In partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the “This Place Matters” campaign invited Mike’s friends, fans and followers across the country to submit photos of buildings significant to them and their communities and in need of life-saving repair and restoration. The campaign generated a wide and enthusiastic response, with submissions ranging from old private homesteads to dilapidated public spaces, and after careful consideration of the many #placestosave, the Variety Theatre was chosen to win a visit from Mike.
Mike was welcomed to Cleveland by an enthusiastic crowd and a group of city officials who took him on a private tour of the theater and the city block-sized complex that will soon house restaurants, retail spaces, and offices. Shortly after, he spoke for about 10 minutes to the crowd and to his millions of followers through LIVE videos and photos, expressing his appreciation for the community’s support for the ongoing project. he also talked about his own passion for preserving America’s history and the buildings that tell the stories.
“Heritage tourism is one of the important things we can all lean into nowadays. This isn’t just a project for the neighborhood. It’s a project for the entire city of Cleveland,” he said. “When you walk into an old building like the Variety Theatre it’s something that never leaves you. You become a child all over again. You want to touch and explore everything. There’s so much of that wonder here. That experience is going to be had again thanks to the heartfelt commitment of this community.”
As a thank you, the Variety Theatre board named him the honorary chairman for the capital campaign to raise the remaining amount needed for the eight-figure restoration of the early 1900s theater.
“No one has ever given up on this theater,” said Mike. “You have one or two people who truly believed in this and everyone around them said ‘ I want to be a part of that.’ That’s what ‘This Place Matters’ was about and that’s why this place matters.”
The Variety Theatre’s anticipated completion date is 2019.
Remember what camping was like before glamping? We didn’t care about mud on our shoes, bug bites, or cell reception. The food wasn’t in the fridge, it was in the water, and after we cooked it, we’d eat it around the campfire – watching for hours as flames turn to coals and embers floated skyward was all the television we needed.
These days, technology has overtaken us. Where we once asked a stranger for directions and perhaps wound up having a conversation with someone interesting who maybe sent us the long way that took as through a treasure of a small town, now we plug an address into our GPS and take the biggest, fastest highway to our destination. No muss, no fuss, no wasted time . . . no unforgettable characters, no unexpected experiences, no precious memories of the time we took all day to get there and discovered a piece of America on the way.
All summer long, folks across the country pile into campers with their friends and families for a weekend camping trip that now means $200,000 trailers with full kitchens, living rooms adorned with electric fireplaces, and flat screens fitted for a next-level Netflix binge-a-thon where afterward they’ll slumber soundly on a queen sized bed to the hum of their AC unit. Nice for a hotel room, but camping? Not so much.
So let’s ditch the luxury, pick up a bottle of bug spray, and head out for a real all-American camping trip. And we know just where to go:Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
Since 1925, Camp Wandawega, a one-time speakeasy turned nostalgic campground, has been the destination for campers willing to manage with the bare necessities as they retreat and reconnect with nature. The camp rests on 25 acres of clearings, woods, overlooks, and the shores of Wandawega Lake, fresh waters teeming with smallmouth bass and a collection of car keys left behind by generations of eager campers who forgot to empty their pockets before cannonballing off the dock or catapulting off the rope swing.
Nothing fancy about Wandawega. You should know right now that your sleep might be interrupted by the tickle of ladybugs creeping across your pillow, spiders may join you in the well water shower, and it might take a few minutes to get used to the creak of an 80-year-old bed frame topped with less-than-luxe 10-thread-count-sheets. The showers, baths, and kitchens are all authentic to the camp’s Prohibition roots, they’re all 100% communal, and they haven’t been updated since the Hoover administration.
Nervous about roughing it without your blow dryer? Don’t be. The moment you turn the corner to camp, you’ll be met with a sloppy kiss from Wandawega’s official welcome committee: furry, four-legged Frankie and owners/camp rangersDavid Hernandez and Tereasa Surratt. They’re always close by to help you ease into the classic camping experience. They’ll help you find a pizza place in case you burn your hotdogs, take you on a beer run in case you need distraction from those itchy bug bites and direct you to the closest Piggly Wiggly in case you forget your toothbrush. David knows what you need because he’s seen it all . . . he and his family were regulars at Camp Wandawega from 1960 right up into the ‘80s.
