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  • Writer's pictureErica

A #VanLife Civil Rights Education, aka the Pink Moon Road Trip

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

April/May 2022 (20 days)

Route: Madison, WI ⇨ Memphis, TNJackson MS and Mobile, AL ⇨ Miramar Beach, FLSt. Petersburg, FLMontgomery, ALBirmingham, ALSt. Louis, MO ⇨ home

Highlights: Several Civil Rights sites, state capitols (IL, MS, FL, AL), new (to us) southern states, the Moon Crush "Pink Moon" music fest, camping on the beach and at Graceland.

Method of Travel: 2,900+ miles in our camper van, Margaux Van Gogh, staying with friends and family or in hotels between campsites.

Soundtrack: Sirius’ Grateful Dead Channel, “South to America” by Imani Perry on Audible, a Spotify playlist called Pink Moon Road Trip, lots of Brandi Carlile and other Pink Moon artists

Here's Margaux Van Gogh ready for the trip - will we ride the bikes? Unclear.

The original focus of this trip was a music festival in Florida, called the Moon Crush Pink Moon, at which we would see a few of our favorite performers, Brandi Carlile and Tedeschi Trucks Band. As we started plotting our route we found we’d be in some states we hadn’t spent time in before, many of them full of Civil Rights historic sites. Having spent a lot of time during the pandemic reading about social justice and anti-racism, we had a lot to explore. Plus, we love southern food. And state capitols!

My husband is a flatlander (a person from Illinois) and he’d never been to Springfield, which is Illinois' capital city in the middle of the state. Most of Illinois’ population lives in the NE corner, around Chicago, about 3 hours away. The ornate silver-domed capitol was not open when we arrived, but the exterior and the surrounding downtown was interesting enough to wander. (The IL capitol is the 3rd tallest in the country, after Louisiana and Nebraska!)

Springfield is, of course, All About Lincoln. The existing capitol postdates his time there, but the Capitol from Lincoln's time still stands and is now known as the Old State Capitol State Historic Site. Two other reasons to visit Springfield are Lincoln’s Home (National Historic Site), and the phenomenal Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana Thomas House. One of his best, IMO.

The not-so-scenic part of Route 66

Driving straight south through Illinois can be WINDY, much like driving directly west through any of the other plains and farming states like the Dakotas or Kansas. On this, the first day of our trip, the driver’s side door almost bent back on itself in the wind, leaving us with an alarming creak for the rest of the trip. On this route, one follows, more or less, historic Route 66. But around here it's not that interesting.

Catch you at the end of the trip, Gateway Arch!

After a quick zoom through St. Louis - more about that later! - we drove south on interstate 55, which is quite pretty, with green rolling hills, and stopped in the small town of New Madrid, hoping for a local cafe, but there wasn’t much. What’s interesting about New Madrid is its middle-of-the-country faultlines. A series of terrible earthquakes happened there in 1811, and they’re not due another one for about 300 more years. We ended up eating something from our van’s fridge, which is the benefit of having a kitchen in your vehicle. Tourist lunch note - we did stop at Lambert’s Throwed Rolls, because the highways are inundated with signs for it, but the lines were very long for what appeared to be an airplane hangar full of Covid-y people, so we left.

For those unfamilar with this part of the country, Arkansas is on the other side of the Mississippi River from Memphis, TN.

Memphis, TN - once in Memphis, we went directly to the National Civil Rights Museum, which is a remarkably well designed overview of the era, and our introduction to all the sites we would see on this trip, and some we would not. It’s sited in The Lorraine, the very motel where MLK was assassinated in April of 1968.

I found it interesting that across the street from the museum was a site dedicated to the assassination itself, with interpretations of various conspiracies.

We followed that poignant visit with drinks at the very cool Central Station Hotel bar, a restored train station waiting room. We were fortunate to experience some Prom couples parading in and out, the girls beautiful and self-possessed, the boys lanky and unsure. Memphis-loving staff gave us some tips for our visit.

One particularly good recommendation was to get some Gus’s Fried Chicken to go. While we waited for our order we enjoyed the sunset over the Mississippi, then took our yummy dinner to the Graceland RV Park & Campground which is within walking distance to Graceland. More on that later.

Sunset on the Mississippi

While the Memphis riverfront is filling up with new and rehabbed condos, there are still plenty of interesting and neglected old buildings around.

