Mark Twain – Day 62

Mark Twain

Day 62 – June 1, 2003 – Sunday

Month three begins.

Today was a pretty uneventful day. It took me a lot longer to get out of the greater St. Louis area than I expected. In Alton, Illinois, I saw the life-sized statue of Robert Wadlow, the 8-foot 11-inch world’s tallest man. I then rode on not one but two ferry boats as I crossed the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers from the long peninsula area that extends down toward St. Louis — unusual area. I spent some time in Hannibal, Missouri seeing the Mark Twain sights. Iowa became the 18th state we’ve visited. I was also in Louisiana today — Louisiana, Missouri. As always, I met a number of very nice people.

Unfortunately, today will rank as one of the least enjoyable days. Nothing bad — just long and pretty boring.

In Alton, I drove to the campus of the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine because it is home to the life-sized statue of Robert Pershing Wadlow, the 8-foot 11-inch world’s tallest man. Robert was born on February 22, 1918, and weighed a normal eight pounds, six ounces. He drew attention to himself when at six months old, he weighed 30 pounds. A year later at 18 months, he weighed 62 pounds. He continued to grow at an astounding rate, reaching six feet, two inches and 195 pounds by the time he was eight years old. At 16, he was 7’10” and weighed 374. He reached 8’11” and 439 pounds when he was 22 years old. His height of 8′ 11.1″ qualifies him as the tallest person in history, as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records.

His clothing required three times the normal amount of cloth, and his size 37 shoes cost $100.00 a pair (a lot of money back in the 1930’s). His shoes were later provided free by the International Shoe Company. When he turned 20, Robert traveled for the shoe company, visiting over 800 towns and 41 states. His father had to modify the family car, removing the front passenger seat so Robert could sit in the back seat and stretch out his long legs. The father and son team traveled over 300,000 miles on their goodwill tour for the shoe company.

Robert’s unique size was attributed to an overactive pituitary gland, which produced much higher than normal levels of growth hormone. Today’s medical science can compensate for such problems – but in the 1920’s, there was no therapy available.

As a youth, Robert had enjoyed good health, but his large feet had troubled him for many years. He had little sensation in his feet and did not feel any chafing until blisters formed. While making an appearance in Manistee, Michigan in July 1940, a fatal infection set in when such a blister formed. Robert Wadlow passed away in his sleep on July 15, 1940.

Robert’s body was brought back to his hometown of Alton for burial. The 1,000-pound casket required a dozen pallbearers, assisted by eight other men. Out of respect for Alton’s Gentle Giant, all city businesses closed for the funeral. Over 40,000 people signed the guest register. Robert’s gravestone simply reads “At Rest.” Robert Wadlow holds a special place in Alton’s history. He is remembered as a quiet young man who overcame a unique handicap, and who was an inspiration to all who knew him.

Just outside of Alton, Illinois, I saw a home built to look like Noah’s Ark. This proved to be one of the major sights that I saw today. Yes, it was a snoozer.

The car and I rode a ferry across the Mississippi River from Illinois to Missouri. This ferry crosses the Mississippi River near the small town of Batchtown into St. Charles County, Missouri connecting with Route 79. I wanted to ride the ferry for the experience and to save some miles. I met a number of nice people before getting on the ferry.

I made my way to Hannibal, Missouri — Mark Twain’s hometown. Mark Twain is one of the world’s most beloved authors. I saw the Mark Twain Riverboat, Mississippi River, Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, Mark Twain Lake, Huck Finn Mall, Mark Twain Home, Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, Mark Twain Cave, Mark Twain‘s childhood home, statue of Tim Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and more. Tom Sawyer’s fence was a highlight. Just about everything in downtown Hannibal is Mark Twain-related.

I climbed up to the top of Cardiff Hill to see the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse and to get an overview of Hannibal. Steep hill.

When I drove through Nauvoo Illinois, I saw a big church, and I pulled over for a photo. I met two young boys (probably 11 or 12 years old) on the side of the road. They told me the church is a Mormon temple and that Nauvoo is a big Mormon town.

I learned that in 1839, Joseph Smith and his followers, the Mormons, settled in this area after they were forced out of Missouri by religious persecution. Within three years, Nauvoo was one of the largest cities in Illinois and the tenth largest in the United States. Nauvoo was famous for its beautiful homes, its many fine shops, and its magnificent Temple on the bluff overlooking the city and the river. Soon internal dissension, religious antagonism, and the fear of the political power of the Mormons exploded into a fury. In 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother were assassinated, and the Mormons were forced to evacuate the city in 1846 when the temple was burned.

In April 1999, Gordon Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that the Church would rebuild the Nauvoo Temple on the original site on the Hill in Nauvoo. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 1999 and a cornerstone ceremony was held in November 2000.

Iowa became state #18. I saw some barns and a nice sunset, but there wasn’t much to see in eastern Iowa. There also wasn’t anywhere to eat dinner. I finally settled for Mr. Quick’s Hamburgers in Ottumwa, Iowa. Mr. Quick in Ottumwa, Iowa is now the #1 contender for Worst Meal. And I can’t imagine how any place can top them for absolutely the worst service!

I finally stopped for the night at the Comfort Inn in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Pat suggested Wes’ Restaurant for pie for breakfast. Pat also told me where I should have eaten a “loose meat sandwich” in Ottumwa. Loose meat sandwiches are a special cut of ground beef cooked with special spices, and the ground beef is cooked and put on the bun “loose.”

I was reminded today of the lyrics of a John Denver song, “some days are diamonds, some days are stones.” Today was a stone. No problems, just not exciting.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
World’s Tallest Man — Hannibal Missouri — Mark Twain