Friday, July 27, 2012

Relics of the Past

Strolling through a town's historic district 
often yields unexpected discoveries.
 Like many towns in America, 
St. Charles, Missouri contains a few relics 
from the past that have quietly endured through time.
In addition to the iron door handles I mentioned,
there was this item outside the door 
of Magpie's, a charming outdoor cafe 
which had terraced patios rising like stair steps up the hill:

It is an old boot scraper, 
designed to remove dirt and mud from patrons' boots.
And it appears to have been recently used, 
likely by someone who had walked along the muddy river bank 
just a short distance from the town's Main Street.
Then flush from their exercise, 
they probably decided to enjoy Magpie's fare.
If so, I  would recommend to them for their next visit
 the delicious crepes made with fresh, sweet peaches. 

Sweet desserts aside, 
the boot scraper in the St. Charles photo is handsomely linear,
reminiscent of plain talking, straightforward prairie folks.
I have a more ornate boot scraper 
that I bought from an antique store in the Virginia Piedmont.
It is decorated with curves and flourishes,
and I use it as an attractive door stop:
The Virginia one may have come from a more expensive plantation home,
but I never learned its provenance.
But seeing the St. Charles boot scraper reminded me of mine, 
and then I also remembered one my grandmother 
had outside her front door that was a cut-out of a dachshund.
To remove the dirt from shoes, 
the person would "scratch" the dog's back with the sole of his shoe.
That's probably why I like boot scrapers. 
My brothers and sisters and I 
always wanted to use Grandma's boot scraper 
so we could scratch the dog's back.

Another relic I encountered during my trip
was this limestone gutter, cut and laid by slave labor
in Arrow Rock, Missouri, a stop on the old Santa Fe Trail:

Of course, the most unusual relic of the past 
was this thing we saw in St. Charles at the Lewis and Clark Museum.
It's called a bullboat:

The one in the above photo is a reproduction of bullboats 
built by members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Mandan Indian tribesmen showed them how to make them, 
and four of Lewis and Clark's men 
floated in two down the Yellowstone River on the return trip.
The interior is framed with willow:

When we were there, 
the bullboat was tucked into a corner 
of the theater and exhibition room,
so it's a little difficult to make out the beast's tail, 
but it sticks straight up like a rudder:
To the modern eye, this boat looks a bit grotesque, 
but there is a common adage that applies: 
necessity is the mother of invention.
I'd say the bullboat and the other relics I saw are good examples.

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