Blue Tail

The Long Blue Tail Christ-of-the-Ohio

Last week was the Cannelton Heritage Festival in Cannelton, IN. On my way to finding out about Cannelton, I spent a little time reading up about the Christ-of-the-Ohio statue. William Least Heat-Moon mentions Christ-of-the-Ohio Catholic Church in passing in Blue Highways, but completely passes by the fascinating story of how the statue came to be.

The first story I read was Christ of the Ohio: A Narrative. It is written from the viewpoint of “Herb Jogust”, a German Prisoner of War who was held in Kentucky during World War II and how came to create the nine foot sculpture of Christ on a hill overlooking the Ohio river. From this, I started looking around to find more about the sculpture. The narrative starts off:

I remember the many lonely nights I spent lying in a cold, damp cell where the stench of my own body odor mixed with urine was almost more that I could stand. The horrible coughing echoed through the halls serving as a dim reminder that tomorrow our lungs would again be filled with coal dust.

I had been captured as a prisoner. The U.S. Army was most displeased that a German, like myself, was free and alone traveling through North America, especially when Americans were dying every day in a war with my country. Honestly, I meant no harm. I was an artist, a sculptor who longed to see the world, but war changes everything.

The story just didn’t sound quite right. It was not attributed and had a different spelling of the sculptor’s name.

This led me to Ruth Cook’s blog, Geneva POW, which is about “German POWs in America during World War II”. She has two posts about Herbert Jogerst. The first is Herbert Jogerst POW Sculptor in which she talks about the sculptor and his history. It paints a different picture, and a different spelling of the name than the narrative on the Perry County website.

During his time in Camp Breckenridge, Jogerst was given a barracks to use as a studio and instructed other POWs in calligraphy and figure drawing. When a music pavilion was built by the POWs for their concerts, he built a fountain for it. While others played chess in the evenings, he worked with piles of stone to built the fountain.

It goes on to talk about about Jogerst being interviewed by Alfred Eisenstett for an article for Life Magazine.

Among the responses to this article, Life received letters from more than 2,000 readers who wanted to help this German POW preserve his work. As a result, Life placed six overseas trunks at Jogerst's disposal. He was able to send more than 300 of his paintings and carvings home to his mother for safe keeping.

Later, Ms Cook wrote a blog post about being contacted by Jogerst’s cousin. Earlier this year, Bruce and Nyla Jogerst were travelling in the United States and wanted to see some of the material that Ms. Cook had collected.

Some of Mr. Jogerst’s other work includes interior decorations for Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Haubstadt, IN. In addition, Mr. Jogerst created sculptures for St Meinrad’s Archabbey in St. Meinrad, In.

On the facade are statues of the Virgin Mary, St. Benedict (whose Rule Benedictine outlines the lifestyles of monks and nuns) and St. Scholastica, St. Benedict's twin sister. The statues were carved from Tennessee marble by German sculptor Herbert Jogerst.

Mr. Jogerst died in 1993, so I’ve only been able to meet him indirectly through the writings about his art work. Yet it is his stories and stories of people like him that dot the American landscape and make these explorations, virtually though they may be, interesting.

The Long Blue Tail – Cannelton, IN

After searching online for something interesting to say about Columbia, IL, I wondered what the next stop on my virtual retracing of Blue Highways would bring me. I skimmed through Huntingburg, IN quickly enough to see that Obama supporters are canvassing there and that the Dubois Masonic Lodge will be having a Fish Fry on October 18th.

So, following Least Heat-Moon’s path, I curved back and forth down the map of Indiana Route 66, through part of the Hoosier National Forest, and then following the twists and turns of the Ohio River. Back in 2004, Pam Heeke wrote a blog entry about Blue Highways, mentioning the passage that I was reading. It didn’t say much more and she hasn’t updated her blog since July, so it didn’t really help me much.

