The end of the line for us on route 136 was Red Cloud, our holy grail, and the last important stop on our pre-Auburn amble.
Sometimes it is the chronology of the spirit that guides us. It is passion and providence, not time, that provides the guideposts on the road of life. So it was with Red Cloud, one of our last stops on the road before we ended up in Auburn for cousin Chase's graduation. It was foremost on our minds from the first day that we arrived in Lincoln after an uneventful and generally uninspiring (Warren Buffet aside) 3 day stay in Omaha, a city flattened, ethnically cleansed, and replaced with 10 square blocks of multi-level parking lots and too many 70's and 80's style utilitarian pre-cast concrete and chrome and glass office buildings of a most undistinguished, and almost Soviet style nature. If you look hard, there are are a few surprises (building wise), but they are few and far between, and there is the old market area, partially intact and still charming, that hints of what once was.
But I digress into my usual rant about the decimation of old down towns. Don't even get me started on Des Moines and Chattanooga et al.
for what was to be the 3:00 tour which included us, 20 5th graders from some farming town about 25 or 30 miles from Lincoln, and one other adult who we were told happened to be from New York as well. We were about 20 minutes early for the tour, so it was suggested that we take the very antiquated elevator to the rotunda where you have a view of all of Lincoln. Upon exiting the elevator ride experience, we entered the rotunda and I immediately had the experience of Indiana Jones in the cave of Somes when the sun, in exact position, beamed through a portal onto his staff whose shadow indicated the exact location of the Ark on the floor map. Well there I was in the rotunda, with the sun shining in a photogenically direct manner on the only object there, a sign, letting us know that we were not alone. A comforting thought in these uncertain times.
After the tour we got talking, and it turned out that the other New Yorker was Willa Cather's great nephew who had taken the train to Nebraska, and was just returning from Red Cloud, where he was attending an annual event honoring the Pulitzer prize winning chronicler of turn of the century Midwest life who often liked to dress in men's clothing, refer to herself as William, and who fled to Pittsburgh and later New York City as soon as she had the chance, and who later became the patron saint of culture and literature for Nebraska. I'm sure she would be amused by the irony. There are courses devoted entirely to her works given at UNL.
As it turned out, George, her great nephew, was staying at our hotel, so we planned to meet for drinks later in the afternoon and then walked down to Billy's on H Street (where all of the legislators meet) for dinner and what turned out to be quite an entertaining evening of stories about his family, and particularly his mother, Willa's niece, and the times she spent at the Cather house while she was growing up.. By the time we parted company with George we too felt an almost familial connection to the town and the Cather family.
There is not much to be said about Red Cloud that you can't find on some of the many web pages devoted to the town and to Willa Cather. It is a quiet, substantial midwest town, lots of brick buildings befitting a county seat, and one gets the sense that it is mostly intact, although no longer the hub of activity and commerce it once was judging by the number of empty store fronts and the prevalence of turn of the century photos seen here and there showing the busy vibrant place it once was.
While I get the feeling that there was a certain ambivalence to Willa and her strange ways while she lived here, in the end she became the savior of this town that might otherwise have lost all sense of real purpose and gone the way of other ghost towns, were it not for her. While there, we did become members of the Willa Cather Society and I have since read O Pioneers, My Antonia, One of Ours, and A Lost Lady. In the process, I have developed and even appreciation of the people and place of Nebraska. These are a few odds and ends to add to a sense of place. Unfortunately time constraints here like elsewhere limited photo opportunities.
As you can see, this is the Red Cloud Post Office, built in the 1920's. If there is any architecturally compelling reason why, I like to take pictures of the P.O. where ever I am. Unfortunately, I did not find out until later that there are 4 murals inside painted by WPA artists during the 1930's. It's on my list of things to do if I get back there.
According to pamphlets given out by the Willa Cather Society, this presently unoccupied store front that is now for sale, was the place of business used by Willa's father after they moved into town following a short and apparently unsatisfying stint at sod busting and breaking the land into something useful (see O Pioneers).
This is the drug store next door to the above picture. That's about it for Red Cloud during this trip. Looking back at this selection of photos, I could have done more. Hope I will get the opportunity to fill in the blanks next time around.
While nosing around a used book store in Mobile, Alabama, I came across this heavily used, frayed library copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop. Fifth printing, December 1927. Four dollars. A find at twice the price.