Photographs and text: John P. Walsh
These are some of my photographs featuring the people, places, and things I have met along today’s American Midwest roads. I feel a personal affection for the American Midwest. I grew up in Chicago and its suburbs, and went to grade school, high school and university here. In the Midwest I enjoyed friends, family, diverse outings, engaging jobs, and, later, married and started a family here. I continue to enthusiastically travel this vast region that’s rightly called “The Heart of America.”
Happy memories of the Middle West — its sights, sounds, smells, and tastes — especially in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa — are the mother’s milk of my life. In steamy summers, multi-colored autumns, ice-bitten winters, and flowery springs sojourning the miles on Midwest roads spelled adventure — and still does today.
The American Midwest teems with human stories, diverse and awesome natural beauty, timeless nostalgia, and, when those things aren’t enticing enough, unexpected curiosities. For those who already 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 more including impressive remnants of an American Indian mound-building culture and encounters with animals and birds, wild and domesticated. Edgar Lee Masters understood 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 that today, as in the past, built what is frequently photographed on Midwest roads: its canals, roads, barns and farms, houses, towns and cities. But new things also debut on a 21st-century Midwest road trip such as cellphone towers and wind turbines — and the old things, like barns and farms, disappear at a rapid pace.
Many famous Americans and others cultural figures have traversed the Midwest roads –James Monroe (in 1785), Charles Dickens (1842), John Muir (1849), Henry David Thoreau (1861), Antonín Dvořák (1893), Winston Churchill (1946)—or, like me, were born and lived here, such as Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, Edgar Lee Masters, Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Jane Addams, Harry S Truman, Dwight 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, many more.
It is Abraham Lincoln whose memory is most famously linked to Midwest Roads. Over the Eighth (Judicial) Circuit riding his horse, “Old Bob,” he loved to travel them as a defense lawyer. It is to this Midwestern spirit culled from America’s sixteenth president that this photographic essay is dedicated.
1968 Chevrolet Corvair, DuPage Co., IL, August 30, 2018.
The Pick-Off, July 15, 2018. DuPage Co., Illinois.
Force at Third, DuPage Co., IL, July 15, 2018.
Man in his garden, DuPage Co., IL, July 1, 2018.
1932 Model G Servi-Car Side Valve V-Twin, Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee, WI, June 9, 2018.
Farm, Bureau Co., IL, June 5, 2017.
Crucifix/Wind Turbine, Bureau County, IL, June 5, 2017.
Tell ’em I’m from Chi-town!, Chicago, IL, June 12, 2018.
Lake Wedding, Waukesha County, WI, June 3, 2017.
Farm, Walworth Co., WI, May 31, 2017.
Sunday Bloody Mary/Tuesday Taco, July 31, 2017. Northern Illinois.
Barns, July 31, 2017. Northern Illinois.
Honor Guard, Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Dixon, IL, June 5, 2017.
Wide Load, Walworth Co., WI, June 1, 2017.
Barn, Stone and Wood, Walworth Co., WI, June 1, 2017.
Mother and Child, DeKalb Co., IL, October 9, 2016.
Silo, Barn, and Weather Vane, Grundy Co., IL, September 18, 2016.
Old House, Kendall Co., IL, September 18, 2016.
Redhead, Grundy Co., IL, September 18, 2016.
Bovine Portrait, LaSalle Co., September 4, 2016.
Octogenarian, Tazewell Co., IL, September 4, 2016.
Barn and Wagon, LaSalle Co., IL, August 31, 2016.
River Valley, LaSalle Co., IL, August 31, 2016.
Electrified Barns, Grundy Co., IL, August 31, 2016.
Barn, Grundy Co., August 31, 2016.
Downtown Mural, Ottawa, IL, August 31, 2016.
Patriotic Barn, Northern IL, August 29, 2016.
Blue Barn, Oswego, IL, April 2, 2016.
The Lane, Schaumburg, IL, March 29, 2016.
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.