I found a brief reference to the Cannelton Heritage Festival. The website described it as:

Fifth Annual. Food and vendor booths will be located on Washington Street in Cannelton. Local musicians will perform throughout the day. Wine tasting with regional wineries, guided historical walking tour, pumpkin painting and other children actives . Artisans and craftsmen will be demonstrating their skills – wood and stone carving, painting,

The entry provided an email address for a person to contact for more information. I fired off an email and then went to try and find other information. I did some searches on Christ-on-the-Ohio, which turned up some fascinating information. So, I gathered notes for what I assumed would be the next blog post.

However, when you are travelling, it is always wise to expect the unexpected, and today, I got a little bit of that. Brandi, who writes, When it rains… and was the contact for the Cannelton Heritage Festival responded to my email. She said that the festival is in its second year and had previously been called the Pumpkin Fest. She mentioned that the festival been languishing when she and a few other people took over the planning and turned it into a “Heritage Festival celebrating art, craftsmenship, wine, music and food.”

I thought I’d see if I could find any blog entries about the Pumpkin Fest in Cannelton and I found an entry entitled, It’s Over!. The blog post was by a woman named Brandi who wrote:

For the past few years sleepy little Cannelton has had a Pumpkin Fest every second Saturday in October. With hardly any vendors and participants, its a bust. So, as part of a small group I'm involved in of committed citizens, like 7 of us, with the rehab of the town as our mission, we decided that if we didn't get involved in the planning process of the festival, then it'll be another embarrassment on the town. This group has taken it upon ourselves to be the big brother of the town, look out for it, and try to accomplish strategic things to turn things around.

It is a long and wonderful blog post about the revitalized festival. She talks about the Troubadours of Divine Bliss, which were her favorite group last year. I’ve followed the link and am listening to their music as I write this blog post. I’ve also stopped to glance at their blog.

In response to my question about bloggers from around Cannelton, she said, “I blog, but I don’t always write much about the town.” She didn’t mention the name of her blog, but I’m pretty sure I found it. So, what has Brandi been up to since last year? Well, her blog shows a picture of her boys in a pickup truck full of pumpkins for the Heritage Festival this weekend. She has a bunch of posts up about Obama, as well as a post about Hurricane Ike and the damage it did to Indiana.

She writes about canvassing for Obama and about her parents taking her kids to the Kentucky State Fair, all of this sprinkled with great pictures from her Flickr photostream.

I’ll have to save my comments about Christ-on-the-Ohio until another day. Brandi’s efforts to revamp a local festival, to get out and canvas for Obama and to write about the stuff of life is a great illustration of the America that I’ve been hoping to find as I go out on my virtual retracing of Blue Highways. She ends her blog post about canvassing for Obama with the line, “We are the CHANGE we've been waiting for.” She certainly is, and I am blessed to have met her along the way. Please, stop by, read her blog, think about what you can do where you live, and if it is anywhere near Cannelton, IN, try to get to the Cannelton Heritage Festival this weekend.

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The Long Blue Tail – Lebanon, IL

There is an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It came to mind the other day when I was listening to a criminology professor talking about how crimes are solved. It is very rare that they happen like on an episode of CSI. Instead, a lot of investigative work is doing the same thing, over and over again, never knowing if this time, you will discover a clue that solves some particularly difficult and notorious crime, or it will be yet another of the mundane endless investigations.

It crossed my mind as I put another load of laundry out to dry and washed another batch of dishes. True, on the immediate level, I wasn’t seeking different results. I was seeking clean clothes and clean dishes. Yet, in the back of my mind was the old story about the Zen monk attaining enlightenment while doing the dishes and the Hasidic Jew having a prayer for brushing his teeth. There is always hope of something special happening during the everyday moments of our lives.

In Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon starts off by driving from Columbia, MO to Lebanon, IL. He was doing something different, he was getting in his van and setting out on a great journey, yet these great journeys start with the first step, and Least Heat-Moon spoke about the miles on Interstate 64. “that cuts across southern Illinois and Indiana without going through a single town.” Driving mile after mile on the interstate seems a bit like doing the same thing over and over again.