Though occupied with restoring the property since 2004, David and Tereasa haven’t done much to the lodge, cottages, or the three-story hotel on the property. They’ve pretty much left the old buildings alone except for enhancing the décor with historic memorabilia and adding amusements like books and puzzles. Yes, we said puzzles – they’re part of the secret plan to lure you in and get you to turn off your phone.
Walking about the grounds, you’ll discover places to hang your hat the old motorcycle garage, an A-frame overlooking the lake, a cabin, traditional teepees tucked away in clearings, and a decked-out treehouse that’s just the place for reconnecting with the robins and bluejays. All equally perfect for optimal sunrise/sunset observations, no extra charge! They operate on a “trust thy neighbor or go get a room at The Holiday Inn” policy. Embrace it or fear it, but we think that’s pretty cool.
And speaking of things in the dark, we know nature can be a bit intimidating but the sooner you respect the coyotes, deer, and scurrying squirrels, the more you’ll enjoy yourself. If you don’t want to meet the camp’s live-in clean-up crew, be sure to clean up your area. Raccoons are little party crashers who always show up hungry and with friends. Don’t leave them an open invitation at your cabin.
What a comfort to know that there are still places in the world that remind you that life can be easy and simple without all the commotion and clutter. That unplugging for a bit allows you to notice the goodness of life around you and to be present in the moment, and it gives you time to try baiting a hook or building a fire.
It’s places like Camp Wandawega that engage our minds, feed our souls and remind us of the joy that comes from reconnecting with simpler joys. Make a reservation and you’ll have a great story for your friends. While they’re complaining about the service Saturday night at the restaurant of the moment, you can talk about your glorious weekend jumping off docks, hooking your own dinner and catching lightning bugs. Grizzly Adams would be proud to shake your hand.
We’ve heard the saying before, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” Hats, homes, and hair all get the special treatment in the Lone Star State, so it’s no surprise that when it comes to how they throw a party, bigger is likely to be better.
In Southern cities, there’s no shortage of options for a good time: In Nashville, you can honkytonk your way around Broadway and in New Orleans, you can hear jazz up and down Bourbon Street. But in Texas, you can let loose at any of 400 different dance halls across the state, none of which feature disorderly tourists trying to sing “Don’t Stop Believin” after a few too many PBRs and Sazeracs.
Going to a dance hall is a soulful, family-friendly experience intended to encourage community interaction and even more important, to celebrate history. It’s part of the allure of the South to honor its past and its traditional values, values that go way deeper than biscuits and barbecue. As you see when you step foot in a dance hall, it’s those traditions, like the “come on in, y’all” hospitality of the South, that we all truly crave.
All across Texas, communities are tending the flame of Southern tradition, including making sure these halls last another century to welcome future generations. Locals happily throw open the doors to travelers who hop off the highway to experience these authentic cultural spots. Come as you are. No need to RSVP.
Here’s what keeps Texans showing up to these hallowed halls night after night.
A WALTZ THROUGH HISTORY
Desperate to escape oppression in the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, many Germans, Czechs, Polish fled to America. Having heard tales of Texas and its size they figured it was a big enough place that they could exist peacefully without consequence. When they arrived in Galveston or Indianola, they loaded up ox carts and followed the rivers North and West to settle. They quickly got to work creating a new life as farmers, business owners, and ranch hands. Homes and crops were popping up as communities began to grow, but they realized they were missing their homelands. As a way to honor their roots they began building social centers, known today as dance halls.
Without the help of power tools, Central and Eastern European immigrants used their skills and craftsmanship to construct these centers for the benefit of their communities. In
side these walls, they discussed agriculture, traded livestock, attended school, worshiped, cooked, and visited with each other. They were free to celebrate their cultural heritage without judgment. This included beer-making, singing in their native languages, playing the instruments they brought with them, and dancing.
