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The convention was in July, in Iowa. For much of May and June, the Midwest - Iowa in particular - was drenched with rain. Burlington is on the Mississippi River, about 25 miles downstream of where the Cedar River feeds it. The Cedar River was one of the worst for flooding; The news was full of photos of Cedar Falls, then Cedar Rapids, for weeks.

© The Hawk Eye

In Burlington, the river crested 25 feet above flood level, about three weeks before the convention. For the first time ever, the city cut its Burlington Steamboat Days music festival short, and people got to work stacking sandbags. This photo shows how the Mississippi River flooded the riverfront area, including much of the city's historic district.

There was some concern about whether the convention could be held at all, but that was quickly put to rest. The flood photo tells the story. Burlington is built on seven hills, so almost all of the city is on high ground. This includes the airport and both convention hotels.

Arriving at Burlington, we could see that the east side of the Mississippi did not make out well at all. Barbara shot these photos just a couple of miles from the river's normal path, in Illinois. At this writing three weeks later, a few towns are discussing whether to abandon their flooded sites completely.

For the most part, people got on with the job of cleaning up and rebuilding. Here (Barbara's photo) the Memorial Auditorium is being pumped out. In the earlier photo, this is the large white building near the top of the photo, centered left-to-right.

Mike Boyd organized an impromptu airlift on the Grumman Gang's mail list. At his suggestion, many convention attendees packed items that were desperately needed by people who had been left homeless by the flood - enough to fill a large-bed pickup truck to overflowing. Here, the donation is being gratefully acknowledged by Chet Young and Kathleen Hemmesch of Flood Aid 2008, a local relief effort. On the work sites, help from a famous brewer was also evident.

We were in Burlington at mayfly time. Mayflies are insects who get to spend one day as an adult before they die. The adults have no mouths, so they must live on the energy they got by eating when they were nymphs or naiads, an immature form. For their single day of adulthood, their entire focus is on producing the next generation. Might as well, can't eat. This means they are oblivious to obstacles like humans walking in the neighborhood. What a mess. They are about two inches long, like these examples Barbara couldn't avoid on Burlington's Memorial Auditorium.

Burlington is a proud city, with symbols like Little Liberty next to the Memorial Auditorium and a simple reminder that a peanut farmer with a Ph.D. in physics once visited here. Liberty's little sister was part of a Boy Scout project celebrating the Scouts' 40th anniversary theme, "Strengthen the Arm of Liberty." Organized by J.P. Whitaker of Kansas City, the Scouts placed over 200 of these statues between 1949-1951. About 150 remain on display in good condition. One is in a featured spot on Burlington's riverfront plaza. If you know just where to look (north of the Memorial Auditorium) on the lead picture on this page, you can see the Little Lady lifting her torch confidently above the flood waters.

Burlington is proud of astronaut Jim Kelly, born here in 1964. We were to have one more stop with a connection to an astronaut - keep reading. This monument to a favorite son graces the entrance to the airport where our convention was held.

Corn fields are all over Iowa. Pork is a major product, and the animals eat corn. This field is next to a Catholic cemetery near Burlington's Crapo Park.


Crapo Park (pronounced CRAY-po) is a large, lovely park about a mile east of Burlington's airport, on the banks of the Mississippi River. It was opened in 1895, at the same time as Snake Alley (more on that topic, soon). It is well known as an arboretum, showcasing many unusual trees, shrubs, and other plants.

Crapo Park is where we found the Hawkeye Native's Log Cabin, built in 1910 to commemorate the way Iowa's original settlers lived.

A sign near the cabin explains,

The Hawkeye Natives Association was formed in 1905 and members were Iowa born white males who were 50 or more years old. There had been other pioneer associations, but this group was independent of those groups and unique in its form of membership. One of the original purposes of the Hawkeye Natives Association was the desire to perpetuate the name of the "Hawkeyes" which was the nickname given for the people of Iowa. Members of the Hawkeye Natives wore an insignia button with a hawk's head surrounded by the name "Hawkeye Natives" on the lapel of the coat. An early watercolor sketch conceived by the founder of the organization, John Braunberger, and drawn by Frank H. Snowden, also included the head of a hawk.

Iowa is known as the "Hawkeye" state. This nickname had been proposed in 1838, the year in which the Iowa Territory was organized with Burlington as the first territorial capital. At that time, it was the custom to describe the people of a new territory. Judge David Rorer of Burlington suggested the name after the popular fictionalized American frontier hero in James Fenimore Cooper's 1826 novel "The Last of the Mohicans" who was named "Hawkeye." This American frontier scout, tracker and marksman was the hero in five books by Cooper, known as the Leather Stocking Sagas.

The park has a pretty little fishing pond. Want to try your luck?

You can, if you're young enough.

Crapo Park is large by any reasonable standard, about 100 acres. This beautiful house guards a city park that is barely large enough to qualify as a building lot.

It's called Mosquito Park because it's about the size of a bug bite.

For such a small place, its view is truly awe-inspiring. There is a much larger version of this shot here.

Mosquito Park affords a good view of Burlington's Great River Bridge, which was oddly free of traffic during our visit. It was closed because the flooding on the Illinois side still covered the roadway on that side of the bridge. Therefore, there was no practical reason to cross the river here.