He stopped in Lebanon, IL, where he noted Charles Dickens had once spent a night in at the Mermaid Inn. I visited Lebanon, IL via the web, and didn’t find much more than the Mermaid Inn. Yelp pointed me to Dr. Jazz Soda Fountain and Grille, with a review that said, “This place is worth a visit. The atmosphere is pure Mayberry”. I couldn’t find much of anything else interesting seeking around Twitterlocal or other tools.

So, I continued on to Grayville, IL. I didn’t find much interesting there, other than the Wabash River Bluegrass Music Festival and Camp which sounds interesting, but not much was written about it.

My mind wandered to my trip, twenty five years ago, hitch hiking around the country. I remember standing on a ramp of the Interstate in Arkansas one day for something like fourteen hours. Cars would pass by every once and a while. I would stick out my thumb and hope someone would stop and give me a ride. I was doing the same thing, over and over again, and eventually, a ride came along and my journey continued.

So now, I’ll continue on, loosely following Least Heat-Moon’s path, hoping to find some interesting places, people and stories. Hopefully, somehow, along the way, I’ll gain a glimpse of something that will help change me and maybe even a few readers.

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The Long Blue Tail – Columbia, MO

While many of my friends are focusing on the Vice Presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, I hope that some of them get a chance to visit Crown Candy Kitchen while they are there. I wrote a little bit about St. Louis when I started my Long Blue Tail series.

However, I skipped over Columbia when I started. However, my wrong turn down to Lebanon, MO led me to circle back around to Columbia, and the timing seems about right. This weekend, there will be the second annual Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ Festival.

One thing the festival has done is set up a website, My Story, My Roots. It is based on They’ve posted a few videos there and have a play list of various bands. Not a lot of people have joined the community, but through them, I found the Megan Boyer Band, whose MySpace Page, which also has some good music. I’m streaming her music on my PC as I start writing about Columbia. When she was asked what her favorite BBQ food is she said Cole Slaw, noting that she is a vegetarian.

Reading more about Megan lead me to CoMoMusic. This is a site for musicians from CoMo, Columbia, MO, to connect. Reading through this, I found Bob Hague. Bob doesn’t blog that much. Since last May, he’s put up around 14 blog entries. His most recent post is an experimentation with macro photography, including some intriguing close up images of an old saxophone. He writes about once, when he received “about 3 feet of old LPs”, and talks about the biking the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Trail down to the Katy Trail, parts of the which are still flooded due to the remnants of Hurricane Ike.

I stopped over on Twitter to see whom else I could find that would give me some insights into Columbia. Bob Martin, who writes a blog, The Teacher Teacher, moved to Columbia three years ago. His portrayal of Columbia matches the impression I’ve been forming. BBQ is an important part of the town and BBQ aficionados are split between the Kansas City saucy style of BBQ and the Memphis dry rub style. He writes that he secretly covets good barbecue and is “on a quest to find the perfect biscuits and gravy”. Yet, I don’t know what type of barbecue he favors, although he does speak very highly of Spicewine Ironworks and their sauces.

Spicewine’s site states,

Whether you're a weekend backyard BBQer or a competitive BBQ Chef, we all strive to produce delicious, award-winning BBQ. As competitive chefs ourselves, we wanted to build a commercial quality smoker at a price that everyone can afford.

I wonder how many of the teams competing at Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ Festival will be using some of Spicewine’s equipment.

Bob also describe himself as “a wanna be runner”, which might not go well with being a barbecue fan but may have placed him on some of the same trails that Bob Hague bikes on. Bob Martin did note that Columbia has “a parks and trails system that is second to none”.

William Least Heat-Moon taught writing, and Bob Martin teaches teachers to make better use of technology. I asked Bob how he saw technology changing writing. He noted that a ‘lot of schools still block access to things like blogs and wikis in the classroom’. My hope, is that as I explore the long blue tail, I’ll find good examples of people writing compelling blogs about their localities, it may be a bit of a search. Bob suggested speaking with folks at the University of Missouri Journalism School in Columbia, but it is time to move on. Nonetheless, if you know of good blogs writing about the local flavor of our country, drop me a note, and I’ll see if I can visit them on my virtual travels.