We took advice about which of the two recording studio tours in Memphis to visit, Stax or Sun records. The choice was kind of between Otis Redding (Stax) or Elvis Presley (Sun). We chose Stax, and it was SO COOL.

The poster from Redding's planned appearance in Madison.

We Madisonians have a dubious connection to Otis Redding in that he died in a plane crash in our Lake Monona, in December, 1969. So we meekly apologized as we wandered the museum, and learned about the excellent music scene in Memphis in the ‘60s. There was an interactive Soul Train exhibit that we were too inhibited to try.

Better listen to Isaac Hayes!

Nearby, we had lunch at the famous FourWay restaurant, where civil rights activists and presidential hopefuls have eaten before us. Fried catfish, turnip greens, mac & cheese, oh my. We were the only white diners there, which is good for us Wisconsinites to experience.

We went on to a Blues and Crawfish festival we’d seen advertised, and of course we weren’t hungry so we only participated in the blues and beer. It was at a cool outdoor event space called the Carolina Watershed. We thoroughly enjoyed the Eric Hughes band (“we’re normally a blues band but this nice couple from Amsterdam gave us some brownies so we’re just going to make it up.”) There was a perfect mix of families and people watching a basketball game and twenty-somethings and middle agers like us.

Being the age we are, we know when it’s a good idea not to drink and drive, so we ditched the van at the campground and headed back downtown via Lyft to see what Beale Street was all about. Before this trip, I’d heard the song “Walkin’ in Memphis” (Marc Cohn,1991) a million times and never heard the line “walking with my feet 10 feet off of Beale.” If you didn’t either, there ya go!

Beale Street is just ok, atmosphere-wise, but they did a good job with the historic signage. If you’ve seen Baz Lehrman’s Elvis, that’s the Beale Street you expect, but what you get is a mini Bourbon Street with the same tall, skinny margaritas glasses and such. (This is where the I Love Memphis sign is located). Go to say you did.

Earnestine and Hazel’s (bar) was recommended to us by some Madison friends, as a place where everyone becomes your friend. And that happened. Located right near the Civil Rights Museum, it’s not much to look at in daylight, but as the hours passed it became more and more magical. The iconic Soul Burger was eaten, the blues were played, a bridal party showed up (and I gave Mom advice to several women in the bridal party), we found the secret upstairs bar, and we were very happy.

The cool but forgotten-looking upstairs bar

And... Graceland, the home of Elvis

Aaron Presley.

Because of our excellent night at Earnestine and Hazel’s, we were a bit under the weather for our 10 am appointed ticket time, but that made the peanut butter and banana sandwiches fried in bacon fat (!) at the restaurant on site all the better, come lunchtime. Graceland is an experience bigger than just the over-decorated house. I’m not the biggest Elvis fan, but I remember when he died. Visiting the house and the extended museum experience gave me a fuller picture of the man who changed (and maybe appropriated) Rock and Roll. The women in line in front of us were SO excited to be there, they’d had to cancel their once-in-a-lifetime plans to travel from the UK to Graceland twice, because of Covid. They had Elvis tattoos. We spent hours there, and truer fans than us could spend all day, maybe two. Also, it was Easter Sunday and this was kind of an Americana religious experience.

This is the Jungle Room, also mentioned in "Walking in Memphis." It's a lot.
This is Elvis!

Tourist Details: The tour starts and ends at Elvis Presley’s Memphis Entertainment Complex with a very pro-Elvis as American hero movie, then a bus takes you across the street to the “mansion” which is really just a house. The tour is narrated by John Stamos (why?) and glosses over the bad stuff, including his affairs, drug addiction, musical style appropriation and death. The kitschy decor is all there, as are the bodies of dead family members, as well as Elvis. Back at the Visitors Center there are seemingly endless exhibits of the costumes, the movies, the cars, all in all an immersive experience. AND the cafe with Elvis' favorite (delicious) sandwiches.

After all of that we made it to the Peabody Hotel just in time to see the famous duck walk. Since 1940, regular mallards have been escorted - daily - to the lobby fountain and then back upstairs where they live. It’s a weird but charming activity that was especially packed on Easter Sunday, with plenty of families blocking my duck photos.