As more Europeans began settling in Texas, more multicultural friendships formed and the sharing of traditions spread and new sounds were discovered. Germans were playing accordions in their fields, Irish immigrants picked their fiddles while working on the railroad, Creole trumpets sounded triumphantly on porches while the Mexicans strummed the 12 strings of their baja sextos. People of different backgrounds would teach each other songs, and perform for the community as the music blurred the lines of any differences between the collection of cultures. Music was at the heart of it all and the instrument integration enticed people to stay for days enjoying food, beer and fellowship. These centers transformed into places where all were welcome to come dance and play music together. That’s how they got to be called dance halls.
PRESENT DAY DANCE HALLS
Now, more than a century later, that same desire to share and exchange traditions still prevails. While it may be unfamiliar to tourists from north of the Mason-Dixon line, it’s the same tradition of hospitality that’s been here for generations and is found in today’s Texans, many of whom are descendants of the original settlers.
Folks of all ages, generations and skill levels have polished the wooden floors of Texas dance halls since 1878 when the one of the oldest halls – Gruene Hall – opened. Gathering has always been a family affair; it’s very common to have folks arrive at 10 pm on a Saturdaynight with kids perched on parents’ shoulders.
Do you hear that? The house band is warming up, and so is the weather. Time to pop open the windows, and put on your dancing boots!
Y’ALL COME IN!
When the sun goes down, you’ll know it’s time to head over to the hall. These events have been known to carry on well into the early hours of the morning, so pace yourself. And remember to take along a little cash for the cover at the door and the band’s tip jar!
Pull up. You’ll know you’re there by the sound of the gravel crunching under your wheels. Hop out and while you’re getting your sea legs under you on the uneven turf, take in the fragrant smoke from the nearby barbecue pit as it wafts through the groups of people cooling off in the shade of the century-old oaks that surround the building. Liquid encouragement is always available … grab a Shiner Bock in the beer hut out back before letting the music from inside lure you onto the front porch.
Walk in and listen to your boots connect with the wood floor. As you practice your spins, observe the wood-clad interiors and high ceilings. No air conditioning folks! So pick a spot by a fan. Scan the walls for early hand-painted tool advertisements offering tractor repair and pointing out the local grocery store. Some of them even still have their original three-digit phone numbers! Intertwined initials carved decades ago by young lovers still adorn the wooden benches and ceiling beams, and some of those couples may be on the dance floor as you watch, waltzing together still. Fathers hold onto young daughters who are dancing on their toes, parents polka on date night, and friends celebrate a birthday with the chicken dance. All is well.
While each hall has its own charm and story, a few do require a little more love and care than others. Round Top Dance Hall is one example of a building that was nearly lost to disrepair, but under the new ownership of Jon Perez and after a little Junk Gypsy-style makeover by Amie and Joilie Sikes, it has a second life.
ROUND TOP ON TOP
The Airway Dancehall (now called the Round Top Dance Hall) had been welcoming the townspeople of Wesley, Texas since 1907, but after 90 years of hard dancing and crowded Saturday nights, it was drooping. Slated for demolition, it won a last-minute reprieve in 1995 when it was purchased, disassembled and moved to Fayette County’s own Round Top, Texas where it was reassembled and reopened. It now stands proudly among the largest concentration of dance halls in the state, enjoyed once again by the Czech community for meals and dancing.
“We helped with some of the final restoration of the Round Top Dance Hall by building a stage made out of salvaged materials and a huge chandelier rehabbed from an irrigation wheel with over 24 porcelain light sockets wired in place,” explains Junk Gypsy Amie Sikes. “We reached out to our picker friends to find some vintage stage curtains and we found the perfect ones. They were 1960s, authentic blue velvet stage curtains that had been saved from a school auditorium in Michigan. They found the perfect home in Round Top.”
