MIDWEST ROADS: A Photographic Essay is an ongoing visual project regularly updated.
Text and Photographs by John P. Walsh.
This is a contemporary photographic essay featuring people, places, and things I have found interesting along America’s Midwest roads today. I have a long affection, if by simple affiliation, for the American Midwest. I grew up here, in Chicago and its suburbs, and went to school here. I enjoyed summer vacations here and got married and settled down here. I continue to enthusiastically travel this vast region that’s been called “The Heart of America.” The happy memories of the Middle West’s sights, sounds, smells, and tastes – whether in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, etc., – are the mother’s milk of my life. Over many hot summers, multi-color autumns, deep, frosty winters, and wild-flowered springs I have sojourned literally tens of thousands of miles on Midwest roads and can report that in 2016 the Midwestern adventure carries on. It teems with human stories, diverse and awesome natural beauty, timeless nostalgia, and, if those things aren’t enticing enough, even an unexpected curiosity or two. For those who love it, the Midwestern terrain possesses what Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) in The Sangamon identified as “magic in that soil, in the plains, the borders of forest, the oak trees on the hills.” The poet was sure that “if you should drive through (this region)…strange dreams would come to you, and moreover those dreams would tally with mine.” The region still offers the sightseer such magical things and much more including impressive remnants of an American Indian mound-building culture and encounters with animals and birds, wild and domesticated. Edgar Lee Masters understood too that it is the Midwestern people – individualistic, hospitable, industrious, good willed, courageous and independent – who will always bestow to this central part of the country its greatest distinction. It is this populace which today, as well as in the past, built what may be frequently photographed on Midwest roads: the canals, roads, barns and farms, houses, towns and cities. But there are new things appearing on the 21st-century Midwest road such as cellphone towers and wind turbines, and old things, such as barns and farms, disappearing at a regrettably rapid pace. Some of American history’s most famous cultural figures have traversed the Midwest roads, including James Monroe (in 1785), Charles Dickens (in 1842), John Muir (in 1849), Henry David Thoreau (in 1861), Antonín Dvořák (in 1893), Winston Churchill (in 1946)—or were born and lived here, including Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, Edgar Lee Masters, Walt Disney, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (“Mark Twain”), Jane Addams, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Barack and Michelle Obama, Frank Lloyd Wright, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, “Wild Bill” Hickok, Jesse James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Dinah Washington (“Queen of the Blues”), and many, many more. It is Abraham Lincoln whose memory is most famously linked to these Midwest Roads as he loved to travel them as a lawyer on the Eighth (Judicial) Circuit riding his horse, “Old Bob.” It is to the Midwestern spirit of America’s sixteenth president that this photographic essay is dedicated.
TO BE CONTINUED!
for photograph 1-Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket. http://www.chickenbasket.com/; https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/dell_rheas_chicken_basket_hinsdale.html .
INTRODUCTION – Masters quotes from The Sangamon by Edgar Lee Masters with Introduction by Charles E. Burgess, University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago, 1988 (first published 1942), p.6.