The International Writers Magazine: Tour America
Fred C. Wilson III
“I respect traditional people; they have eyes which see value in the tarnished.” - Criss Jamie
The 94 mile (174 km) drive from Chicago to Nappanee, Indiana took three hours. Had the drive been a one shot deal from Chicago straight to our destination instead of crisscrossing highways it would have been bearable. High gas prices and heavy traffic made the drive a test of nerves. My wife and I were entertaining our Japanese friends. My wife’s childhood pen pal Keiko and daughter Emiko live in a Tokyo suburb. Every year before we continued on to Manila we would spend a week at their family home and they ours when they visited Chicago. Keiko is a popular travel writer; Emiko husband hunting. My not being fluent in Japanese, made reading Keiko’s works impossible. Both women wanted to see how Amish people lived and we were happy to oblige. Our destination Amish Acres, a small Old Order Amish settlement/tourist attraction in Nappanee, Indiana. Amish Acres is an 80 acre farming community that was homesteaded by Moses Stahly. The Indiana Amish go back to 1839. Amish Acres was first opened to the public in 1970. The original farmstead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The first city of note outside Chicago is Gary, Indiana. Gary is the local version of a Wild Western ghost town. The central business district resembled something out of one of those semi-deserted cities in the popular TV horror series The Walking Dead.’ Crime is sky high. Political corruption is the order of the day. Gary’s not a pleasant place by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe Gary’s situation’s changed since we were last there but I doubt it.
The sights along the way were so-so. Indiana like most of the Midwest is flat. The route was lined with service stations, a few roadside diners, small nondescript towns, an inn or two, auto parts shops, junk yards and some produce stands. Highway Six was overloaded with a wide assortment of vehicular traffic. Our car was one among thousands of that clogged the road that late morning.
Indiana is beautiful. It’s flat carpets of lush green grass, the many clumps of tall trees with abandoned farm houses that dotted the countryside gave the sovereign state of Indiana a pristine beauty all its own. Like people everywhere, most are incredibly nice, though the state has a checkered history. Long time national headquarters of the Knights of the Klu Klux Klan or KKK, it still isn’t safe for minorities to walk or bicycle through sparsely populated areas. Ugly things have happened to blacks wondering through small towns or on open roads. Only a literal act of God saved me from getting strung up some years ago when I bike hiked through northern Indiana near St. John’s. On one occasion my family and I had to be escorted from Indiana Sand Dunes National Park back to our car by park rangers who feared for our safety. I’ve seen more Confederate flags in the ‘Hoosier State’ (Indian Land) than American flags!
During the 1830’s Native Americans were victimized as part of genocidal President Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy. A slaver Jackson was a proponent of ethnic cleansing over a 100 years before Hitler. Even today casinos owned and operated by Native Americans don’t hang on to twenty dollar bills since they have Jackson’s picture. There’s serious talk about changing the face on the 10 or 20 dollar bills. My choice; remove Jackson and replace it was a famous woman. Indiana is beautiful but for certain skin tones it can be damn dangerous, but that’s another article.
||Amish Acres didn’t look inviting as we drove in. Once we parked our car we took a walking tour of the place. The colony/tourist attraction consists of the original nine buildings; two relocated log cabins, an ice house, a mint distillery, apple cider mill, maple sugar camp and a blacksmith shop. These neo-Luddites loath technology for fear the modern world will somehow derail their ultra-orthodox religious beliefs and tarnish their simple lifestyle. Also on site are the Round Barn Theatre, three bank barns (a barn built in to hill or other sloped terrain), the Nappanee Inn Hotel and acres of some of the most fertile farmland on earth.
After a short tour we quickly realized that you can go broke in the small settlement; the place is expensive. Our foreign friends bought a few souvenirs. My wife and I didn’t; not because we’re cheap but there’s only so much homemade chocolate fudge, peppermint sticks, popcorn, rock candies, Amish dolls and other non-essential items worth purchasing, though I did buy an Amish doll at a Skokie, Illinois garden shop. If you make reservations the local farming community offers Amish home tours. There’s the narrated wagon ride. During the bad old days our family moved in horse and open wagons when I was a kid in the 1940’s. I didn’t like them then so why pay for a bumpy wagon ride now?
When it was time for lunch we didn’t hesitate to go to the Acres’ 400 seat family style restaurant. In all honesty I rarely ate so well; mashed potatoes with creamy homemade butter and gravy, yummy roast beef that melts in your mouth, corn bread with dressing, fresh homemade Dutch apple pie, ice tea and fresh juice, creamed spinach and other food items I simply don’t remember; no wonder Amish men stay true to their women; its the food!
Men if you like your women pleasingly plump like I do you’ll love Amish girls! The one who waited our table was not only friendly but a flirt. In spite of their long dresses they show enough to make it interesting. Despite those tourist brochures which depict dour Amish lasses wearing big black glasses sporting frowns on their faces Amish women can be quite beautiful. The well endowed girl who waited on us had an hourglass figure, big breasts and a dynamite personality. That comely young woman would make some lucky guy very happy!
Here’s a short/simple Amish recipe you can prepare from what you have on your shelf:
|Amish Apple Crisp
6 apples of varying sizes
¾ cups of sugar brown or white
1 tsp. baking powder
|¾ tsp. of salt
1/3 cup of cream
You take 6 apples peel then slice them. Put sliced apples in a 9x13 inch pan and mix them together. Take your sugar, baking powder, salt, egg and mix them all together then pour mixture over your apples. Top it all off by pouring your cream over it then sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake mixture at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until apples are done.