JUNK GYPSIES HELP THE HALL
“There’s a lot of people in Texas holding on to the history of dance halls, the legend and lore, the grit and the glitter “ explains Jolie Sikes. “ I think people in Texas are trying to save these historic dance halls because, for one, most of them are architecturally beautiful, and they are ‘feel good’ places. Dance halls were part of the Texas culture when family and community were the most important things. These halls were where these communities gathered for dances, weddings, and fried chicken after church on Sundays, back before everyone had access to easily stay home and watch a marathon of Netflix, these halls were hallowed. Today, it’s still where the 85-year-olds and kids gather to dance.”
PRESERVING THE POLKA
As far as motivating the younger generation to stay on the dance floor, leave it up to Deb Fleming, Executive Director and Past Board President of the Texas Dance Hall Preservation Inc. a ten year old state wide non profit whose mission to help preserve the historic halls of Texas as well as the music and culture found in them.
“We want to help our kids understand the history and heritage of their community,” says Deb. “The folks who supported this culture are aging, so we’re inspired to engage younger musicians and their fanbases to get them out and playing at the dance halls. We want this generation to reconnect live music, the kind that’s meant to be heard and danced to in a dance hall.”
The Texas Dance Hall Preservation Inc established that at one time there were around 1,000 dance halls scattered across Texas. It’s their personal mission to preserve the 400 that are left through local awareness, grants and social media.
“People want to see these dance halls restored not because they like to dance, though that is part of the traditon, but because they’re part of Texas history,” says Deb. “It’s an honor to keep my Polish/German/Czech heritage alive through through dance hall preservation work and to keep the stories and memories alive as well”
If you’re interested in learning more about dance hall history and music, sign up to take a Texas Dance Hall Tour led by Deb and the Texas Dance Hall Preservation Team along with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel and others this coming October!
To close off this Texas piece, let’s let Steinbeck take it away,
“For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America.” Go experience it for yourself and don’t forget your best boots!
Have you ever danced in a dance hall? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Photo/video credits by Amie and Jolie Sikes, Kiki Teague, Deb Fleming, Dave Norris, David Bucek, Patrick Sparks and archival photos from various sources.
Pack for you trip to Texas with our Weekender Bag. Created by Bradley Mountain, it’s strong enough to hold all your boots and fringe. Get the bag!
Jessica Ilalaole left Hawaii at just 16 years old. Life on a little island in the middle of the Pacific can only hold so much adventure for a growing girl. Never having known anything but island life and starving to feed her passions and curiosities, Jessica said farewell to mom and dad and uprooted her life to Portland, Oregon. There she was introduced to a faster city pace and dove, head first, into its creative current.
With her new found freedom, Jessica pounced on the opportunity to unlock adventures that had not been available in her small island life. She began covering herself in tattoos, exploring on her motorcycle, and meeting people that were as interesting as the clothing and accessories they wore. She became more and more fascinated by vintage style. At the time, not knowing that something as small as a pair of earrings would make such a big impact on the direction of her path towards her successful, self-made jewelry collection, CobraCult.
“I had bought a pair of vintage earrings that brought me such happiness…until I lost one. I could not bring myself to throw out the heirloom quality one lonely stud I was left with. So, I decided to make a replacement. From that moment on, friends started asking me to make them pieces and I was thrilled. I was having fun and bringing in some extra income, but I wanted to do more. So, I took my first metalsmith class and quickly decided to pursue jewelry making full-time.”
Jessica felt like the noise of the city was not the setting she needed to begin this venture. Knowing that in order to produce her best work, she would need to reconnect with the raw nature of her roots. She decided to move to a setting that could fuel her creative direction.
“I quit my job, broke up with my boyfriend, left Portland, and moved into a cabin in Hayfork, California where I have made jewelry for the last nine years. Not one single regret about it. I’ve never felt a stronger connection to nature than in this place. I’ve got the coast on one side, Redwoods on the other, and the mountains and I are in the middle.”
