I headed north on the Great River Road towards Chester. To the east were beautiful wooded bluffs, to the west the vast floodplain of the Mississippi. Gradually, the truck traffic got worse, and then I was in Chester, Illinois-- the birthplace of E.C. Segar, creator of Popeye. At the first stoplight coming into town, I looked straight at the Popeye-themed City Park and the Popeye Museum. I parked the car, grabbed my camera, and got out.
Popeye mural on the wall of the Museum.
Wimpy statue in the city park. There are statues of Popeye characters going up all over town.
From a memorial dedicated to those Chester residents lost in battle. Are these Civil War soldiers the origin of "Jones. One of the Jones boys"?
Mural on the back of the Museum.
Concrete porch supports behind the Museum.
Olive, Swee' Pea, and Jeep; across from the courthouse.
Looking down to the river, from behind the courthouse.
Bluto statue downtown.
And the man himself, looking out over the river bridge to Missouri, at the Chester Welcome Center.
The only bridge crossing for 100 miles; Chester, IL.
Looking for the Popeye Statue, I saw the signpost pointing across the bridge to Kaskaskia, Illinois, the only portion of the state that lies west of the Mississippi. Whoa! I'd wanted to see it for years, so I headed across. (The only way to get to the island is by driving into Missouri, and looping around to come in from the west.)
Crossing the channel into Kaskaskia.
Kaskaskia Island is a flat, flood-prone region devoted exculsively to agriculture. It was formed when an 1881 flood rechanneled the river, leaving Kaskaskia on its western bank. Once a thriving French colonial settlement (with a peak of 7000 people), the 2010 population was 14.
Kaskaskia Island, looking out toward the bluffs on the eastern bank of the river.
Church of the Immaculate Conception (1843).
"Liberty Bell" Shrine. During the flood of 1993, this building was completely underwater.
This bell was a gift of France's Louis XV to his important colonial outpost in 1741. Falling into British hands following the Seven Years War, the city was liberated during the American Revolution on July 4, 1778, and the bell was rung in celebration. Since then, it has been known as the "Liberty Bell."
Afterwards I headed back up towards St. Louis, through the French colonial town of St. Genevieve. I had a signing that night at Subterranean Books in St. Louis' "Loop," with the great cartoonist Tim Lane. It went well, and afterwards Tim and his wife taught me how to play darts, which I won handily in a case of beginner's luck. We went back to their place for beddy-bye, where I met their two beautiful mutts:
We stayed up too late talking about life, comics, publishing, politics, history, etc and I made a vow to come back down soon so he could show me* around his favorite St. Louis neighborhoods.
I got up the next morning and said my goodbyes, heading across the river again to visit Cahokia Mounds, a mysterious, prehistoric Indian civilization that was at one point the largest city in North America.
NEXT TIME: Cahokia Mounds, Iowa City, Pittsburgh
*Haha, I said "Show Me."