Across the Country Back toward the Civil War

After seeing our daughter in New York, we traveled northeast–farther northeast than I had ever been before. Unfortunately, both the gardener and I got sick, possibly infected by the 10-year-old Typhoid Mary I sat next to on the plane ride to New York. Rather than flying to see my mother when we had planned, we started driving southwest, in the general vicinity of home, hoping that eventually we would be well enough to fly without cracking our ear drums. (This was upsetting because my mother is having knee surgery soon, and I don’t get to see her now before the surgery).

Before we turned back, though, we did see some sights that engaged my imagination.

I found this little gem in Searsport, Maine. It’s a Masonic AND Odd Fellows lodge, built around 1870 in the downtown area. It houses a Civil War memorial.  My iPhone cut off part of the memorial, but I am so interested in old building architecture, as well as Masonic temples and lodges. I’ve been thinking about starting a Pinterest board for the Masons.

All these little towns ending with the word “port” are very charming, old, and generally not very updated. Since I’ve lived so long in the southwest, it’s very refreshing to be around this “antiquity” (I can hear European readers snickering). But it was almost disconcerting to be around so few chain restaurants and big box stores. I mean, that is almost all there is in Arizona and southern California.

We made it to Canada and stayed overnight in St. John, New Brunswick, a city with a fairly depressed economy over a length of time, from the looks of it. But this, of course, leads to a wealth of interesting old architectural details. Of course, we were driving, and I didn’t get too many photos. And if I did take any, I can’t find them.

Out in the middle of nowhere we stopped at a cafe/convenience store with a little rest stop building on its property. They sold a great variety of types of jerky, but the overall look of the place and the pale skinny girls who worked there made us wonder just which horror movie set we had stumbled onto.  There was a Sweeney Todd atmosphere throughout the property.


We stayed at Bar Harbor, Maine, before we turned back and headed south. It’s a small town, so it only took 20 minutes in the ER to get my pack of antibiotics!

We enjoyed our first time in Louisville.  But it was one of the more thought-provoking visits from a historical standpoint. The Ohio River separates Kentucky from Indiana at Louisville. Having read and taught a lot of 19th century American literature, I’ve read of the importance of the Ohio River to slaves who were trying to escape to freedom. If they could get across this river, they would reach land upon which they would be free. When you look at a map of the United States and see how far north the south actually ranges, you can grasp the magnitude of the journey that some slaves set out on. There is a whole lot of country south of Louisville!

Actually, the situation with slavery laws was more complicated than what I just described, but literature has managed to distill the situation down to this simple image.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin presents the image most compellingly when Eliza crosses the river to get to Ohio (rather than Indiana, but similar idea). She wanted to take the ferry across, but then she sees a slave trader and must grab her young child and flee.

A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.

The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake;—stumbling—leaping—slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone—her stockings cut from her feet—while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.

I’ve looked everywhere for my river photos, but they have mysteriously disappeared. If Eliza had tried to cross at Louisville, where the Ohio River is a full mile across, she never would have made it.

Talk about a liminal space: the river between life and death, between freedom and shackles.

Original illustration by George Cruikshank 1852

Original illustration by George Cruikshank 1852

In case you’re wondering why Eliza appears white in the illustration, she was supposed to be biracial with light skin.

Have you ever read Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Have you avoided it because you heard it was racist? Why don’t you read the book for yourself before you decide that. The book is taught on college campuses because it’s a very important book in the history of this country. It helped bring about the abolition of slavery–and that was the intention of the writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Tom is presented as a Christ figure, but is seen as meek (rather than godly) by critics of the book. Where the book truly goes awry, or odd, strange, peculiar, is what happens to a couple of the main characters in the last part of the book. It’s about something called “colonization” that was part of the abolition movement of the time period. That’s something you don’t hear about too often when you visit museums where the abolitionist movement is revered. Read the book and see what I mean!

OK, you can see that the Civil War came up more than once in my mind on this trip, and that is something that can only happen when you travel in areas where history actually happened. I get a little hungry for history living out here.


Filed under Books, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

29 responses to “Across the Country Back toward the Civil War

  1. Boy, you traveled a lot of ground, Luanne. I’m curious, did you get to meet Jeff? I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin while in college.

    • LOL!!!! No, I did not. I “turned tail” and ran like a scared little rabbit! Hahaha. Do you remember the ending of the book with George and Eliza?

