Tag Archives: Illinois

The End of the Road


Route 66 conjures memories and mysteries. A sense of romance and forgotten adventure travels what remains of the road from Illinois to California. Every time I’ve found bits of it to ride along, I look for defeated telephone poles,leftover motels and tourist sites as an archeologist seeks clues. While I have found a good number, I always thought it could be an unending adventure. Last weekend, on a family trip to Los Angeles, we found ourselves in Santa Monica. Reaching the iconic pier left me stunned when I realized we’d come to the end of Route 66. I expected more than a sign and a few handfuls of tourists. The road could not travel any further. It had reached the Pacific.It’s job was complete, but I still wanted more. Just selfish I guess.


A Visit to Superman’s Hometown in Metropolis, Illinois(?!)

On the way to St.Louis, traveling on Rt. 24, from Paducah Kentucky, I couldn’t resist the signs for Metropolis, Illinois. My  first thought was to grab a cute photo of the sign for my husband and to make tracks for St. Louis.As we drove into town, I realized it would take a bit longer. I didn’t know there was a statue, a newspaper called The Planet and a museum.

An old town on the Ohio River, Metropolis sits in the far southeast corner of Illinois. Still maintaining its history and buildings, the town has tied its tourist status to Superman.In 1972, DC Comics named Metropolis, Superman’s hometown.

Every year, the town hosts a four-day Superman celebration in the second week of June.Unknowingly, by only a few days, I had missed the chance to shoot hundreds of people in blue tights and red capes as they swarmed or flew into town.Disappointed at the missed opportunity, I still checked out the museum and store.

As I wandered, my faint knowledge of comics made me question the hometown issue.(While I admit to reading Superman, Archie and Veronica, and Millie the Model; my favorite was a comic about codes and spies during WWII . )I was concerned because I thought Superman, born on Krypton, was  raised on a farm in Smallville . I realized that as an adult he worked for the Planet in Metropolis, but to me that’s not a hometown.

When I returned home to Memphis,  I checked several dictionaries for “hometown” . The consensus is the town of one’s birth, childhood or main residence. For me ,there’s a difference. I consider New York City my hometown because I was born and raised there. I’ve lived in Memphis a great part of my adult life, but it’s not my hometown. Even today, natives will hear me speak fast and say “You’re not from here, are you?”

The Cambridge Dictionary refined its definition by adding ” especially the one in which they were born and lived in while they were young.”

Back to Metropolis, it seems that DC Comics changed the location of Superman’s childhood in Smallville  many times in its comics. Over its history, Smallville has been located in Kansas, Pennsylvania, northeast New Jersey and Maryland.Maybe it was just easier to choose a town like Metropolis and be done with the hometown issue. Of course then there is the town of Krypton, Kentucky (population around 3,400) and Smallville, Mississippi in Jackson County and how they missed out on the title.

I think that Metropolis was smart to trade in on the PR value of its name and has tried to do right by Superman and the town.
But on the highway, next to the Superman billboard, is this man in the grocery store parking lot . If something were to change, he looks ready to help out.

So my question is : what do you consider to be your hometown? If someone asks “Where are you from?” What do you answer?

Cairo , Illinois A Living Ghost Town Part 1

Hot sun, rust, tired bricks and Virginia Creeper.The only sounds came from the industrial strength lawn mower overpowering the grass in vacant lots in Cairo, Illinois.

After seeing photos of the downtown’s abandoned buildings, I couldn’t wait to visit.The night before I hardly slept – images of rust and deterioration floated through my dreams.Ghoulish, I know, but I see beauty in remains.

A little less than an hour from our base in Paducah, Cairo is the southernmost city in Illinois and sits at the meeting of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.A former center of railroad and river shipping , the city’s welcome sign reflects its current state of affairs.

Just past the welcome sign is a motel on the right. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and grab my camera.Then I saw the black cat outside room 12. There is no 13 of course, but Cairo has had its share of bad luck and bad timing.

On the other side of the road, people washed cars and mowed lawns, going about their daily chores.The motel represented the experience in one building.One side was falling apart and the other side is occupied and served by the Nu-Diner.

Half alive/Half dead – an accurate metaphor for Cairo.

Continuing down the road, passing Shemwell’s Barbecue, a Family Dollar store, and a closed thrift store, I was disappointed.It looked like Main Street America on every highway in the country.

One block, two blocks toward the river and we found ourselves on an empty movie set on which no one filmed.

I was stunned.In my planning, I had looked at photos on many blogs, but even those from earlier in 2012 are no longer current.

More buildings leveled or collapsed and not a soul on the street but for a blue van parked in front of the Maytag shop. A television commercial come to life.

The workmanship and details on the remains is breath-taking.Many of the buildings ornamented in metal details and intricate brickwork stand open.Entering as quietly a hiking boots on crunching glass will allow, you try to listen for their stories but the silence is frightening.A department store, furniture showroom, and movie theater kept their secrets.Layers of brick, paint and  plaster exposed when their neighbors succumbed provide some clues to the past.

My friend and I wandered, stepping carefully over glass shards , metal fragments and listening carefully. Several trucks passed and we waved and smiled trying to look friendly. They paid no attention, having seen so many photographers before that we were invisible.

Several hours passed in minutes. Sensory overload , heat and a pervasive sense of sadness took over.The logical questions haunted us.  How could this happen? What can be done to help? Is it too late?

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