The Amish are a traditionalist Protestant sect that has its roots in Switzerland. Closely related to the Mennonites they emerged from the Anabaptists coming out of Catholicism during the Reformation. The Amish are known for their simplicity in dress, simple living and a unique religious doctrine that interpret the Bible literally; point—if Scripture says God created the universe in six literal days than God did it and no manner of argument or scientific proof will dissuade Amish folk otherwise. While the Mennonites are closely related to the Amish the former feel quite at home with modern science and technology unlike the more fundamentalist Amish. The name Amish derive from their founder’s name Jakob Ammann who formed the sect in 1693. Fleeing religious persecution in Europe they eventually made their way to North America first settling in Pennsylvania; the rest is history.
Once we left Amish Acres we headed due west getting back on Route 6, then Route 31 passing through South Bend and Notre Dame University campus then the drove back to Chicago via ‘I-80’ Interstate 80. The drive back to Chicago took less time than the drive to Nappanee since the longest stretch was a major interstate. My advice unless you don’t mind spending a lot of money for gas take a guided tour. That way you’ll save on gasoline and a lot of stress caused by driving long distances through unfamiliar terrain if you take a tour. Here’s some guided tours that serves Amish areas:
Unknown to many Illinoisans is the large Amish colony 163 miles/262 km south of Chicago. Arcola, Illinois is nestled just off Interstate 57. Arcola marks the entrance to Illinois Amish country. This Amish community is tucked between the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and Eastern Illinois University. Almost centrally located Arcola is a mere two hours from St. Louis and Indianapolis. The little city is home to Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938) children’s writer and creator of the world famous Raggedy Ann and Andy character and dolls.
For a tiny town Arcola has many attractions and activities when I perused their extensive Chamber of Commerce’s website I became hooked. Seeing all those community activities brought me back to my childhood years growing up in the nice so pleasant places in Chicago when I longed to be free of slum living and live in the pristine countryside just living day to day gazing out to flower covered yards instead of yards laden with dog shit. When doll collecting was in vogue I had several Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls of varying sizes. After we left our condo I donated these dolls to a charitable organization. Now they’re worth a small fortune! Raggedy Ann and Andy are members of the National Toy Hall of Fame!
I don’t have a doll fetish but I remember when I moved into an apartment in an upscale section of Chicago. My next door neighbor was an attractive young Asian university student who was fond of wearing Raggedy Ann costumes. She was a perfect fit! What happened between us—NOTHING. But my humiliation was short lived when six months later I married a woman who was my perfect fit! Next year God willing we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary! The girl in the Raggedy Ann dress; she moved out a month after I moved in.
||The Amish are big into dolls. My faceless Amish doll gathers dust in my room and sits in a quiet corner with her hands folded across her face. When I was working in Downtown Chicago during my teaching years there was an entire floor that had row after row of blond haired faceless Amish dolls leaning forward one per desk. Why all blonds I have no idea. My doll has black hair and wears a dark lacy dress.
The Amish believe it’s an affront to God to depict objects with human faces. They cite the 1st Commandment with it’s admonition against graven images. Amish folk consider this a grave sin which carries a curse which summons Satan. I’m a portrait artist and photographer I guess I’m in hot water.
Amish folk have a large number of beliefs ordinary Christians and others may find scary. Back to the dolls; human depictions are considered extreme examples of vanity open invitations to demonic attacks. According to some of the videos I’ve watched via the Arcola Chamber of Commerce’s website Amish communities are often targeted for satanic attacks. Exorcisms are frequently practiced by Amish bishops to dispel demons from possessed persons.
When we visited Arcola while my wife and our Japanese friends were making purchases I managed to have a friendly conversation with the store owner. He sported the traditional Amish men’s clothes replete with long beard and farm workers clothes. A solemn but nice guy his lexicon of swear words was almost extensive as mine! They’re ordinary people like most of us though they march to the tune of a different drummer.
Like the larger non-Amish world, life within Plain communities are far from idyllic. From the outside Amish lives are living examples of Utopian living though the secular Twin Oaks experience I wrote about a month ago appears far more friendly and open. The Amish are an austere bunch. Their no-nonsense approach to child rearing, martial fidelity, hard work, bedrock Bible based living, great food, strong sense of family and community get high marks in my book. What I can’t accept is their distain for most things technical and their theology. Technology never dehumanizes, humans do. My vote is with their sister church the Mennonites who embrace Amish living sans their distain for the technical. Point—on a recent volunteer day at Adler Planetarium there was a large group of Mennonite children lining up to get inside. Old Order Amish would never go near the place.
The worse punishment Amish can render on miscreants is the practice known as shunning. Community members who violate whether intentionally/unintentionally Amish strictures are warned of their violation. If they continue their unacceptable behavior the local bishop, the most powerful man in the Amish community, issues a shunning order and that person is excluded from mingling among other Amish for a predetermined amount of time. Permanent shunning being cast out of the community is exercised on rare occasions. Being shunned may seem trivial to outsiders but I can tell you from personal experience shunning is dehumanizing. Point—Years ago I was suspended for writing an article that exposed on the job corruption. I did my duty as an elected union official. I was placed under suspension then shunned by my associates; it HURT. In time my suspension was lifted since my civil rights were violated; the shunning ceased.
|Arcola based Thomas Monahan and Libman Companies make a lot of brooms. Arcola celebrates its heritage as the broomcorn capitol of the world. At the time of this writing the Broomcorn Festival will be held in two weeks. As with all country fairs there’s great food, the customary parade and the broom tossing Lawn Rangers will twirl and toss their brooms a tradition unique to Arcola.
There is so much that went on during my visit to both places it would take up too much space. Please go to the websites I’ve listed above to learn more about the Amish communities in the Mid-West and throughout North America; best yet go visit one or more of the local Amish-Mennonite communities in your area; happy trails!
© Fred Wilson 111 September 2015
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