So, now, I am back on track with Least Heat-Moon’s travels, and expect to stop in Lebanon, IL next before heading to Grayville, IL an on to Kentucky. Who knows what I’ll find next.

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The Long Blue Tail – Lebanon, MO

A problem that a traveler faces when he tries to follow the path of someone who has gone before can be ambiguity about the next destination, and as I read the early pages of William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, I ran into precisely that problem. First, I missed the starting point of Columbia and started off in St. Louis. Perhaps I’ll circle around back to Columbia next. Then, when he referred to Lebanon, I thought he was still in Missouri. There is a Lebanon, MO southwest of St. Louis. It didn’t make much sense, because I thought Least Heat-Moon was heading east, but I started looking into Lebanon, MO nonetheless.

I started off at the Lebanon, MO website. I learned that Lebanon is on an old Indian trail that during the Civil War became known as the “Wire Road” because of the telegraph wires from St. Louis to Springfield. Later, the road became known as Route 66, and then Interstate 44. Get your kicks on Route 66 came to mind as I explored the town a little more.

I checked the lists of restaurants online, and besides the Applebee’s, which I imagine to be just off the Interstate, I found links to many interesting local eating establishments. Yelp pointed me to Django’s Coffee House. It talked about Ken Chappell’s quest to have “a place to go, a hangout, a place with live music, great coffee, great food.” It talked about starting Django’s and some of the changes over time. It talked about the Open Mic on Friday nights, but didn’t list any of the performers.

I sent an email off to Django’s to get more information. They responded, apologizing that the website wasn’t up to date. They had moved and I’m still not sure I know the exact address. I prepared some follow up questions. Least Heat-Moon talked about Lebanon as ‘a brick-street village where Charles Dickens spent a night in the Mermaid Inn’. I was going to ask if the Mermaid Inn was still there and if the proprietors of Django’s had been there or had any stories. First, I checked online.

I found an article that described Lebanon as being twenty three miles to the east of St. Louis. To me, it looked like it was around 150 miles south west of St. Louis. It wasn’t even twenty three miles away from Springfield. Then, it struck me. The Mermaid Inn, twenty three miles east of St. Louis is in Lebanon, IL, not Lebanon, MO. Now, it made sense. Least Heat-Moon had talked about State 4. I hadn’t been able to find Missouri State Route 4 anywhere on the maps. That is because State Route 4, which runs through Lebanon is in Illinois.

Nonetheless, I spent a bit more time checking out Lebanon, MO, and figured that I’d catch Lebanon, IL when I get back on track. One thing I found out about Lebanon, MO was the magnetic waters. People would travel from miles around to take advantage of these healing waters in Lebanon and stay at The Gasconade Hotel. Not the same as the Mermaid Inn where Dickens had stayed in Illinois, but another interesting Hotel in and of itself.

I looked around to see if I could find any locals to speak to. Using Twitter Local, I found Sana Abdul Aziz. She listed her location as Lebanon, MO, but described herself as an English Language and Literature major at SNHU. Best as I can tell SNHU is Southern New Hampshire University, but given my confusion between Lebanon, MO and Lebanon, IL, who knows. She spoke about her desire to soon be an ex-truck driver and I read a poem she had written about being on the road in a Kenilworth. My only means of contacting her was through Twitter. She posted sporadically and had recently posted about being sick. I sent out a message in hopes of getting a reply, but as I sit down and write this, I haven’t seen a reply.

There were others from Lebanon that I tried to reach out to, but without any success.

In the email from Django’s they spoke about Lebanon being your typical small town, nothing special. In fact, it is that aspect of being a typical small town that you get as you go beyond the Interstate and Applebee’s that makes it so special and interesting.

It is one of the hazards of trying to follow someone else’s path. You sometimes take a wrong turn and end up somewhere very different from where you intended to be. However, it is precisely these little experiences that can make the trip so enjoyable.

So, right now, I’ll plan on circling back around to Columbia, then I’ll head back through St. Louis and make it to Lebanon, IL. If you’re somewhere along the way, wave to me virtually, and let me know what to look for.

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