For Jessica, it’s the perfect place to tether herself to the familiar wonders of nature she once played in as a child; without returning to the isolation of an island in the Pacific. She harnesses the passion she feels in this place to produce pieces of jewelry so special, that they will be able to be passed down and enjoyed for years to come. Just like an antique.
“When I was digging around through an antique shop just this morning I began to contemplate how all these treasures were made by hand, with intent. Everything was meant to last a lifetime and that’s what I am out to accomplish with CobraCult. I am not about creating pieces that are just some fleeting fashion trend. I want you to pass my jewelry down like heirlooms.
To attain that long lasting quality she is looking for, Jessica leans heavily on the social community of Instagram to purchase American mined turquoise from New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona to compliment her collections.
“I purchase these certified American mined stones from the online jewelry community of stonecutters because it’s the only way to access these incredible stones from where I live. Although it is nice when I do travel around the West to pick up some stones along the trail. When it is time to begin a piece, I examine the stone first. It speaks to me. Then I find the best way to show it off in a frame of sterling silver.”
When she is ready to go into her creative zone, she walks into her cabin workshop and meditates on the pieces. The entire place is reflective of her nature and animal influences. Deer graze in the shade of the cabin, her hammock stretches out welcomingly between two towering pines, water splashes over rocks in the stream beside her, and the mountains reach the highest peaks over yonder. She tends to the flame of her wood burning stove, and gets to work.
When she isn’t tucked away in her cabin, she spends her time on a horse ranch or rehabilitating wild birds.
“I’ve been working with the folks of the Shasta Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to help injured hawks, owls, and eagles regain strength to fly again,” explains Jessica. “I wasn’t introduced to these birds living in Hawaii and now I am obsessed. The power and focus in big birds like eagles is relatable to me. In my next life I’d like to be one. I’m wildly connected to birds which is why I often feature them in my designs.”
To all the folks out there worried if their passion won’t feed them and keep the bill collectors off their case. Jessica has this to say:
“Look, I never saw this picture for my life. I started this journey without trying and everything as fallen into play so beautifully. Believe in your craft and never lose your curiosity. Feed your happiness and starve your fears. The world needs more passionate people who aren’t afraid to fly.”
You won’t find cell reception, restaurants, gas stations, or other amenities along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire. Zero.The Kancamagus Highway runs between the small train towns of Lincoln and Conway and in the fall puts on the best show of golden yellow and fiery red foliage in the whole country. Flocks of us descend every year for the fabled autumnal display. But you know what comes with a reputation like that? Crowds. And if crowds aren’t on your “favorites” list, this region has something else to offer. . . so visit this summer.
While leaf peepers are trudging through the snow snapping selfies and balancing lattes behind a backdrop of yellow oaks, you’re going to be cooling off in waterfalls, camping in a national forest, and feeling the warm wind on your face from the seat of your bike until you find exactly the right spot and pull over for an impromptu picnic beneath a shady tree.
Carving through the 700,000 acres of protected, pristine trees of the White Mountains, ” the Kanc” has led free-spirited travelers to trails, waterfalls, and overlooks since 1959. This year it’s your turn to be one of them.Find yourself with this 34.5 mile stretch of road under your toes and you’ll have no choice but to surrender to nature, but you’ll be a better person for it. This highway has a lesson to teach, and it’s a class you don’t want to miss. We recommend you show up and bring an apple. (It will be an excellent snack later.)Grab your gear, a buddy, and unplug. Time for a respite from the headlines and maybe even a meal you can enjoy without first posting it on Instagram! Here’s a chance to reconnect with the nature along one of the great American two lane roads. Pick up a map at the Ranger Station and let’s go!
NOTE: No matter if you begin in Lincoln or Conway, expect to lose those last few reception bars after the first two miles. Just nature’s way of removing distraction making it easier to focus on the mighty peaks of the White Mountains on your right and the rushing crystal waters of the Swift River on your left.