  2. I hope your Mum’s knee surgery is successful

  3. David Adams Richards captures the underbelly of New Brunswick in his novels. Mercy Among the Children is worth a read. 20 some years ago we took a holiday in Maine and hardly saw the sun. We kept heading south and when we hit Old Orchard Beach the sun came out so we stopped. So many Quebeckers vacation there that the signs are in English and French! Travel is a great stimulant for the imagination and sounds like your holiday was was a supercharger!

    • Susanne, we never made it to Halifax, etc. We were starting to get sick and decided to head south instead. I will check out Mercy Among the Children. St. John is kind of a fascinating place–cool and creepy at once. I suspect it’s the history. Although there were some real negatives with the trip, mainly health-wise, it was good to get away and see new things. And we didn’t have the gluten free woes very often!!!!!!!! Great Thai food in Pennsylvania, great lobster and lobster and lobster in Maine, and a great rum and champagne drink called the “Old Cuban” in Louisville ;).

      • I’m sorry you didn’t make it to Halifax which is a fascinating city and if you like graveyards there are so good ones there including one that has Titanic victims. It sounds like an “epic” journey though and I like the sound of the “Old Cuban”. I’ll have to google that one!

        • Oh, that would have been so interesting! Hubby wouldn’t enjoy it. But my daughter is obsessed with the Titanic. She wants to go on that recreation voyage they are planning haha.

  4. It sounds like an interesting trip–except for the getting sick part. (And you know, of course, that “Typhoid Mary” was asymptomatic.) 🙂
    I have read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Have you read “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a different view of slavery and freedom than most people think of.
    I laughed at your “Sweeney Todd” atmosphere reference. I hope you didn’t eat anything there! For musical references, Uncle Tom’s Cabin makes me think, “Run, Eliza, Run” from the King and I. You have to do the stylized pretend run, too.
    There is history everywhere. I guess perhaps it’s not revered as much in the Southwest, and it’s erased by the big box stores and chain restaurants?
    Our younger daughter and her husband went to Maine recently (Portland) for a belated honeymoon. They had a great time.

    • Harriet Jacobs! Yes, I have taught parts of it, too, often hand in hand with UTC. I had thought of mentioning it here, but didn’t want to go off on too much of a tangent 😉 so thank you so much for bringing it up!
      OK, I laughed at YOUR musical reference. I was really trying NOT to mention this here because everyone doesn’t always enjoy my musical theatre references (yes, I do believe that we can sing and dance our way through life). hahahahaha All from the little house of Uncle Thomas. My daughter saw the recent revival b/c several of her friends were in it. I’ll have to ask her more about how they did that scene.
      The history of the southwest has been very much erased but then the culture wasn’t given to creating lasting humanmade monuments (like houses and Masonic lodges), too. Oh, I’ll bet they had a wonderful time on their honeymoon! My best to them!

  5. Great trip except for getting sick. Planes are a breeding ground for germs and they blow them around the plane through those little “fresh” air jets to make sure everyone gets their fair share. All I can suggest is do your NeilMed sinus rinse morning and night and you’ll feel better fast.

    • Thank you for your advice, Anneli. Would you believe that during the night I had one of my complicated migraines and feel under the weather today. So I felt ok for about 2 days! Can’t wait to get all this stuff behind me and have a productive fall. I love the quilts you shared on your blog!

  6. I tried posting a comment earlier today, but it got lost somehow in cyberspace.

    This is fa fine piece of writing. I enjoyed it very much and admired it.

    It is an excellent specimen of travel writing, a sub species of writing that tends not to be done well, usually.

    Unlike a lot of travelers, you went to places off the beaten path, did not confine yourself to tourist spots.

    You discovered and saw things from a unique perspective.

    You have admixed a travelogue with interesting comments about things the trip brought to mind (e.g., slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

    Good job. I wish more travel writers (and writers in general) could write like this.

    A key for the writer (and the traveler) is to let your thoughts and interests carry you where the will – but then it takes skill to put them all together in a compact, focused piece of writing that engages and holds the reader’s interest.

  7. Well, that’s certainly a lot of hopping around! I am in Maine, right now — not far from Bar Harbor, enjoying a sunset on the quiet side of MDI. We have a friend here who is descended from many Maine regulars who fought in the Civil War. It is very much alive here. And of course, in VA where i live, it’s everywhere. And in all the places in between.

