Wife Lila and Grandson Malcolm came up for a visit. When Malcolm was here last year, we went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks. He liked them well enough he told us he wanted to do the same when he came back in 2018.
“I LOVE this place,” he commented. It’s good to see him infected with the Midwest. There may be hope for him.
Anyway, just as we were getting ready to pull out of the driveway, I saw Neighbor Bill across the street and told him where we were going. He asked, “Have you ever been to Castor River Shut-Ins.
I allowed as how I hadn’t, but since it was about half the distance to our original destination, we decided to check it out. (You can click on the photos to make them larger, by the way.)
Their new favorite place
My visitors said they liked it better than Johnson’s Shut-Ins. It has all the rock climbing of Elephant Rocks, with the water fun. I agree that all the pink granite is pretty, but Johnson’s has more cool water flumes to shoot down.
Traded bold for old
My bold days have been traded for old days, so I was conservative about where I stepped and climbed. Wife Lila was a bit more aggressive because she wanted to keep an eye on Malcolm so she could write the “Dear Matt and Sarah, Guess what we did to your kid” letter.
A gasp and a splash
It wasn’t long before Malcolm was playing mountain goat and heading up a near vertical wall.
I heard Lila gasp, followed by a splash. Showing that she really is a photographer at heart, she complained that there was a branch in the way that kept her from getting a good shot when he slipped and bounced on his backside into the river.
He sat in the cool water for a few minutes regrouping before frolicking some more. About the only thing injured was his pride.
The place is pretty, offers plenty of room to spread out, and wasn’t overrun by people, even though it was a hot day.
Google says that the Castor River Shut-Ins are 45.7 miles (1 hour, 9 minutes) from Cape via MO-72. Johnson’s Shut-Ins are 88.6 miles (1 hour, 53 minutes), also on MO-72.
Earlier visits to Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks
Bear with me while I get around to my real topic. When I started kindergarten, we stopped moving from job site to job site in a small trailer and settled down in a rental house at 2531 Bloomfield Road. I could look out my bedroom window to watch the traffic on Hwy 61 in the distance.
One morning around 2 o’clock, when I was six or seven years old, I woke my parents with a strange pronouncement: “I just realized that I will never see those cars and trucks again.” What I meant was that the world was fluid, and the folks who were flying down the highway would never appear in that configuration ever again. I can clearly remember saying that, but I’ve managed to suppress their reactions.
That’s the moment when I think I became a photographer, even though it was half a dozen or more years before I would actually pick up a camera.
You see, while other kids were dreaming of time machines that would let them go forwards or backwards in time, what I really wanted was something that would freeze time and never let it get away.
The “see you later” picture
I’m not exactly sure when I started taking a photo every time I left Cape. Maybe it was when I realized that Mother and I lived 1,110 miles apart, and she was getting to the age where every goodbye might be the last one. Maybe that’s why always said, “See you later,” rather than “Goodbye.”
Most of those photos were taken in the living room, or outside in front of the living room window, or at Kentucky Lake. Most recently, I started posing Mother with family, friends and road warriorettes under the flag at the side of the house. The light was good there, and the colors vibrant.
Even though we were usually smiling, the ritual had its bittersweet moments. I learned early on that once I had climbed in the car, I had to pull out of the driveway, give two toots on the horn and disappear. If I needed to fiddle with anything in the car, I did it out of sight of the house. Those smiles were fragile.
I was afraid this might be the last picture
Mother had 92 good years, but she started slowing down in the fall of 2014. She was using the clothes dryer instead of the clothesline; she would still hop in the car to ramble, but she usually wouldn’t get out. By the spring of 2015, she had gotten to the point she couldn’t walk by herself and she would fold up in a C-shape and roll out of the chair if you weren’t watching her.
I had to go to Ohio to set up a major photo exhibit, so Brothers David and Mark came to Cape to spell me.
There was no way she would make it outside for the traditional flag photo, so I brought the flag inside. I spent about 10 days in Ohio waiting for The Phone Call, but it didn’t come. Mark, David and Mother came to the conclusion that she needed more help than we could give her, so she agreed to go into the Lutheran Home to build up her strength so she could come home, even if she needed assistance.
