Copyright © 1994, Jeremy Butler. All rights reserved.
Telecommunication and Film Department, P.O. Box 870152, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487.

The Postmodern America Tour: Travels in Hyperreality

Part Two

For one thing, it was not just a battle, it was a full-fledged, 47-day siege. The people of Vicksburg dug caves to live in. The soldiers created elaborate trench systems and earthen forts--a precursor to World War I-style warfare. All of this is still quite evident. One can truly get a sense of what it must have been like. Most striking, one can virtually feel the scale of the combat: the size of the battlefield, the bulk of the cannons, the depth of the trenches, the deployment of troups.

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As one drives along the 16-mile loop through the park, the roadway is dotted with memorials.

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Most are modest, but some--Illinois's, Alabama's (built in the 1950's)--are enormous, with elaborate statuary.

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The Navy memorial resembles the Washington Monument and is almost as tall. They've also raised an ironclad gunboat, the Cairo, from the river near Yazoo, MS. You can walk through the skeletal re-creation of the ship.

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I was surprised at how moved I was by it all. The Civil War has never meant much to me. Seemed like ancient history. But seeing the arena of the War spread out before you as it is at Vicksburg, brings to life its horror.

After leaving the Battlefield, I dined at the Top o' the River, which advertises "Catfish Exceptionale." And it better be, cause that's all they serve. Good, too.

Toured on to Monroe, LA, where I found a motel nestled in between the rail yards and an immense freeway overpass. Wasn't too bad and the stay in Monroe was well worth it cause the next morning I was able to attend ELsong and its Bible Research Center.

You see, Miss Emy-Lou was the daughter of Mr. Joe, as the guide explains to you, and Mr. Joe (Biedenharn) just happened to be the first citizen to bottle, not invent, Coca-Cola. This bottling concept made him a tidy sum and he passed it along to Miss Emy Lou. She spent her youth singing opera--contralto--in Europe then returned to Monroe, Loooziana, where Mr. Joe built her ELsong gardens--named for "Emy-Lou's song." Miss Emy-Lou settled down and started collecting bibles, forming the foundation of the Bible Research Center.

When I arrived at ELsong, eight women from West Monroe, LA, with Big Hair and Strong Perfume were massing for a tour of the Center by their friend and host, Patricia. (Signing in at the guest book I noted that one of the women was named Pollyanna.) So I fell in with them and got the high-and-low-down on Miss Emy-Lou, the Bible and Coca-Cola bottling.

One of the first items you note in the Bible Museum is a picture frame by Salvador Dali and a Bible illuminated by him. Yes, Mr. All-for-the-dollars, himself. It occurred to me that Dali was a rather, er, sacrilegious artist to have represented here and I asked Pat about it: why had Miss Emy-Lou acquired these items? Pat didn't know, so she fetched an archivist. Turns out that the Bible wasn't exactly illuminated by him. It's just that a publisher used some of Dali's drawings to illustrate this Bible. And Miss Emy-Lou was a bit perplexed about the relevance of Dali's picture frame so she mounted a dark glass in it to evoke the story about seeing through a glass darkly. A phrase I've never completely understood, but I didn't press the archivist on it.

Other exhibits included a lance dating from around the time of Christ's death. As Pat explained, it was one like this that "pierced our savior's side." No Jews, Moslems or Hindus there that day, I guess.

The Coca-Cola collection seemed pretty tame after that, but they do have some cool old bottles and the like. Miss Emy-Lou was also quite a fan of British royalty and one room is filled with aristocratic mementoes, including tacky magazines about Charles and Di's wedding.

The West Monroe women's club and I got along famously--joking about Miss Emy-Lou's too-too-green bedroom and analyzing the foliage in ELsong's gardens. I thought about asking them all out to lunch, but the East Texas Oil Museum was waiting.

Among the rightful claims to fame of Kilgore, Texas, are its sharp, art deco buildings, the Oil Museum and the Rangerette Showcase.

You see, Kilgore was an oil boom town back in the 1930s--smack in the center of the oil field that made millionaires out of such conservative chowderheads as H.L. Hunt and the like, while the rest of the country suffered through the Depression. Indeed, downtown itself was sitting on too much oil for the land to be sacrosanct and wells soon punctured most streets--lending credence to one downtown block's claim to be the "World's Richest Acre." Wells were so close together that they shared the same pumping mechanism.

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