You’re going to want to take your time on this highway. Plenty to see, so you are encouraged to pull off and explore when whenever the spirit moves you. Start off by researching some trails along the way that are appropriate for your skill level. You’ve got 16 trails to choose from and they all snake through the White Mountain National Forest, offering incredible views of mountains, waterfalls, and more mountains. Don’t miss the Albany Covered Bridge and Boulder Loop Trail. Walk across the wood planks of this 1858 bridge and take your fishing pole. . . the Swift River below is full of mature trout and it’s a moderate/easy 2.8 mile round trip hike to get to them and back. Mount Chocorua Piper Trail is another great hike. The UNH Trail sends you up a 2,500 foot mountainside with incredible views, passing stands of specimen hardwoods all the way up. Oh, and poison ivy . . . lots of it . . . so don’t forget: “Leaves of three, leave them be! “
Need a post-hike refresher? When was the last time you took a swim in a clear mountain pool? We can suggest a few . . .
If you’re traveling from Conway towards Lincoln, there are many spots within the first 10 miles to pull off and wade into the cool waters of the Lower Falls. Sabbaday Falls, less than a half mile from the highway, is a great stop, with warm, flat granite rocks perfect for a post-dip sunbath. For a bigger challenge before reaching the prize of a great swim, try hiking up to the 70-foot cascade of Champney Falls. Just give yourself time – it’s good three hours there and back. The Rock Gorge is out there too, but please don’t try to swim in it.
Toward the end of the day, how about heading for higher ground and watching a mountain sunset?
Should you want to enjoy some food and a view, unpack a picnic at one of the scenic overlooks like Pemigewasset or Hancock and sit among the panoramas of Mount Osceola and the Scar Ridge. And try not to miss the views at the Kancamguas Pass. At 2,860 feet, it’s the highest point of the highway. Raise a glass to the untouched wonder around you. It’s a beautiful thing.
If you aren’t ready to head back to civilization just yet, even with nightfall approaching, pull off the highway and pitch a tent at one of the campgrounds inside the White Mountain National Forest. Make a fire, roast some marshmallows, and enjoy the silence. With the closest light source more than 30 miles away, you better believe the stars will be on full display. So this year don’t wait for the fall colors or fight the like-minded hordes . . . travel the Kanc this summer and revive your soul in peace!
Life on a two lane road is an unpredictable adventure. We can plan a trip down to the last detail, but there’s no anticipating who we’ll meet along the way or how the road will bend and turn as we go. Not to mention the possibility of running out of gas or cash, or needing to call upon the saving grace of a tow. Something the crew of Living Lands & Waters is hoping for right now.
Why are these people living on a trashbarge?
“We are currently floating near St. Louis waiting for cargo barge to cruise by to tow us up the river!” exclaims Chad Pregracke, the founder of Living Lands & Waters, the largest river cleanup project in America. “We are hitchhikers with a big backpack.”
The backpack he is referencing is his fleet of five barges, two towboats, six workboats, two skid steers, and an excavator, all of which carry Chad and his crew of 13 2,300 miles up and down the Mississippi River, year round, where they clean up the litter inside and around the Big Muddy. Something Chad has been doing since he was 15 years old.
“I grew up in East Moline, Illinois, spending summers as a commercial mussel diver with my brother. Diving the mighty river, I was surrounded by sand-covered oil drums, tires, refrigerators and other garbage that littered its floor. Once I realized I was swimming in garbage, I decided to rewrite the river’s reputation, and do it alone if I had to.”
Incredibly, he has never needed to. Chad’s one-man mission started a conversation that spread across the country and now includes the helping hands of more than 100,000 volunteers who have donned gloves and boots and joined him on the riverbanks.
“Before paved roads and railroads, goods and people arrived by boat,” explains Chad. “America’s waterways were and are still major transportation hubs building and propelling the country forward. With more than 17,000 miles of rivers weaving across America, every mile of water is worth protecting.”
When the crew isn’t busy organizing one of their thousands of river cleanups, they’re on board their 310-foot floating home. Let’s climb on board and show you around!