Couldn’t make it to the wedding
After a few low spells, she seemed to rally. She decided that she didn’t have the energy to make it all the way out to Tulsa for Granddaughter Amy’s wedding on June 20 – “I have to save my strength to be able to go home” – but she WAS able to speak with the new bride and groom via Facetime right after the ceremony.
One good thing about having the wedding was that my two sons and their families stopped by Cape on the way to Tulsa and had good visits. She perked up and told them stories that even I hadn’t heard. In the four-generation picture above, she has the dress she had worn to two weddings, had planned to wear in Tulsa, and had asked to be buried in.
I didn’t take a last picture
I checked in with Mother, did some prep work for the coming Dutchtown flood, and blasted out of town on Saturday June 20 to make it to the Tulsa wedding. Mother was in good spirits and seemed satisfied that I’d be back in a day or two. For the first time in probably a decade, I didn’t take that waving goodbye photo.
I had car trouble, so I called Mother Sunday night to tell her I’d be a day late getting back to Cape. Her voice was strong, and she didn’t seem concerned.
Monday morning, at 7:10, I got The Call from the nursing home that Mother was found dead when they went in to get her for breakfast.
As close as I can figure out, this is one of the last, if not THE last picture I had of Mother. She’s holding her new great-grandson Finn, and they are both enjoying it. THAT’S the image I want to hold onto.
Mark sent me a letter “not to be opened until June 23.” He closed it this way:
As I find myself at the bottom of this page, I couldn’t decide which to end it with, so you get both. Put it into context if you will. (Enclosed was a photo Mother sitting in his kitchen.)
“My memory loves you. It asks about you all the time.”
“Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”
Stories about Mother
I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a Missourian obit that told all of the stories I had collected about this remarkable woman, so I complied them into one big blog post, followed by an account of her funeral.
When Curator Jessica and I headed up to Kent, Ohio, in 2014, she insisted on a side trip to see Big Muskie’s bucket at the Miners’ Memorial Park. Click on the photo to make it large enough to see her IN the bucket.
John Prine’s Paradise
The youngster had never heard John Prine singing Paradise, an ode to a town hauled away by Mr. Peabody’s coal train and bought out by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
Now, she wanted me to carry her off to Paradise. The first OH-MO-OH trip was plagued by fog, drizzle and downpour, so we had to bail. The weather was OK on this one, but we were pushing darkness pretty hard, particularly since we were looking for something that wasn’t there.
We found the TVA
The first clue that we might be close to the right place was when we spotted the mammoth cooling towers of the TVA’s Paradise Fossil Plant. An interesting website postulates that Mr. Peabody’s coal trains might have hauled Paradise away, but it was the power plant that was the nail in the coffin:
“The Paradise Fossil Plants were built and started raining ash and debris down upon the remaining citizens of Paradise. Concern arose for the health of the remaining residents of Paradise. Obviously having ash created during the factory process and pouring from the air like warm, toxic snow was not a positive influence for ones respiratory system. Most likely, to prevent an onslaught of environmental and residential poisoning lawsuits, the Tennessee Valley Authority stepped forward. TVA representatives convinced the remaining townsfolk to vacate and paid them minuscule amounts to abandon their once happy lives in Paradise.”
Power plant went online in 1963
The TVA website said Units 1 and 2 went online in 1963. They were the largest operating units in the world at the time. A third powered up in 1985. The two older units will be idled by the end of 2017, replaced by a $1 billion gas-fired plant under construction in the distance.
The hunt for the cemetery
One website we read said a cemetery was about all that was left of the original community. We poked around the power plant, wondering how long it would be before somebody from Homeland Security showed up to ask these flatland furiners with Florida tags why they were creeping around, occasionally taking photos. We took off down a promising road that kept getting progressively smaller and bumpier.
After passing a washtub-sized snapping turtle, a deer and a pair of amorous squirrels, I spotted a guy in his carport with a couple of kids around him. When I turned into his lane, my curator partner said, “This one is yours.”
