Greencastle to Casey, Illinois - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 22, 2014

Greencastle to Casey, Illinois

Clabber Girl, her siren call summons you to Terre Haute
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WHAT A CONTRAST America can be. Not in the landscape, not at the moment, because that has stayed low-lying and at best gently rolling. And not in the roads, because after a morning of bliss through fields where discreet mist stayed bunched and briefly defiant of the morning sun, and noble horses posed one foot before the other like Beau Brummel, and my route took me once or twice through covered bridges, I have been back on the old National Road, the only obvious way west.

No, I mean contrast in the faces that it shows. Let me explain...

Terre Haute was named, presumably, by French explorers happy to find dry earth in a swamp on which to pitch their tents. It means High Ground in French but it is, of course, pronounced in American. Precisely, as was explained by an English professor in Indianapolis, Haute rhymes with "goat".

Well, if you live there you probably know of its charms. But the best it can boast of itself is that you are, as a yellow billboard before the town explains, five minutes from the home of Clabber Girl baking powder.

What drew me there, though, was the Candles museum. Candles is one of those strained and self-conscious constructions you feel was contrived by a committee. It stands for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors. I can't help thinking that simply Candles would have done, with its image of fragile survival.

Candles - bombed by right-wingers
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Children listen to the terible story of what must seem ancient history. But those who don't understand their history are destined to re-live it
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Anyway, the single-storey museum lies behind a short stretch of symbolic railway line, of the sort that ran into the gates of Auschwitz and other extermination camps (the Germans were fastidious about their camps having good rail connections) on a busy road to one side of the city. The story is that a woman who later moved to Terre Haute was sent from Romania to Auschwitz along with her sister. Josef Mengele, the doctor in the camp, was delighted to see Eva and Miriam arrive. He liked twins because they had identical physiologies and he could inject one with up to 15 sets of germs a day and use the other as a control. When one twin died, the other was killed by an injection to the heart and both bodies were cut up and examined.

Remarkably, Eva and Miriam were still alive when the Russians arrived. One had nearly died but both had survived. The twins grew, they found 122 other survivors, they founded their museum and one, perhaps both, publicly forgave the Nazis for what had been done to them. That caused a fuss but it wasn't enough for right-wing extremists: they fire-bombed the museum and destroyed much of its displays.

Mainly, of course, the little building offers explanatory panels, of the era, of the twins' life, of the fruitless search for Mengele after he fled to South America, and more. But there is also a warning for Americans not to wring their hands and tut-tut. Because, while the degree of course wasn't the same, Indiana led the the American campaign to sterilise simple-minded people in an effort to create a "better" race. Virginia was another state and the panels named a couple more. To which I can add that the British army, from 1914 to 1918, executed "worthless men" who went against its rules, again to create a stronger race.

It was, thankfully, a different era.

Casey, on the other hand, just across the border into Illinois, is determined to amuse. One of its prominent businessmen is called Jim Bolin and his name is on the back of oil tankers in the region. And, in a two-year spell of inspired eccentricity, he thought up, designed and built the world's largest wind chimes. They look like those he saw at his grandmother's house but with the difference that the tubes are 15 metres long. Tug on a rope and they chime, with a deep and pleasant resonance.

"We were just trying to think of something that would energise the community and maybe bring some traffic through Casey," he's quoted as saying. And certainly the town wishes you to know it because it says so on billboards along the interstate that ran beside me for some time.

What the signs don't say is that Casey also has the world's largest knitting needles and crochet hook and the world's largest golf tee and, shortly (the rockers are already there), will have the world's largest rocking chair. I went to see the tee, which is at a golf course on the town's edge. It is 9.3m high and would, frankly, be no more than a big wooden sculpture were there not plans to place a golf ball on top, in scale, and to open one side so golfers really could start their game from there. But the wind chimes are remarkable.

What an excellent place America is!

The world's largest wind chimes; pull a rope and they ring
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Casey trades on its over-sized treats
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Today's ride: 127 km (79 miles)
Total: 1,599 km (993 miles)

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