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A closer look at Tulsa’s Route 66 Village August 27, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Preservation, Railroad.
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Explore Tulsa recently uploaded this informative clip about the Route 66 Village in southwest Tulsa.

Mike Massey, train project manager, explains the vintage Frisco Meteor 4500 locomotive, rail cars and the Red Fork commemorative oil derrick on the site.

I do hope the volunteers can renovate the inside of that circa-1929 passenger car so visitors can tour it. The locomotive already is a popular photo op; having the car open again would make it a bigger destination.

While you’re at it, take a look at the future plans for the Route 66 Village.

(Image of the Frisco Meteor 4500 by Doug Wertman via Flickr)

St. Louis cemetery named to National Historic Register August 24, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People.
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Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, which dates to 1849, was listed to the National Register of Historic Places effective July 3, according to an email a few days ago from the National Park Service.

Ironically, the cemetery contains several gravesites or mausoleums — including the Louis Sullivan-designed Wainwright Tomb — that already were listed on the National Register. But the cemetery itself wasn’t placed on the Register until now.

Bellefontaine, at 4947 W. Florissant Ave., is on the “City 66″ alignment that carried Route 66 from 1939 to 1974.

The 314-acre cemetery contains more than 87,000 graves, including Louisiana Purchase explorer William Clark, Anheuser-Busch brewery founder Adolphus Busch, Eads Bridge architect James Eads, U.S. senator Thomas Hart Benton, and Beat writer William S. Burroughs.

It remains an active, nonprofit and nondenominational cemetery, with about 100 burials a year, and still has about 100 acres of land available.

To tell you how historically significant Bellfontaine is, Findagrave.com lists almost 400 famous burials on its database.

Bellefontaine Cemetery often holds tours, hosts weddings at its chapel, and has a website that’s useful and contains a lot of information.

(Image of Bellefontaine Cemetery by Christina Rutz via Flickr)

Questions for Clint Eastwood and his Tucumcari time August 23, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Television, Towns.
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David Stevens, editor of the Clovis News Journal and Portales News-Tribune in New Mexico, in a column said he had a few questions for potential interview subjects about long-ago local issues. Stevens’ wish list had some urgency because all the people “are getting old,” he said.

One of those interview subjects would be actor Clint Eastwood, who spent time in the Route 66 town of Tucumcari, New Mexico,  to film the television show “Rawhide.”

  • I want to know about Tucumcari in 1959 when he lived there six weeks filming “Rawhide.”
  • I want to have lunch with him at Del’s and ask if the food was better then or now.
  • I want to know what he thought about Route 66 in those days, if he even had a thought about that historic highway we’d all like to revisit, complete with its neon lights and hotel rooms with garages attached.
  • I’d like to know if he remembers hearing about the 13-year-old Quay County boy walking into his parents’ bedroom that summer and shooting them with a deer rifle. Gordon Ellis’ father died a few days later.
  • And I want to know how actress Kipp Hamilton ended up hospitalized for two days after accidentally stabbing herself in the foot with a knife while filming.

According to a 2010 story in Route 66 News, Tucumcari was used as a base for five episodes of the TV western. According to an excerpt from a Quay County Sun article at the time:

Actors and technicians arrived in Tucumcari on Aug. 10, 1959, for six weeks of work, the Tucumcari Daily News reported.

The show’s stars included Eastwood, Eric Fleming and Sheb Wooley. Guest stars also popped in and out of town for brief appearances.

The paper reported scenes were filmed at three Quay County ranches. The cast and crew, about 65 in all, were seen regularly around town and became regular patrons at Del’s Restaurant.

Eastwood is 84 years old and has gained considerable acclaim — and Academy Awards — as a director in recent decades. His mother lived to 97, so perhaps her son isn’t at death’s door (in fact, he directed another film this spring). But Stevens’ point is made — the urgency for having these questions answered is clear.

Perhaps Eastwood or one of his assistants will read this and be happy to oblige at least two curious journalists.

(An image from “Rawhide” by Peter Renshaw via Flickr)

New statues coming to Route 66 in Illinois August 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Attractions, History.
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A series of new statues and wayside kiosks will be erected in nine towns along Route 66 in Illinois, according to a news release.

The Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway project was paid for by grants from National Scenic Byway Program and the Illinois Office of Tourism. The new kiosks and statues add to the 31 wayside exhibits and 14 “experience hubs” already up on the Mother Road.

Two-dimensional iron structures, called “shadow statues,” show a scene from Route 66. They are:

  • Godley: Miner and Mule – An interpretation of strip-mining coal operations in Braidwood, Coal City, Carbon Hill, Diamond, and Godley until the mid-1970s.
  • Elwood: Rosie the Riveter – A symbol of the female worker during World War II at the Elwood Arsenal factory.
  • Pontiac: Motorcycle Police – At the historic Illinois State Police headquarters building, the statue tells of the early days of the Illinois State Police motorcycle patrol (pictured above).
  • McLean: Dixie Gas Attendant – It interprets Illinois’ oldest truck stop, Dixie Truckers Home, that opened in 1928. It also features the McLean railroad depot.
  • Elkhart: Shirley Temple – It tells the story of actress Shirley Temple’s visit to the House by the Side of the Road Cafe in 1938.
  • Sherman: Wayside Park – It depicts a picnic during Route 66′s heyday at one of its surviving wayside parks.
  • Gillespie: Miner – Another coal-mining town, it proved crucial to the development of labor unions.
  • Benld: Coliseum Ballroom Dancers – The biggest dance floor between Chicago and St. Louis attracted large crowds, many of them top-name performers. The Coliseum burned down in 2011.
  • Staunton: Illinois Traction System – Electrified railways connected travelers before Route 66 became a major highway. The rail lines were phased out by the mid-1950s.