We also explored Mud Island (pictured above), which is a curious urban planning attempt to reimagine a muddy island in the middle of the Mississippi as a destination complete with pedestrian bridge, monorails (broken), a museum, and an ampitheater (closed since 2018). Because it was April and rainy, nothing was happening there, but it looks like they tried. In 1982. One thing that was very cool was the hydraulic scale model of the lower Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois, to New Orleans, which was visible from up on the pedestrian bridge.

Further notes about Memphis:

  • Graceland RV campground - pretty quiet, clean enough, nothing special except it's walking distance to Graceland, and on the same side of the road as the visitors center. Elvis sang 24/7 in the communal outdoor kitchen area.

Here's lonely Margaux at the campground, we felt fortunate to have been parked in the tent section.
  • The Cooper Young neighborhood is a nice drive-through, where my husband may have been heard saying “I’m a sucker for a Spanish War Memorial.” He is.

  • If you’re into this kind of thing, you can visit the abandoned Holiday Inn headquarters - another form of an Americana pilgrimage.

  • These are the Beale Street spots we did not get to because the atmosphere was not our scene: Club Handy, a historic Dive Bar with live music; King's Palace Cafe, a cozy haunt that features New Orleans style dishes; Miss Polly's, on most "best fried chicken in Memphis" lists; and Dyer's, where they fry their burgers (?) in carefully guarded 100-year-old-grease.

  • And finally, here's a fun blog for all things design and history in Memphis

Memphis to Jackson preamble - we decided to head south on Highway 61, the Blues Highway, and a continuation of the Great (Mississippi) River Road. This is not a pretty route at all, but you get a good idea of the agricultural fields of Mississippi. Later road trips proved that I55 is greener. Anyway, Mississippi was a new state for us! And I sing that little spelling ditty in my head every time I type “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.” Furthermore, here's a new experience that we’ll chalk up to the southern states: Armadillo roadkill. In the north, it’s deer and raccoons. Around southern Missouri it turns into armadillos. So that's interesting! Also, drive-through ice dispensers are genius!

Delta tamales

We stopped in Cleveland, MS, at the eclectic Airport Grocery, to try Delta Tamales. These ground beef and cornmeal mixes are meant to be spread on crackers, which we did, and, well, meh. But the BBQ and fried okra was top notch.

Because we were right there, we dipped into Vicksburg and took a quick tour through the Vicksburg National Military Park. The first monument we saw was from the Wisconsin regiment, which made me question my knowledge of Civil War battles. Luckily, I’m married to a former high school history teacher! We quickly drove the park loop right before closing, which disappointed the park ranger at the front gate, but at least we got a glimpse of the many monuments and impossibly hilly battlegrounds.

Jackson, MS - this is the capital of Mississippi, and the home of author Eudora Welty, civil rights activist Medgar Evars, and, well, Jimmy Buffet. The "new" capitol, from 1903, looks remarkably like ours in Madison. It's not far from the former capitol building, which is now a museum. We found downtown Jackson to be quite deserted. April? Covid? Late afternoon?

The Old Capitol building, 1839

We stayed in the charming Jackson neighborhood of Fondren, where we scored a huge room at the extensively-named Homewood Suites by Hilton Jackson Fondren Medical District. This was especially nice after being holed up in a van for a few days.

Note: I left some clothes behind at this hotel, which they called about (surprising!), and promised to send to me, but that didn't happen (not surprising). Whoever is wearing my University of Washington long-sleeved shirt in Jackson, I hope you’re enjoying it!

Watch out for Monday travel! We missed the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and the cocktail bar I'd wanted to go to because they were both closed Mondays. But we had a really good dinner at Saltine, and it was about time on our road trip to eat some kale!

The next morning was Alabama, part 1, another new state for us! (We will come back to Alabama later in the trip). We stopped for lunch in Mobile, at Wintzell's Oyster House which is known for “Oysters—fried, stewed or nude.” since 1938. We had two out of three.

Gulf oysters are large...

It's starting to look like the south!

On to Florida, to camp at Big Lagoon State Park in the western panhandle. We were at a really nice site (#21) for two nights. Highly recommended! Upon arrival we immediately rode our bikes to the water (hello, Gulf of Mexico!!), and shared G&Ts with a hermit crab.

The bike gets used!

