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Road to Our Lady of the Highways Shrine will close for repairs this fall July 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History, Religion.
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A badly deteriorated section of Interstate 55 west frontage road between Farmersville and Raymond in Illinois — best known as a section of Route 66 that passes in front of the historic Our Lady of the Highways Shrine — will be closed for repairs for several weeks starting in late September, according a story in The Journal-News in Hillsboro.

The newspaper said residents collected more than 1,000 signatures in petitions that urged the Illinois Department of Transportation to fix the road. I have little doubt the Route 66 tourism angle proved crucial in persuading the agency.

The Facebook page for the shrine this spring posted a photo of a tire damaged by the road. It also posted this message on April 7:

Due to poor maintenance by IDOT, it is not recommended that tourists take Historic 66 from Farmersville through Litchfield which includes the location of the Shrine. Many tires have been destroyed as well as rims. The deterioration is a hardship for those of us who live in the area but we’d hate to see your trip ruined.

We ask that you complain to IDOT as well as sign a petition which is available at the bars and gas stations in Farmersville. We hope that a thorough and complete resurfacing will be done but until then the West Frontage Road/US 66 is dangerous.

The Journal-News reported that resurfacing of the road will begin in late September, closing it for about three weeks. 

A few purists might mourn the covering up of old pavement in the area, but a road so decayed that Route 66 travelers can’t reliably use isn’t any good, either.

The Litchfield Deanery’s Catholic Youth Council raised money for the shrine in 1958, and the statue was dedicated Oct. 25, 1959, at the edge of Francis Marten’s farm. The marble statue of the Virgin Mary was imported from Italy; area youths built the wooden alcove, a brick base, a cobblestone walkway and lights around the statue. Total cost at the time was $900.

Francis Marten died in 2002, but family members continue to keep up the site.

(Hat tip to Peter Stork; image of Our Lady of the Highways Shrine by alan berning via Flickr)

Religious imagery and “The Grapes of Wrath” January 6, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Books, Radio, Religion, Road trips.
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Frank Gifford of rt66pix.com recently was interviewed by Susan Olasky of WORLD radio, which is part of a Christianity-based multimedia group.

Gifford explained how he found Christian imagery in John Steinbeck’s seminal novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” much of which takes place on Route 66 during the Depression:

WORLD radio also linked to this University of South Queensland page that lists the allusions to the Bible in “The Grapes of Wrath.” They include the Book of Job, Noah and the Flood, The Promised Land, and Jim Casy, Tom Joad and Rose of Sharon from the novel.

Interestingly, if Steinbeck indeed used the Bible in “The Grapes of Wrath,” it probably was little more than a literary device. Research over the decades indicates that Steinbeck was agnostic.

Gifford thinks the Route 66 community is missing out on an opportunity to market Route 66 to Christians via “The Grapes of Wrath.” He elaborated in an email:

In polling, 77% of the US population identifies as “Christian” and 34% as “Born-again.” The “Born-again” group alone is 100+ million people.  They’re already in America and could be persuaded to travel a family-friendly highway crossing the Bible Belt.
Biblical imagery in The Grapes of Wrath is not mentioned in road-related books or promotional literature.  (Can you find a single reference?)
A “faith journey” is not even considered in the massive Rutgers study.  But skiing, nightlife and gambling, among many other things, appear on page 201 of the Technical Report.
On page 205-06 of the study: the typical Route 66 travel group is older adults.  On page 234: the typical travel party has just 0.2 kids.  Christian families/groups could alter these demographics for the better.  Importantly, they likely would not alienate current users.  Every business/attraction along the road (except for bars and casinos) would benefit.
Since government promotion of a faith journey is restricted by the Wall of Separation, the burden falls on private groups and individuals.  The research has already been done and is easily accessed on-line.

Gifford added he’s a “non-believer,” which may give him more objectivity on the Route 66-religion issue.

Gifford may be right in saying Route 66 is missing out on such a market segment. But I’m skeptical whether such marketing can and should be done.

In more than eight years of daily researching Route 66 for this website, I’ve encountered very few religious allegories or discussions tied to the Mother Road. And most of those are peripheral, such as 66 books in the Bible. One notable example is Chuck Williams, a roadie who recently published a new version of his “Eternal Route 66″ book that ties the Mother Road to biblical musings.

