Fort Defiance Fun

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9601I always take visitors to see Fort Defiance, the southernmost tip of Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet. Wednesday was Curator Jessica’s turn. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

You have to wade

Jessica Cyders - Princeton KY 10-28-2013_9493I should have known better than to say, “You have to wade in the water so you can say you straddled two great American rivers,” because I said something like that when we were looking at a spring in Princeton, Ky.

The next thing I knew, she was splashing and frolicking, much to the amusement of some pre-teens who were watching from a bridge.

Shuckin’ off the boots

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9603After not more than a moment’s hesitation, she started shucking off her boots.

Is this REALLY a good idea?

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9611This is her “Is this REALLY a good idea?” look. To be honest, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know how quickly the bottom fell off or what might be lurking under the muddy waters.

I don’t think you’re in both rivers

Jessica Cyders Fort Defiance 10-30-2013_9614“You need to spread out,” I told her. “I don’t think you’re actually in both rivers.” About that time, a wave from a passing towboat started rolling ashore.

She kept her balance, but I guess a splash wouldn’t have been too bad. Jessica kept saying on the trip that she really likes New Orleans. If the 300-foot rope I carry in the car turned out to be short, I calculated she would be passing the Big Easy in a week or so.

Headed to St. Louis

I have to put her on a plane in St. Louis back to Ohio on November 4. We’ll go up a day early so she can meet Brother Mark, Robin and Friend Shari and do some sightseeing.

I promised I’d bring along some alcohol wipes to clean off an area of the stainless steel Gateway Arch so she could lick it, something that all first-time visitors are supposed to do.

Meet her at First Friday

She and I will be at Annie Laurie’s on Broadway on First Friday, November 1. I’ll have Snapshots of Cape Girardeau calendars and the Smelterville book with me. Laurie says she’ll have cookies and hot cider.

Maybe you can help me come up with other quaint Missouri customs like arch-licking that I can share with our Ohio visitor. I’ve found that she is willing to try just about anything once.

Other Fort Defiance photos






Mississippi River Panoramas

This was the week for shooting panoramas of the Mississippi River. Friends Bob and Claire Rogers are walking to the very tip of Illinois where the Ohio (left) and Mississippi rivers join at Fort Defiance. The Mississippi must be running slightly higher, because you can see that it is holding the Ohio back. Click on the photos to make them larger.

There are seven frames stitched together by Photoshop in this panorama. What’s amazing is that Bob and Claire were walking away from me when I swept the scene, so they appeared in two photos and different locations. The program was smart enough to know that there’s only one Bob and Claire in the world and not to duplicate them.

View from Trail of Tears

The overlook at the Trail of Tears State Park offers a beautiful view of the river. While we were there, we spotted a guy in a rowboat making his way downstream. The way his gear was packed, we figured his destination was New Orleans.

“If he lands in Cape,” I commented to my friends, “I wonder who is working the Huck Finn Beat now that I’m gone.”

This was made of five frames.

Is Cairo Worth Saving?


By the time you read this, Cairo may or may not still be there. It all depends on how much higher the river gets and whether the Corps of Engineers has to blow the levee at Bird’s Point to reduce pressure on the city’s floodwall.

I’m not going to get into the Sophie’s choice argument about whether farms in Missouri should be flooded to save a city in Illinois.

I am going to spend several days sharing photos that I hope will answer those folks who ask, “Why should we care about Cairo?”

Fort Defiance

I was on my way back to Ohio Oct. 14, 1968, when I shot this photo at Fort Defiance, the southernmost point in Illinois, where the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet  It’s long been one of my favorite pictures.

Songwriter Stace England wrote an album of songs about Cairo. One is titled,  The North Starts in Cairo, where he points out that black bus travelers coming from the South were segregated from whites by a curtain until they crossed the Ohio River into Cairo. Here’s a sample of The North Starts In Cairo. It’s worth buying the whole Greetings From Cairo, Illinois album. (If you click on this Amazon link, I get 6% at no additional cost to you.)

It’s a great selection of songs, all historically accurate and done in a variety of ways.

Where the waters mingle

It’s just as pretty today.

How safe is that flood gate?

I’m sure that everyone who has driven under the massive flood gate at the north end of the city has wondered, just how safe is that thing, anyhow?

A plaque in the tunnel says “The Big Subway Gate” was built in 1914. It’s 60 feet wide, 24 feet high and five feet thick. Even though it weighs 80 tons, it has a counterweight that weighs almost as much, so it can be operated by two men, one at each end.

The other thing that Dad always impressed upon me was that Cairo was a notorious speed trap. Don’t go even one mile per hour over the limit, he warned on every trip through.

My first riot

I covered my first riot in Cairo. Actually, by the time I got there, the National Guard had been called out and things had pretty much settled down. Still, I learned some lessons that served me well during the turbulent 60s and 70s and 80s.

I’ll have photos from July 1967 and will touch on the turmoil that sent the city’s population into a freefall.

Elegant mansions

Cairo is noted for its historic buildings. The Magnolia Manor is one of the most famous. Within a block of it, I saw one that could be fixed up equally as nicely for an unbelievably low price.

I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time on the pretty side of town. Years ago, when I was first getting into this racket, someone asked, “Do you want to shoot for National Geographic?”

I responded, “I don’t think that’ll work out. National Geographic photographers stand on trash cans to shoot pretty pictures of roses. I trample roses to shoot photos of trash cans.”

Collapsing buildings

It’s equally noted for its decaying buildings. I took this picture Oct. 28, 2008.

Whole block knocked down

When I came back in April of 2010, the whole block had been knocked down.

“Why?” the sign asks

“Why?” reads the sign on what I think had been a bar. I’m assuming the 1933-2005 refers to the years of operation.

The bigger question is “Why didn’t a city located at the confluence of two of the nation’s largest rivers ever meet its potential?”

I ask your indulgence while I step outside Cape County for a few days to share with you some of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken in Cairo over the last nearly 50 years.

I hope it’ll still be there on my return. The bridge leading to Wickliffe was closed, so I couldn’t go that way on my way back to Florida this trip.