A note about hurricanes - when we were at Big Lagoon SP we learned that ⅔ of the park was closed due to hurricane damage, which wasn’t mentioned on the website. Which hurricane, we wondered? This happened to us in North Carolina too (see #VanLife) and because we are northerners we don’t usually know which hurricane is being referenced, when damage remains. We do know that it seems money to repair the state parks’ landscapes takes quite awhile to get to the parks. I hope our nominal camping fee helps.

The next day was all about the Flora-bama. My travel diary says this: “...the Flora-Bama lounge isn’t a lounge, is not in Alabama, and is kind of a nightmare in a fun way.” We had heard about this place from several different sources, about when it used to straddle the border, and how one would meet all kinds of friendly people there. We did, indeed, while drinking the frozen concoction called the Bushwacker, listening to local musicians singing songs such as “She Don’t Like Fishin’ but She Doesn’t Mind Holding the Pole,” playing pool, and wading in the Gulf with beers in hand. We took a cab from the campground to the bar and back in case anyone’s concerned!

The delicious shrimp wonton nachos across the street at The Yacht Club.

On the way to the next stop, we had some work to do. For our food tour company, Madison Food Explorers, we take calls wherever we are - in parking lots, at Panera (good wifi), in museums, on the beach...

At this point in the trip we needed to find a good internet connection and a printer, so we stopped at the public library in Fort Walton, FL, to deal with the contract for an upcoming private tour. Right outside was a cute lunch spot with food trucks and picnic tables in a repurposed car wash! I love a pop-up food park.

And now for the next stop, the music festival!!

The Moon Crush Pink Moon music fest, organized by Topeka, Ltd. was the impetus for this trip, and we had tickets for it in the fall of 2021, but it was canceled due to Covid. So here we were again in April 2022, extra excited to finally see the following bands: Brandi Carlile Band, Lake Street Dive, and Tedeschi Trucks. It turned out the Lake Street Dive had to Covid-cancel, so we got two nights in a row of Brandi Carlile!

(We opted not to stay the fourth night to see My Morning Jacket.)

Immediately upon our approach to Pensacola then Destin then the Miramar Beach area we were gobsmacked by the color of the water and the white, white sand. The “Redneck Riviera,” aka “God’s bowling alley” is indeed beautiful, if a hurricane target.

We rented a condo in the Majestic Sun, which is within walking distance of the concert area, and across the street from the beach. Building and balcony view pictured below.

OK, now for the concerts!! The Pink Moon fest is unique in that you reserve a “cove,” which is 2, 4, or more designated folding chairs within a roped divider, reserved for you each night. You can even leave cooler to be filled with drinks, and get food delivered via an app.

Highlight performances for us were Brandi and band covering Led Zeppelin, Natalie Hemby, Molly Tuttle and the Golden Highway, JJ Grey & Mofro, Ben Folds, and always Tedeschi Trucks. A special shoutout to the Milwaukee sister band Sista Strings!

While we were supposed to stay put in our cove, we may or may not have danced our way into other people’s empty coves where we found like-minded dancers.

Days were spent on the white sand beach, with blissfully not much to do except stare at the water and get up for food and drinks every so often, mostly from one of the few beach restaurants in Miramar Beach, Whales Tails.

I would definitely return to this location again for future music fests, and Moon Crush shows have continued to be scheduled as well as others, such as Brandi Carlile's Mothership.

Road Trip statuary alert!

Heading south on a very long driving day to St. Petersburg, we came upon Johnny Appleseed, in Ocala. While we love an oversized fiberglass statue, was this ever considered cute? We always learn stuff on our trips, and we have now been exposed to the apple industry of northern Florida.

St Petersburg, FL - In St Petersburg we had three distinct lodging experiences: one night downtown, two nights state park camping, and one night at St. Pete Beach. The St. Pete beach stop was unplanned, but we had VERY disruptive neighbors at the campsite and I wanted to flee. Thanks, as always, Hotel Tonight, for finding us something last minute!

Our first night downtown hotel was called The Exchange and it was well-located. Right away we walked to the St. Pete Pier and found dinner, and strolled in this nearby beautiful park. We really enjoyed the vibe of this city, and didn't take advantage of all it has to offer, so we must return!

Our next sleeping location, courtesy Margaux Van Gogh, was Fort Desoto County Park. We were greeted by a very friendly Great Egret. They are a dime a dozen round these parts, but we were delighted to see every single one.

At our campsite, #64. Remember those bikes? We rode 5 miles to the tip of the park, North Beach. Worth it.