Built in 2011 in Kentucky, the solar-powered house barge has two bathrooms, seven bedrooms, two offices, a galley, a full basement, a classroom, and a 31,000-gallon water tank.
“More than 18 million people a day drink the Mississippi River water, ” shares Chad, “so we make sure that while we’re spending this much time trying to clean up the river, we aren’t inadvertently adding to the problem. On board, you’ll see we’ve done a great job of recycling and reusing salvaged bits and pieces to build our home.”
There’s a cozy, silly, nature theme present throughout the vessel from the warm wooden floors and walls to the four dog dishes in the kitchen!) Photos of past river cleanups form an orderly line around the classroom walls passing under the large cattle horns that hold a very snazzy pair of white leather shoes. Above you, a fierce snapping turtle hangs over the kitchen table, ready to clean your plate for you when you’re done.
The entire barge is a Frankenstein boat with a support structure assembled from a flooded strip club, reclaimed barn tin and wood, recycled license plate awnings, reclaimed rebar, and old bridge girders. Along with the creative use of former river garbage, the barge design includes sustainable materials like the bamboo flooring covering the bathrooms, hallways and classroom, the eco-friendly concrete counter tops throughout, and Energy Star® appliances to handle preparation and clean-up of the most common shipboard meal — frozen pizzas.
“Life on board is fun and exciting,” proclaims Chad. “We have this amazing job that allows us to have a quick commute and lets us work outside at a job that produces immediate results. We love coming together at the end of the day around the kitchen table and talking about the people we met that day or strange things we pulled out of the water and then quickly jump back into our Netflix shows and card games. It’s all about keeping it chill on our unconventional setup.”
The best part of the house barge is the classroom. Complete with chairs, desks and a projector, the onboard teachers Megan Elgan and Michael Coyne-Logan have taught more than 10,000 students about river ecosystems and ecology restoration. (Michael actually quit his job as an 8th-grade history teacher and swapped a traditional classroom setting for a floating one. He has been on board for the last 10 years!)
“Getting the river clean and keeping it clean are two different things,” explains Chad. “We have to explain this to folks and remind them that their work is not done in a day. It takes a piece at a time, which is how the river got polluted in the first place. Michael and Meghan are education rock stars, teaching this to everyone – young and old – on board.”
The crew comes from all sorts of different backgrounds— professional disc golfers, college grads, former dental hygienists, handymen, bakers, etc. When united they form the ultimate river cleanup machine, but it never feels like work.
“It’s like living on a cruise ship,” says Chad. “When the boat docks, we jump off and go explore the mainland. We take the time to explore the green spaces and the downtowns, to pick up dog food and toilet paper, to organize local citizens for a river cleanup, and then return to the boat when it’s time to move along to the next port.”
If these folks sound like your kind of company, there are a few ways you can help them reach their goal of recycling one million pounds by the end of 2017.
How can you join the crew?
Show up!” exclaims Chad. “We keep things light during river cleanups with skits, contests for the strangest thing pulled out of the water, karaoke, loud music, motivational speeches… it’s incredibly entertaining.”
Chad and his crew aren’t just sticking to the Mississippi. Living Lands & Waters has cleaned up 23 rivers in 20 states and they are always looking for volunteers along the way. Everyone from churches, businesses, families, and students looking for an alternative spring break option for next year is encouraged to sign up. More than 100,000 volunteers have helped pull bowling balls, evidence from robberies, sunken boats, and school bus roofs from the water. But there is always a need for more hands, and all ages are welcome!
“The communities we’ve visited and worked with have done a great job of keeping their section clean long after we’ve gone,” explains Chad. “Because of that, we don’t ever have to visit the same place twice, and that makes it easy to expand our outreach, share our passion, and educate new people every day. We promise you a good time out there while doing a good deed for the environment.”
The comeback of nostalgic advertising in small town USA
Have you ever caught yourself trying to decipher a ghost sign?
