlor where we talked into the night about a variety of subjects.  About 10:30pm, I dragged myself up to my room where I crawled wearily into bed.

Breakfast the next morning featured a fully loaded table of guests as well as a repeat of yesterday’s morning meal though the sausage in yesterday’s soufflé had been replaced with spiral cut ham, plus Joe had prepared some orange rolls.  I chatted amiably with my new acquaintances, Tim and Christina, over the meal and about my future projects.  Donn appeared and announced that snow was set to begin falling, so I polished up my meal so I could finish the article and hit the road.

Due to its history and mystery, I would rate Rivercene Plantation as the most intriguing inn I have visited for this project.  If your journeys should bring you to this region, spend a night here.  You will hear some amazing stories, get some history, enjoy the company of a master storyteller, and taste some excellent cuisine.