Still can not get over this white sand!

(Confession, this is not North Beach but my cool Madison totebag looks great.)

Back at the campsite... my camp cocktail is a Brown Derby, which usually calls for Rye, grapefruit juice, and simple syrup. Instead I mix Rye with the lightly sweetened syrup found in a container of Del Monte grapefruit sections (eat the grapefruit for breakfast!). The camp store was closed, and we were out of ice, but a nice couple across the way helped us out. I do enjoy the community of a campground. Usually.

Another camping foodie tip = fresh pasta. It cooks fast, so you don't use as much propane. Add some veggies and some jarred sauce, et voila!

The next day we spent on paddleboards in Soldier Hole, which is about halfway into the park. We saw, up close, oyster beds, which didn't make them look as appetizing as I believe oysters to be. This was a nice, quiet inlet.

We also wandered down around historic Fort DeSoto and the Fishing Pier - again, many egrets - and saw some women swimming with a manatee. The manatee was playing with them, bumping them gently. We all watched amazed. We also saw swarms of sardines frolicking, and heroic volunteers untangling pelicans from nets.

How cool is this???

Next time at Fort DeSoto we will try and get one of the waterfront sites. Sunset views are available to all, but it would be nice to have chairs nearby. Below, my exotic morning view. Since we had those noisy neighbors, we decamped for St. Pete Beach. In planning this trip I hadn't realized how far these three locations are from each other. Completely different, all worthwhile, experiences.

For you Van People, our bed fits the short way, and I am on the door-side.

In St. Pete Beach, about a 20-minute drive from Fort DeSoto, we stayed at the charming Postcard Inn on the Beach. It's a mid-century motel redo on the beach, with a big communal pool and a bar/restaurant. That particular day the many sitting areas were littered with the jerseys and gear of a French Canadian adult league hockey team, but they were having a great time so it didn't bother us too much. I hope they won.

As previously stated, we like a historic hotel bar. Also I'm (sometimes) a fancy girl who needs a fancy drink, even if it's in a plastic cup. We went to the Don Cesar. At $500 a night we did NOT stay there, but we did enjoy the grounds. We walked along the beach looking for more beach bars, and stopped at the vintage Bon Aire to watch a game of Beach Rugby, the rules of which I could not follow at all. Eventually we found some seafood and pleasant conversation with locals, then - luckily - found our way back to the hotel in the dark.

Off to Tallahassee, FL! A four hour drive for a capitol viewing (remember, we like capital cities), then on as far north as we could get that night, which turned out to be in Georgia.

The Florida State Capitol is an interesting one in that the old building and the new are right next to each other. The new part rises behind the old as a monolith. Here's what it looks like, driving in.

The Old Capitol, begun in 1845, was almost demolished when the new part was built in 1978. Now restored to 1902, and looking more like a resort hotel with its striped awnings, it still houses the Governor's Suite, Supreme Court, and House of Representatives. The newer skyscraper Capitol building was designed by Edward Durrell Stone, who is probably most famous for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Stone also put his modern touch on another state capitol, the North Carolina State Legislative Building, which we visited on the Vax Tax Refund Road Trip.

1902, the romantic version.
1978, a building of its time.

Political moment: while we were in Florida, the current governor was supporting a bill that would prohibit discussion about sexual identity in schools, specifically requiring high school guidance counselors to reveal students’ confidences, possibly creating dangerous situations for the students in their homes or workplaces. Because some call it the "Don't Say Gay" bill, we stood in front of the capitol and said "Gay"over and over to an audinece of no one. But it was the principle of the thing. 🏳️‍🌈

What we didn't know about Tallahassee was its role in the Civil Rights movement. Very near the capitol complex there are plaques in the sidewalks illustrating key events, such as the lunch counter sit-ins held there in 1960.

So we made it to Cute Town Alert Bainbridge, Georgia, for the night. We stayed in a "it's fine" Days Inn, but the downtown of Bainbridge made up for it. On the tree-filled town square we found a busy brewpub called Southern Philosophy, with really good pizza and yummy beer in a preservation award-winning restored space. Perfect.

The next morning we returned to the charming downtown square for a bakery breakfast.

Who wore it better?

Back to Alabama, Montgomery this time. This was to be our fourth state capital, if anyone's counting. Attention English majors! Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott, is from Montgomery, and the famous couple lived here for awhile. It's also the birthplace of Nat King Cole and Bart Starr, from the Green Bay Packers. Anyway...