(Image of the Motorcycle Police statue that will be at the historic Illinois State Police headquarters on Route 66 in Pontiac, Illinois)

Los Angeles and Woody Guthrie August 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Music, Towns.
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Folk singer Woody Guthrie‘s many links to Route 66 have been long documented.

However, this excellent clip by filmmaker Aric Allen shows that Los Angeles played a crucial role in Guthrie’s road to fame in 1937.

Amazingly, many of the places where Guthrie hung around in L.A. still exist, as this film shows.

(Image of Woody Guthrie by James Ratcliffe via Flickr)

Traveling Route 66 exhibit planned for Europe August 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Highways, History.
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Three men are planning an unprecedented traveling Route 66 exhibit that will be taken around Europe — which is a hotbed of enthusiasm for the Mother Road.

The men planning the exhibit are Jim Farber, who helped shepherd the current “Route 66: The Road and the Romance” exhibit at the Autry National Museum at Los Angeles; Stephen White, who has curated several international photo exhibitions; and Jonathan Spaulding, who recently oversaw the design and collection for the Brisco Museum in San Antonio.

Farber said in an email the exhibit is in its “very preliminary” stages of planning, but he remained confident it will happen. No timetable was given.

Here is the news release for the planned exhibit:

Every year thousands of Europeans, and visitors from nations around the globe, visit the United States in order to experience a journey along America’s most famous highway, Route 66 — the historic Mother Road, the Main Street of America. Yet there has never been a major international museum exhibition devoted to the rich cultural history of this iconic highway and the role it has played in inspiring some of the world’s greatest literature, painting, photography and popular culture, as well as the pioneering architecture of the gasoline station, the motor court and the neon sign. “Route 66: Song of the Open Road” is a proposal designed to bring that experience to a global audience for the first time in all its unique dimensions.

Among the expected contributors to an international touring exhibition are the famous artist, Ed Ruscha, Pixar, producers of the animated feature, “Cars,” Google, and the Route 66 Alliance, as well as a number of important collectors and institutions with holdings of Route 66 material. A checklist is in preparation. While much of the emphasis will be on the art inspired by the highway, there will also be a selection of artifacts that will create a balance between culture and aesthetics.

Design strategies may create sensory environments that bring the experience of the road to life. Paintings, photographs, music, film, literary manuscripts, clothing, and ephemera will mingle with large-scale elements such as neon signs, classic cars, and gas pumps, all important elements of the life of the road. A central concept of the exhibition is to combine the high and the low, the common and the rare, in a democratic journey through one of the world’s most important cultural touchstones.

Support is strong among potential lenders. Sponsors are actively being sought, as is a major European or international institution to host what should be one of the most iconic American exhibitions to tour overseas in recent years.

For additional information contact Stephen White at fotodazela(at)gmail(dot)com.

If the exhibit comes together and proves popular across the pond, it could prove to have a huge impact on Route 66 tourism by bringing a new batch of travelers on the road.

‘Million Dollar Courthouse’ needs $20 million in fixes August 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History, Preservation, Towns.
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Locals probably were startled and even irritated when the construction budget for the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville, Illinois, swelled from $50,000 to $1.3 million by the time it was finished in 1870. That’s why the landmark has been called the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” for good or ill, ever since.

Imagine their reaction when, more than a century later, if they found out proper repairs to the aging structure would likely top $20 million.

A story in the Springfield State Journal-Register detailed how about $200,000 in local and state money was used in 2012 to fix a deteriorating north stairway. But repairs aren’t done — not by a long shot, Harry Starr, chairman of the building and grounds committee of the Macoupin County Board, told the newspaper.

A leaking built-in gutter system and roof have resulted in water running into the interior of the building. Pieces of the limestone exterior have fallen off. The building needs improved accessibility, heating and ventilation work and more storage for records, officials say. [...]

The price tag to completely restore the 114-year-old building has been estimated as high as $20 million — money that isn’t available anywhere in a lump sum. [...]

“We’ve got a laundry list of stuff that needs to be done,” he said. “Where do we go next? There’s not a lot of funding around at any level.

“In the absence of a big chunk of money, we’re going to have to do it slowly and over time.”

A lot of blame was spread around for the courthouse’s initial cost overruns, but investigators never got to the bottom of it. According to the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce:

Not only was the courthouse an exorbitant expense to the taxpayers, rumors of a scandal involving misused appropriations also tarnished the project. Initially, the blame was laid on Judge Thaddeus Loomis and George H. Holliday, county clerk. Judge Loomis was apparently innocent of any wrongdoing. (We may never know the truth about Mr. Holliday, however, because one night in 1870, he boarded a train out of town and simply disappeared.)

In spite of the controversy, the Macoupin County Courthouse has become a source of pride in the area. It’s been praised by the American Institute of Architects, and Starr called it “the heart and soul of the county.”

Starr also said he’s noticed an increase in the number of tourists and tours stopping in Carlinville to see the courthouse during Route 66 tours. That provides yet another motivation to properly keep up the landmark — so it’s “cleaned up and shiny” for visitors.

Carlinville was part of Route 66 from 1926 to 1934, when it piggybacked on Illinois Highway 4 from Springfield. Route 66 then was realigned to the east, until both the old and newer sections of the Mother Road join up again south of Staunton, Illinois.

(Image of the Macoupin County Courthouse by Matt Turner via Flickr)

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