Whether it’s because of a lack of interest or it being a sleeping giant, joining Christianity and Route 66 aren’t high on folks’ priorities on the Internet.

If there’s a ripple metaphysically, it’s travelers (including non-Christians) seeing the road’s 2,400 miles and its twists, turns and dead ends as a metaphor for life.

What I’m trying to say is faith is too complex to think one could consistently shoehorn Route 66 into someone’s belief system. Having tourism centers taking such a delicate approach would be fraught with peril and might be counterproductive. If a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Wiccan finds a measure of personal enlightenment while traveling the old road on their own, that’s fine. But trying to force the issue likely would be foolish.

Your mileage may vary. What do you think?

(Image of the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries in Groom, Texas, by Gouldy99 via Flickr)

Our Lady of the Highways caretaker dies July 16, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, People, Preservation, Religion.
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Lee William Marten, 64, a co-caretaker of The Shrine of Our Lady of the Highways on Route 66 near Raymond, Ill., died at his home Saturday after a bout with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, according to an obituary in the The Journal-News in Hillsboro, Ill.

Lee and his younger brother Carl, who survives, own the farm where the shrine sits. According to Lee’s son-in-law Peter Stork, the Martens maintained the shrine, organized a 50th-anniversary event in 2009 and erected an information booth there.

Loretta (Marten) Ludek, 74, who was instrumental in founding the shrine in 1959, died in March. Her father, Francis Marten, donated a small piece of land for the statue of the Virgin Mary, made from Italian marble. Total cost of the shrine was $900 at the time. Francis died in 2002.

Except for one year teaching agriculture at a high school in Athens, Ill., Lee Marten was a farmer for all of his adult life. Among the many boards he served, he was a member of the Route 66 Association of Illinois.

A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church, with Christian burial at St. Raymond’s Catholic Cemetery. Visitation will be from 4 until 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Raymond.

Surviving are wife, Mary (DeBarr) Marten; children, Ellen Marten of Springfield, Ill.; Emily (husband Peter) Stork of Crown Point, Ind., and Thomas Marten of Raymond; one granddaughter, Eleanor Stork; a sister Jane (husband Larry) Hockett of Springfield; four brothers, Joe (wife Barbara) Marten and Tony (wife Paulette) Marten, both of Litchfield, Ill.; and Raymond (wife Debbie) Marten and Carl (wife Marlene) Marten, both of Raymond; a sister-in-law, Judy Marten of West Lafayette, Ind.; and many nieces and nephews.

Memorials may be made to the Panhandle Food Pantry in Raymond or Covenant Network of St. Louis.

Harvey Girls documentary to debut in Kansas City June 12, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, History, Movies, Religion.
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A new documentary, “The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound,” will debut at 6:30 p.m. June 21 at the National Archives in Kansas City, Mo.

The film, directed by Katrina Parks and produced by Katrina and Michael Parks and Thaddeus Homan, will be part of the “Fred Harvey: The Man, the Brand, and the American West” exhibition that runs through Jan. 4.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

Here’s a description of the film from the National Archives:

The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound is a new documentary film that explores the Harvey Girls and how these waitresses helped open the doors of both the West and the workplace to women. In 1946, MGM turned the Harvey Girls into legend when they released the motion picture The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland. Until now, this fictional Hollywood movie has been the only film to immortalize the Harvey Girls.Opportunity Bound examines this important part of America’s history in much greater depth, and tells the story of the Harvey Girls using the voices of those closest to them, including rare interviews with the few remaining Harvey Girls and author and expert on Fred Harvey, Stephen Fried. In addition, the film explores the life of Fred Harvey and his company which left its mark by not only providing work opportunities for women, but by being among the first companies to promote cultural diversity in the workplace by hiring Hispanic and Native American women to be waitresses along with their Anglo peers.

A panel discussion about the Harvey Girls will start a half-hour before the film’s screening. Among those on the panel are Stephen Fried, who wrote the terrific “Appetite for America” book about the history of the Fred Harvey Co. My review of Fried’s book is here.

Although it was a railroad-related business, Fred Harvey’s operation left fingerprints all over the Route 66 corridor. Among the attractions along or near the Mother Road are Union Station in Chicago and St. Louis; La Fonda in Santa Fe; La Castaneda in Las Vegas, N.M.; El Garces in Needles, Calif.; Casa del Desierto in Barstow, Calif.; Fray Marcos in Williams, Ariz.; Painted Desert Inn in Arizona; El Tovar at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim; and La Posada in Winslow, Ariz.