You know — those extra large, faded advertisements for brands like Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco and Coca-Cola you see flaking off the side of brick buildings and barns? That art you’re admiring is actually a major piece of American advertising history known as ghost signs– the remains of a hand-painted brick ad that was big enough to catch the attention of travelers and consumers alike to buy American products like King Midas Flour, Maxwell Coffee, and Owl Cigars.
Painted decades before the Great Depression, brick ads were considered the main advertising platform beginning in 1890. (The same year W B Purvis submitted his patent for the fountain pen.) But, whoever’s steady hand was behind these sky-high signs surely used something stronger than a delicate fountain pen to bring them to life. It took lead paint, brushes, and the grit of the All-American Walldog.
It’s an appropriate nickname given to the uncredited, commissioned artists who worked like dogs under the scorching sun and against the frigid air for 10 hours a day. Tethered to their canvas high above the ground, the painters dangled off the side of the building balancing their brushes and buckets of paint. Wall. Dogs. Makes sense right? Their flawless paint strokes produced the brick ads we see today up until the 1960s when neon signs became more relevant. It has been about 100 years since this advertising style was relevant, but folks like Scott Lindley are here to proclaim ghosts signs are back from the dead.
In a century bombarded with flashy emblements, pop-up ads, and commercials, brush-to-brick advertising is making a comeback thanks an organization called The Walldogs. As its event coordinator and a decade-long Walldog himself, Scott’s mission is to help get The Walldogs work again by painting the unique history of small towns across America one wall at a time. Scott’s goal turned reality by Nancy Bennett, who organized the very first Walldogs meet up in Allerton, Iowa in 1993.
“Walldogs are above everything else, storytellers,” proclaims Scott. “We say that the first Walldog was a caveman. Just sitting there in his cave painting on the wall the events of his day. The Caveman started this movement of painting pictures of the past!”
So far, more than 300 Walldogs have painted 548 brick ad murals in 26 towns across America and counting. Scott fulfills Walldog requests submitted from communities coast-to-coast that need a shot of life and have a story to share. Once a town is selected, The Walldogs dive into their history and begin to collaborate with the community on sign designs. The one rule they have: no commercial murals. Walldogs insist on only painting historic event murals and advertisements for businesses that don’t exist anymore but had a hand in the town’s history. When everything is ready to go, Scott makes a call to Nova Color, an American made long-lasting acrylic paint company in California, and they get to work.
“When we come to town, we average about 100 to 200 people per project,” explains Scott. “While many professional Walldogs are on site, there are loads of volunteers who want to be a part of the action, too. That means between seasoned Walldogs and untrained volunteers, art students, and more these murals showcase multiple influences and styles. It boosts confidence and turns folks into Walldog junkies after they dip their first brush.”
It’s interesting to see how the reputation of a Walldog has evolved because back in the early days they simply showed up, painted, and hitchhiked to the next town to earn their next paycheck. Today, it’s more of an honest investment and community project that brings pride to the people.
“Over the years, these events have transformed into more of an education opportunity for folks,” says Scott. “People want to feel like they’re a part of it and we love that. We want to unite friends and neighbors using historic art as the bridge and it has proven to be long-lasting and uplifting.”
“The best part about my job is establishing bonds and telling stories,” says Scott. ” It’s addictive because you want to hear them all! After working with a town, I consider myself a part of it. Proud to say that to this day I’ve helped organize 102 murals and that I belong to five communities all around the country and counting.”
Are brick ads making a return to your town or do you know where one is? Tell us about it in the comments below.
As a guest editor, you get to hand select the content and stories. Between this issues’s 169 pages, Mike and his two friends Garlan Gudger and Nick Dryden have put together an assortment of small town destinations to visit, recipes to try, and artisans you outta know all found below the Mason Dixie Line.
But even more than the strawberry BBQ sauce recipe found on page 98, the intent of the issue is to bring the focus on the physical memories you can touch. Something Mike brings forward in his professional career daily. With each piece he pulls from a barn, he holds a tangible connection to the past in his hands. For those of you who hold tight to hand-me-downs, personal treasures, and tell their stories, this issue is for you!
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