    I’ve read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and visited Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home in Hartford. It is a poignant book and had a huge impact on our history, as you said (as did Lincoln: “‘So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!’). People should read it because it is part of who we are! And they should always put the story, and the sentiments, into their proper context. Of course a book written in the 1850s will not reflect the lives of folks in the 2010s…. (People are dopes)

    Hope your mother’s surgery goes well!

  8. Sorry you fell ill on this trip! But still some lovely photos and thought-provoking locations. I haven’t read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in years; I may have to dig it back up again.

  9. You had such a great tour, my goodness, Maine, east “port” towns, (my great grandparents’ rock house is on Squam Hill in Rockport, Mass.) and Canada, too. 🙂
    No wonder, history crossed your mind so often!
    I am just sad I don’t still live in our house only short way (2 hours north) from the Ohio River to have offered you a guest room with bathroom adjacent. Traveling while sick is not fun nor pleasant. 🙁
    We read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in junior high and our teacher said using the term “Uncle Tom” (as a label) wasn’t quite fair, as he shows strength in dire circumstances. It has been ages since I read it, though.
    My youngest daughter, Felicia, who graduated from University of Dayton, lived in Louisville, Ky with her college roommate the year she finished. They both were in financial planning. Erin, her roommate, just got married and her home is in the same neighborhood as one of Muhammad Ali’s many homes around the country. I think Louisville is beautiful. Good point about the vastness in distance to span the river there. Impossible to cross for most people swimming. . .
    Luanne, General Butler State Park has a high outlook upon the confluence of the two rivers. It is certainly a majestic view to see Kentucky and Ohio rivers merging from this site. The historical home also possible to view here, was built for General Butler and his family in 1859. I had to get my Travels with my friend, Bill album out to see the photos again, to make a better comment. 🙂

    • Robin, it amazes me the things you have learned and retained–things I would have long ago forgotten. To remember what your teacher said about UTC is astounding. And it’s so accurate, too. Oh, I’d love to go to General Butler State Park to see the rivers from that viewpoint. It must be breathtaking. Thank you for expanding my imagination!

  10. It’s funny that meekness is not seen as a strength or “Godly” when the New Testament is all about becoming meek as a path to finding God. In the 19th century Bible literacy was at a much higher level. It’s a shame it is seen as a threat nowadays to teach a book so full of wisdom, but one that also shaped all of Western civilization including some of the best books and paintings ever. Having a working knowledge of the Bible allows for a fuller appreciation of the great novels of the West.

  11. I love the sign about butchering deer and pigs. What a great fodder for a writer, eh? Hope your mom’s surgery goes well. P.S. I love Harriet Beecher Stowe. P.S.S. My partner brought a similar virus home from his travels and immediately gave it to me, lol. Cheers and take care.

    • LOL, so great. I’m glad you appreciated it ;). And thanks for my mom’s surgery. It’s one month off. Not long. I hope you’re recovering nicely. I am just about all recovered now.

  12. What a lot of distance you covered, and such different parts of the country. You know, of all the many, many books I’ve read about slavery, I’ve not red Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I don’t know exactly why, but it sounds like I need to go back and do so. Hope you are all well.

    • You absolutely must read UTC. It’s such an important novel in the history of the US, and so much literature of the era responded to it, even subtly. plus, I really want to know what you think about Tom :).

  13. A very strong post from a sick chick! How are you feeling now? I’m sorry you missed seeing your mother.

  14. I read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in high school. Eliza was a quadroon – 3/4 white, 1/4 black. I remember that. Stowe was very much of the idea that the African slaves should all go back to Africa. I shall probably read it again, when Jackson gets to high school age. It could be interesting, talking about it with him.

    • I wonder about reading it with your kids at the right time, rather than waiting to see if they are encouraged or required to read it in high school (less likely) or college (more likely). What do you think about doing that with Huck Finn? It’s so hard to know what to do with some classic literature. I bought a beautiful picture book when my son was little of some of T.S.Eliot’s cat poems, and then I realized there was some anti-Asian racism in it–and not in the way of Twain (where it’s the characters, not the narrator or the writer). I got out a bottle of (ironically) white-out. I’ve heard other opinions on what people think of that idea haha.

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