The event is free, but it’s recommended that you call 816-268-8010 or email kansascity(dot)educate(at)nara(dot)gov for reservations.

(Hat tip: Ken Youden)

Key figure in Our Lady of the Highways Shrine dies March 21, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History, People, Religion.
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Loretta (Marten) Ludek, 74, who was instrumental in founding the Our Lady of the Highways Shrine along old Route 66 near Raymond, Ill., died Tuesday at her home in Anderson, Ind., according to an obituary by Brown-Butz-Diedring Funeral Home.

The Our Lady site explains Loretta’s role in getting the statue there:

In June of 1958, members of the Litchfield Deanery’s Catholic Youth Council sought to erect a monument to the Blessed Virgin. The group included kids from Litchfield, Staunton, Mount Olive, Hillsboro, Morrisonville, Divernon, Farmersville and Taylorville amongst others, and one of the members from rural Raymond, Loretta Marten, asked her father Francis to donate space on his farm along US Highway 66 west of the town. He gladly agreed.

Ground was broken on February 11, 1959, with Father Robert Leo Heintz of St. Mary’s in Taylorville presiding over the ceremony. A cararra marble statue of Mary was imported from Italy at a cost of $400, and over the summer the kids worked on preparing the Shrine: building the wooden alcove, laying the brick base and placing the cobblestone walkway up to the statue. Lights were installed so passers-by could view the Shrine day or night. Total cost for the Shrine, including the statue: around $900.

The shrine has looked over old Route 66 — and adjacent Interstate 55 — ever since. Francis Marten, who was elected to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame, died in 2002, but his family continues to maintain the site.

Loretta worked a nurse at St. John’s Hospital in Anderson and after retiring, taught in the nursing education program at Ivy Tech and worked as a nurse in the clinic at Anderson University. She served as local and state chairwoman of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Francis and Anna Ruth; husband, Michael; daughter, Lisa; and brother, John.

A Mass of Christian burial will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Anderson with The Rev. Richard Doerr presiding and The Rev. Robert Williams concelebrating. Burial will be at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Anderson.

Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Brown-Butz-Diedring Funeral Home. The Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Friday.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Ambrose Catholic Church, St. Vincent DePaul, or the charity of choice.

Church expansion takes on a Route 66 theme November 24, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Religion, Restaurants.
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The Wildwood Community Church in Norman, Okla., recently built an addition that includes a Route 66 theme, according to an article in the Norman Transcript.

According to the newspaper:

The general idea of the expansion centers around a Route 66 theme. All of the art is original and much of the general decor are things repurposed from junkyards, like a real Spartan travel trailer estimated to have been manufactured in Tulsa around 1949.

“They (Team JYD) found it buried up to the windows outside of a truck stop in Chandler. It was one of those things where if you can get it out of here, you can have it. They dug it out and they drove it back to Oklahoma City and they didn’t know for sure where they would use it, but they found someone to give it to. It fit the Route 66 idea,” Robinson said. “I love the icon of the trailer, too because it’s the idea that church is your home away from home.”

There are four halls in the building and they all have different geographic areas — the beach, the mountains, the desert and the forest.

Team JYD, which came up with the addition’s design, is the same firm that bought the 66 Bowl’s neon sign in Oklahoma City when the property changed hands a year ago.

Team JYD didn’t post photos of the church addition on its website. However, you can see 360-degree panoramic photos of it here (images may take some time to load).

Also, Team JYD is designed a restaurant in the Route 66 town of Edmond, Okla., called Red’s Southern Diner. Cameron Eagle at Team JYD said in an email:

 It also has a an 8 foot tall rotating bucket of chicken inside hanging from the ceiling, a 1949 Spartan eat in trailer, and fans made from lawn mowers.

It also features a giant neon chicken sign in the front.

The address of the restaurant is 840 W. Danforth Road (map here), about a mile northeast of Route 66’s closest point, at Edmond Road and Broadway.

Bloopers from “Route 66: A Road Trip Through the Bible” October 10, 2011

Posted by Ron Warnick in Religion.
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The final chapter of “Route 66: A Road Trip Through the Bible” was posted last weekend. However, its creators have sent out this reel of bloopers:

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