Carefree highway: Day 5
I’d stopped for the night Monday in Quincy, hometown of one of my good friends who used to work at The News-Gazette. As I got ready to go Tuesday, I posted a photo of a bridge across the Mississippi to Facebook, and she suggested I should stop at Villa Kathrine if I had time.
I did. So I did.
Villa Kathrine is one of the unlikeliest buildings you could imagine – a Mediterranean home of stucco and arches looking down on the Mississippi. In addition to being a tourist spot, it is home to the Quincy Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Built in 1900 by George Metz of Quincy, it was modeled after a home he saw in Morocco.
There is no agreement on who “Kathrine” is. Metz is said to have sold the building and its contents after the death of his 212-pound bull mastiff Bingo. The dog is said to have been buried on the grounds – according to stories at the time, wearing a diamond-studded collar, which has led to middle-of-the-night attempts to dig up the yard. The printed pages for the $3 self-guided tour assure the visitor that Metz “did not invest in jewelry. This would lead us to believe that if Bingo had a collar with something on it, they would probably have been rhinestones.”
Two floors of the building are open and a tour doesn’t take long. What is interesting about the home are its design and its views of the river.
The home is centered around an open space squared off by pillared arches. At the bottom of the space, on the first floor, is a reflecting pool. The arches and pool originally worked together as natural air-conditioning, allowing heat to rise and escape from the top of the home. Some windows are set deep in stucco wells, while others have wooden frames in a variety of designs. The Mississippi is visible from windows in three sides of the house.
After Villa Kathrine, I headed south on my way out of Quincy when I happened to notice what looked like massive doors at ground level on bluffs that rise on the west side of the road. I went on down the road till I found a place to pull over, intending to go back and photograph the doors. Then, across the street, I saw another of the doors, this one open, and as I watched, a truck emerged from the bluff. Very weird thing to see. It appears the space was originally a mineral mine that has been converted into storage.
After seeing that, it was off to my final stop, Hannibal, Mo.
I’d been there once before, so I had an idea of what to expect, but I had spent enough time along the Mississippi that this was the perfect way to end the trip, with Mark Twain, the literary champion of the river.
A friend suggested that no other town has done as thorough a job of identifying itself with one person, and he may be right. You come in to town on Mark Twain Avenue to a vista that includes a statue of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer on a hill overlooking the river. The diners and other businesses manage to work the author or his creations into their names whenever they can. I’m not sure what a giant revolving mug of root beer has to do with Twain, but I bet you a lot of people eat at the Mark Twain Dinette.
A $10 ticket gets you the tour of all the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum properties. They are disappointing in some ways. You can only stand in the entryways; every room is behind a wall of glass. I understand the need to preserve, but in that case, perhaps the white statues of Twain as an adult might not be the best items to dominate each room. This was his boyhood home; only a macabre scene in the room behind his father’s justice of the peace office features young Sam Clemens – who played hooky and was afraid to go home for fear of punishment, so he took refuge there for the night. He didn’t know that the body of a murdered man had been placed on the floor, only seeing it as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. The scene is recreated with Clemens on a bunk, but he’s holding a sign explaining the scene just as another sign does; it doesn’t help the effect any.
For me, the highlight of the tour was the Twain museum, from a collection of first editions of his work under glass to eight-foot illustrations of the first pages of some of his works to posters of movies of his books and especially to 15 Norman Rockwell paintings of scenes from Huck Finn – including black-and-white and color versions of the same work.
(One other highlight was a stop mid-tour in Kerley’s Pub, on Main Street, where I took refuge from the heat and had a delicious burger. But the Rockwells were really cool to see, too.)
After the museum, I was finished. I still want to go to Florida, Mo., to see where Twain was born, but that will wait for another time. There was a big gathering planned on Tuesday night back in C-U and I wanted to be home in time for that.
So, for the first time on my trip, I drove on an Interstate, and I freely admit it was a pleasure to use cruise control. I put some comedy on Pandora and drove more miles in less time than in the last five days.
But it was a boring drive.