BURLINGTON TO NAUVOO
We drove to Crapo Park to start the day. No runners to join us there so we drove down to the Port of Burlington and met Tim, our police escort. Biked over the US 34 bridge and down Carman Road toward Nauvoo, Illinois. Heavy traffic initially, but it tapered off as we rode. The roads were not bike friendly, but motorists were mostly courteous and made room. We transferred to running and did back-to-back legs, arriving at Nauvoo a bit earlier than expected.
We were greeted at the The Red Front Nauvoo by Mayor John McCarty, Sharon and Larry Nicholl, Jeff and Helen Christiansen. Jeff brought some red and blue balloons to mark the spot, but since we had already found the spot, the balloons just became a new addition to our van. A short round of introductions and we were off to our host’s home to get situated and enjoy a nice lunch.
Over lunch, we got to know Sharon and learned about her journey to Nauvoo. She came as a missionary and was expecting to return to California afterward. But life doesn’t always follow a tidy script. In Nauvoo, she met Larry, head of IT at the Mission. Larry was a great help to her in her public relations work at the Mission. They spent hours together putting signs together for a big event, basically sharing their life stories, but they never officially dated. That isn’t allowed for missionaries. And yet one day, Sharon called Larry up to ask him a favor, and Larry responded, “will you marry me.” She about flipped! This totally disrupted her world, after several previous marriages and divorces, Sharon was about done with all of that. Not only that, but she had just extended her mission another six months! Now here was this proposal, from a man she didn’t necessarily want to admit that she was very fond of. So she tried to ignore it at first of course. But she eventually had to pray about it, and found the only answer was yes. She finished out her mission, canceled the extension, they married just days after her mission concluded then drove out to California to get her things and move her back to Nauvoo for good. With 13 grown children between she and Larry both, this was a whole new family beginning, another Nauvoo story as we were just beginning to discover there were many more to come. . . .
Sharon then took us out for a tour of the town. We stopped alongside the temple to admire the incredible view looking west, then drove down to the flats. So much to see and do! We could probably spend a week here, but our tour guide knew that we had a schedule to keep. The ox-cart ride would have to wait. Instead we stopped at the blacksmith shop. Brother Davis (retired Air Force) showed us the process of building wagon wheels – a very complicated job with very primitive tools . . . and so many wheels to make for the exodus! His cell phone went off as he was hammering out a horseshoe, which I’m guessing didn’t happen that often back in 1845. Our next stop was the Brigham Young house, where we met a couple of young missionaries. Sisters Paystrop and Swaney gave us a quick tour and shared their stories as well. The fervor in these young missionaries is demonstrable—taking 18 months of their lives, often after having started college, paying their own way, to do the work of their faith, wherever the church sees fit to send them.
After this we met with Jim Moffet at his long-time home, which he recently sold to his nephew. It’s an old log cabin with a long history. The Moffets have been in Nauvoo since before the Mormons arrived. Jim and family are Irish Catholic. Diane and Donna from the Standing Bear Council were there as well, and Donna’s granddaughter Riley took pictures for us. She’s an aspiring photographer.
Diane and Donna led the way after the meeting with Jim. We went up to the burial mounds and convened with Cal Christiansen. Cal has been interested in mounds throughout the area for some time, in protecting them, restoring them, and learning their stories as he connects them back with their ancestors when possible. Diane and Donna have a great respect for the mounds and mound people due to their own heritage as part Cherokee. As our group gathered at the mound site, a spirited discussion rose up around Native history and present circumstances up and down the river and throughout the US.
Nauvoo area is shaped by a history of Catholic, Latter Day Saints, German, and Icarian settlements. Many from amongst those groups remain here today. The Baxter Winery is a testament to the Icarian history of Nauvoo, and Kim Logan is the contemporary generation of the Baxter family still very involved in the winery although less entrenched in the Icarian communal living philosophy. The Icarian way of life only actually lasted for six years or so, but some of the families returned or remained in Nauvoo. The Baxters learned winemaking and brought it to Nauvoo, and Kim now keeps the books, her mom makes the wines, and her dad tends the grapes. Kim has two young daughters and is the former tourism director for Nauvoo. She says she’s got 5 full time jobs now, just to keep things going, but she likes her life in Nauvoo. Her ex-husband fell into a bad a bad way, so he’s out of the picture—she’s raising the girls on her own, with great help from mom and dad of course. But will she be in Nauvoo forever? Will she take over the winery when her parents are done? It’s still a question. She and Matt Krauss, the son of the Hotel Nauvoo owners (amongst other downtown Nauvoo establishments), apparently have the conversation regularly—about what’s next. What will they do?
Kim brought us by the town’s historical museum and we met Rita who gave us a tour. The Icarian room was a highlight as well as the Great River room. They are building out an archives room with a collection of old books and records. It’s a lot of work, but seems to have a lot of community investment.
From there we made our way back to Sharon and Larry’s to end our night. I thought I would stay up for a bite of cheesecake, but passed out on the couch, exhausted from such a full day.