Cobblestone Alley was built in 1878. It is the only remaining example of Burlington's original limestone block streets. It's one short block from the city's famous street, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the "World's Crookedest Street."

That honor belongs to Snake Alley, built in 1894 to provide a more direct link between the downtown business district and the neighborhood shopping district on North Sixth Street. As you can see from the first photo, the street was undergoing repairs while we were there. Building the street was a special challenge, because the houses lining it were already there, and the builders weren't allowed to tamper with them. The original street was much like Cobblestone Alley. The reader will probably agree that the street's architect did a masterful job.

The city planned to make more streets along this design, but it wasn't as useful for horse carriages as the burghers hoped.

There is a legend that the fire department used this alley to test horses. If a horse could take the curves at a gallop and still be breathing when it reached the top, it was deemed fit to haul the city's fire wagons. Unfortunately, many teams would run out of control or stumble over the limestone curbing, sometimes resulting in a broken leg.

Geodes are rock formations that occur in sedimentary and some volcanic rocks. They're rock cavities with internal crystal formations or concentric banding. The outside is usually limestone or something similar. After the surrounding rock hardens, dissolved silicates or carbonates are deposited on the inside surface. Some geodes contain clear quartz, others have deep purple amethyst; each is unique. The area around Burlington is so rich in geodes that Iowa has named it the state rock.

Geode State Park is just a few miles from Burlington. Many geodes have been found there, but the State forbids visitors from taking any samples. There is a good lake for swimming and fishing, though.

There are also red-tailed hawks. When we approached this tree, it seemed like hundreds of them took off at once. It must be a good place to sit and watch for fish or rodents.

Since we couldn't hunt for geodes at Geode State Park, we went somewhere with more promise - Jacobs Geodes, a few miles away in Hamilton, Illinois. If you stop at the information center in Hamilton, they'll tell you how to find the place. Once we got there, Mr. Jacobs pointed us down the road to a stream. After we parked and crossed the stream, we came to the geode mine. It sure doesn't look like much, does it?

On closer inspection, it still doesn't look like much. Every one of these rocks is a geode. Some are hollow, some solid - you tell by the weight of the rock. You don't know for sure until you break it open, which is part of the allure.

This is one of the geodes we brought home from the Jacobs mine. It's about five inches across. You'd never guess from the plain exterior, what beauty is waiting inside. The clear crystals are characteristic of Iowa geodes. The purple ones occur here too, but those are much more common in Brazil.

Here's another one. We couldn't break it, so we had a pro cut it in half. He told us it's a thunderegg, and that it's fairly rare. Part of it is fluorescent.

The Mississippi River Parkway follows the river from Minnesota to Louisiana. The Parkway Commission has members from each of the ten states that border the river. Collectively, their goal is to foster economic growth in the area, and to develop the scenic parkway known as the Great River Road. That road passes Nauvoo on its way through Illinois.

This stream passes beneath that road. Look for the tiny waterfall.

We didn't have time to explore this historic city, but we did listen to its brass band for a while. You can learn more about the reconstruction at this link. The quote that follows is adapted from a state historical marker near the visitor center.

In 1839, Joseph Smith chose this town, then called Commerce, as the home for his followers, who had been driven from Missouri. The Mormons named the community Nauvoo, said to mean "beautiful place." They obtained a special charter from the Illinois Legislature, which gave the city government its own courts, militia, university, and all other governmental powers not prohibited by Federal and State constitutions.

Mormon converts from all parts of America and Europe soon swelled the population to about 15,000, making Nauvoo one of the largest cities in Illinois by 1845. But some of the Mormons, as well as their Gentile neighbors, began to resent the civil and religious authority of the Mormon leaders, and friction in the area grew severe. When the Nauvoo City Council had an Anti-Mormon newspaper destroyed, the Mormon leaders were arrested and jailed at Carthage. On June 27, 1844, an armed mob shot and killed Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, Conflict between the Mormons and their neighbors continued until 1846, when the Mormons completed their exodus from the state.

In 1849, Etienne Cabet's followers, the Icarians, came to Nauvoo to practice their form of religious communism, but dissensions soon weakened the colony. Their experiment lasted less than ten years.

The Mississippi River near Nauvoo shows evidence of flooding from three weeks earlier. The water level has receded here to nearly normal, but there is still plenty of debris.

Our Lady of Grace Grotto is in West Burlington. It was begun in 1929 by two Benedictine priests, built mostly by unemployed people during the Great Depression. It is built entirely of donated rocks, many from the Holy Land.

The facing rocks are mostly geodes from local stream beds, carefully split to reveal the jewels inside.

Inside the grotto, the statue of the Virgin Mary is flanked by seashells, from the Atlantic Ocean on her left (east) and from the Pacific on her right (west). The smaller photos show the detail above her head, and a guardian angel that stands near her left foot.

For several years, the grotto was a tourist attraction, but it fell into decay during the 1950s and '60s. In 1973, Fr. Jack Denning led an effort to renovate the grotto. A year later, after hundreds of hours of volunteer labor, the grotto was rededicated. The Stations of the Cross were added at this time.

on to the convention

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