On to the beautiful Capitol. But what a sobering moment to see that the Confederate president Jefferson Davis still stands in front of the Alabama state capitol building. Look away! Let's focus on those awesome Egyptian-inspired acanthus leaf column capitals instead! This architecture geek is pleased to see that a Google search of "Alabama state capitol" pulls up the Alabama Historical Commission.

It's helpful to remember that in the spring of 1965 the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights culminated at the capitol steps, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. making one of his greatest speeches.

But this Confederate monument and the actual Confederate "White House" are right there too. In our city of Madison, WI, we removed monuments to the Confederacy from public spaces, and we are pretty far from the Mason-Dixon line! I do believe these monuments/sites have stories to tell through the lens of history, as long as we all agree that the Confederacy was a treasonous lost cause, and a blemish on our democracy.

The First White House of the Confederacy

More about this house's complicated past, including the fact that Alabamians pay for its upkeep. To be fair, we did not go on the tour, so we don't know how the Lost Cause is interpreted there.

Taking a breath with this beautiful interior - oops, there's Jefferson Davis again!

We found a fun place to eat, Mama's Sack Lunches, where we tried the fried bologna sandwich and a "Cracker Roll" - we didn't ask - plus side salads and banana pudding. Yum.

This was very near our next destination, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a small museum and a sculpture by Maya Lin (you know, the Vietnam War Memorial?).

Beautful restored warehouses on Commerce Street, near the riverfront and the railroad, some of which were used in the slave trade.

We visited The Legacy Museum, which is a place every American should go. It explores, among other things, the economics of enslavement, the violence of slavery, Reconstruction, the incarceration system, and the role of media during the era of lynching. It's our unfortunate legacy. The Museum is operated by the Equal Justice Initiative, the founder of which, Bryan Stephenson, wrote Just Mercy, a memoir that documents his career defending poor and wrongly condemned clients. This book was a "Go Big Read" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which means all freshmen receive the book, and the author speaks on campus. Because of that, I read Just Mercy years ago, and have been supporting EJI ever since.

And then we needed a break! Just down the street, a minor league baseball game was starting, with the Montgomery Biscuits. It was Korean night, so they were named the Montgomery Kimchi for this game. Pictured is kimchi on a biscuit! Plus a Zelda Fitzgerald beer! It was a good time.

Our campsite that night was at the Backyard RV Resort, conveniently located and clean. We weren't there long because we were going to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice before we left town. This site is also operated by EJI, but is in a different location. Beware - it's worth it, but it was honestly the closest I've felt to visiting a German concentration camp. It's that powerful, and that raw. And that real. It is sometimes referred to as "The Lynching Memorial."

Each hanging rectangular block represents a county where people were lynched because of racial terrorism.
A sculpture by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo.


Two views from the road, on our way north to Birmingham. Something nice (the Alabama River) and something ugly (the Confederate flag). Honestly, we didn't see as many of these on this trip as I expected.

Birmingham, AL - We drove for two hours, reading aloud "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (MLK, 1963), and landed for lunch at the really cool Pizitz Food Hall for more fried things. I have said this before, I love fried green tomatoes and I'm not that successful at cooking them at home so I get them when I can! Thanks, Broad Street Peaux Boys!

This sign is outside in the courtyard!

Before meeting the cousins we were staying with, we tried to fit in some more Civil Rights sites. We didn't order tickets for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute enough in advance, so instead we followed a trail of plaques about the Freedom Riders (FYI the Wisconsin Historical Society has a rich collection of Freedom Summer 1964 artifacts because when UW students went south in the '60s they were encouraged to bring things back) and visited the 16th St. Baptist Church where four little girls were killed by a bomb in 1963.

Right across the street is Kelly Ingram Park, and while we were wandering through we happened upon a busload of middle school students from New York with their teacher and chaperones, who were meeting an elderly (and impeccably dressed) Birmingham gentleman who had known Dr. Martin Luther King. He told stories about life when he was young, and then led them in some call-and-response songs. The kids were polite and engaged, and this magical experience was better than any museum. Thanks to whoever all these people were!

Kelly Ingram Park, formerly known as West Park, is a Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument because here firemen blasted protestors with high-pressure fire hoses, intimidated people with police dogs and nightsticks, and even hauled children to jail.