I allowed as how Kentucky coal miners would probably be as friendly as Appalachian coal miners, but I mentally adjusted my dialect, taking a little Yankee out of my SE Ohio twang, and dialing some North Carolina into my Swampeast Missouri drawl. The gentleman couldn’t tell me exactly where we needed to go, but he gave us some hints, peppered with local landmarks of the “third dead skunk” variety.
You gotta be kidding
We headed back past the snapping turtle, past the power plant and back toward huge mounds of coal and the railroad cars that hauled it. Right about here, my navigator said, “Turn left.”
I did, taking us up a vertical gravel road that deadended at the top of a hill with a radio tower on it. While trying to figure out how to turn around, Navigator said, “That looks like a road going down the hill.”
I might have been able to go DOWN that hill, but there was no way we’d ever be able to drive back up it. Sometimes you have to disregard your navigator because I could hear Johnny Cash singing about what was going to happen if we went down that road that was Dark as a Dungeon:
And pray when I’m dead and the ages shall roll That my body would blacken and turn into coal Then I’ll look from the door of my heavenly home and pity the miner digging my bones
The McDougall Family
We headed back toward the power plant and found the road that led past the McDougall / Paradise Cemetery
The McDougalls, I assume of the family for which the cemetery was named, had plots surrounded by an intricate metal fence. They weren’t on the highest part of the burying grounds, nor were they in the mowed section, but the fence made up for it.
A grammatical error
John McDougall, born in Scotland in 1821, and who died in Muhlenberg county 60 years later, has been sleeping under a stone with a typo. Above the digit pointing to heaven, is the inscription, “THEIR IS REST.”
Eudoxia Smith Robertson
A significant number of the stones had birth and death dates in the 1800s. Eudoxia Smith, for example, was born in 1815, and married Alney McLean Robertson in 1837. She died two years later, after giving birth to two children.
The thigh-high grass hid lots of shin and knee-high gravestones. I found this one particularly attractive, probably because I saw it before I felt it.
Miz Jessica and I were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves chigger-free the next morning. I was afraid we’d pick up a bunch of ticks and itchy things wading through the high grass.
Peabody Wildlife Management Area
After you have, as John Prine sings, “come with the world’s largest shovel, tortured the timber and stripped all the land,” what do you do? Well, it appears that you smooth some of the bumps, plant some grass and call it the Peabody Wildlife Management Area.
In fairness, on our hunt for the Weir Cemetery, we managed to see two herds of deer in about two minutes, so there IS wildlife. A Google Earth view of the area still shows an awful lot of scarring left behind.
After a couple false starts, we finally found our second cemetery.
The Weir cemetery was well-maintained. It had a small parking lot nearby and there was evidence of recent landscaping. The FindAGrave website said the cemetery is known as both the Doug Weir and the Vanlandingham Cemetery. We saw some stones with that name on them.
That flag is one of the reasons I tweaked the Ohio Yankee out of my accent. This IS Kentucky.
Markers decorated with shells
This row of stones were interesting because the markers had small shells embedded in the concrete. I had to assume they were mussel shells from the nearby Green River (where Prine said “the air smelled like snakes”).
Starting to get dark
This little excursion had been fun, but the sun was sinking faster than I liked, and we still had another 170 miles to go to get to Cape.
This was one of those trips where I was intent on making miles and not photos. My sojourn in Florida was a little longer than anticipated, and I was supposed to pick up Curator Jessica in Louisville on May 22 so we could collaborate with Carla Jordan on some photo exhibits for the Jackson Cape County History Center and the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum.
The sun was starting to hide as I was on the downhill side of I-24 heading into Chattanooga. I had logged a little over 500 miles for the day, and needed to push on another hour or so to put me withing striking distance of Louisville the next day.
I liked the way the sunlight was glinting off the median divider and trees, but there was an 18-wheeler woofing on my tail, so I didn’t have time to do more than wave and push the button without messing with exposures or framing.