The sculptures are scary, but what people experienced was scarier.

The end of a very emotional and educational day. There was wine.

More Birmingham...

When visiting cities, we do like to go to the highest viewpoint, and in Birmingham it's atop Red Mountain where this guy, Vulcan, stands over the city. Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and forge, and Birmingham - a relatively new American city (1871) - is/was the iron and steel capital of the South. The city's original name was Magic City, because its soil contained the three necessary elements to produce iron: limestone, coal, and iron ore. (I borrowed that info from this site: because even though the Vulcan Museum has a very well done exhibit about smelting iron, I retained none of it.)

We also did a drive-by of Sloss Furnaces, where I could have reinforced my knowledge of iron, but it was closed. It's a National Historic Landmark, and I like it when Not Pretty But Important sites are given that listing.

Barbeque is important too. Everyone thinks theirs is best, from Chicago to Mississippi. Our Western WOW road trip started with BBQ in Kansas City! I wanted to see what this Alabama white BBQ sauce was all about, and I'm happy about it.

OK, at this point we're heading north to home, with one more stop. But on the way we passed through Tennessee again...

Hey, look, another state capitol! (Nashville)

I decided I had to get an authentic Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich, which we found in the suburb of Brentwood? Weirdly, there was this plantation house, the Moorland Mansion, surrounded by a Hilton Garden Inn, within a "lifestyle center" er... shopping mall. But the sandwich delivered!

It was worth the Prilosec.

Hello and goodbye Kentucky, state of beautiful rest stops, and on to St. Louis, MS!

Silver monument, silver haired tourists.

We've been to the Gateway Arch THREE TIMES now and still haven't been up to the top! However, we thoroughly enjoyed the newly opened and extensive museum underneath, where we learned depressing stuff like this, about women's rights. (We ran across this info in New Orleans, too.)

There was also a lot of good info about Arch architect Eero Saarinen, and the issues with building this tallest monumnet in the US. Saarinen designed these iconic chairs, as well as the schwingy TWA Terminal at JFK airport.

Here's Margaux posing in front of Saarinen's North Christian Church (1964) in Indiana, on a different trip.

Speaking of Civil Rights, near the Arch is this statue of Dred and Harriet Scott, who sued for their freedom starting in St. Louis, and ending - losing - with the United States Supreme Court in 1846. It's interesting that one state to the west (Kansas), about 100 years later another Supreme Court decision was made that radically changed racial equity in the United States, Brown v Board of Education. We visited that National Historic Site on our Western WOW trip (Topeka, KS).

Also in downtown St. Louis are these two significant buildings, the Wainwright Building - one of architect Louis Sullivan's turn-of-the-last-century skyscrapers - and the 1884 Second Empire style US Custom House and Post Office. The Wainwright is, unfortunately, a state office building and closed to the public. The US Custom House is part of the downtown Library and very accessible.

Just very confusing, punctuation-wise.

Even though it was a gray day (April in the Midwest) we toured around Forest Park, which is bigger than Central Park in NYC. Within the Park is the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis zoo, and the architecturally fantastic Jewel Box from the 1930s.

Did you know St. Louis, Louisville, KY, and Louisiana are all named for this statue guy? He's French King Louis IX, also known as Saint Louis. The cities were named in his honor during the 18th century when French explorers and settlers were active in the US. The residents of these Louis cities are St. Louisans, Louisvillians, and Louisianians.

This was a nice spot for lunch, and on a better day, going out in a swan boat!

Very near Forest Park is a simply awesome (in the original meaning of the word) collection of mosaics, in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (1908+). We were stunned and felt fortunate that it was open, not always a given with American churches. The mosaic work was done by St. Louis' own Ravenna Mosaics (originally a German firm) that did not finish until 1988.

I have also seen the mosaics in Ravenna, Italy, which are 1400 years old and definitely as awesome.

Can we get back to BBQ?!?

Well done, Sugarfire! I love how they just tossed our dinner on a tray, and we were happy about it! Also, hushpuppies.

I leave this trip with a final pic of an exceptional gas station bathroom - and I've seen many! The truth is I don't remember where it was. After this long my trip diary was days behind and my brain was fogged with good experiences, good food and drink, and good visits with families (5 cousins and 1 aunt) and friends.

Cheers! Until next time...

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