Thursday, August 11, 2016

A quick trip: Kaskasia Dragon and Vandalia

A while ago I was thinking about making a road trip to Chicago and started looking at roadside attractions in Illinois that I could stop at as we weaved our way north. We didn't end up going on that trip yet but we did manage a quick night trip to Vandalia, IL on Monday to see one of the stand-outs.

The Land of Lincoln

The Kaskaskia Dragon is a metal dragon that breathes fire. It was built over the winter of 1995 by the Kaskaskia Hardware store. And was initially going to be part of a Halloween parade but with no clear plans after that. It wasn't until 2001 that it found a home a short walk from the hardware store right off Highway 40. Next to the dragon is a coin box where visitors can insert 'dragon coins' which gets you close to ten seconds of fire breathing fun. There are two options to get the tokens. Either you can head down the block to the Kaskaskia hardware store and get tokens for free or you can run next door to the Lomac Liquor store and pay $1 per token.  When we got there I tried the hardware store but it had closed at 6. So I walked back to the liquor store and got five tokens: 2 for during the day, 1 for night viewing, 1 for me to keep as a souvenir, and 1 for my sister to keep.

The statue is made of metal and is 35 feet long with a 16 foot neck. He wears a top hat in honor of Abe Lincoln. Facing off against him is a brave knight also made of metal and it is probably 6 feet tall. It has nothing to do with Don Quixote but the knight being so close to windmills made me laugh and brought the story to my mind.

Here is the knight and the daunting view of the dragon from the knight's perspective.

As I walked around the dragon I saw a 20 pound propane tank attached to the left leg. Apparently one tank lasts about a month.

Here is the tank, a picture of the dragon tokens, and the warning sign about the fire! After watching and photographing the dragon with the setting sun in the background we headed into Vandalia to find one more attraction and to grab some dinner before coming back to see the dragon at night.

While researching Vandalia to see what we could do while waiting for the sun to go down I found information on a series of identical statues that stretch across the country. The Madonna of the Trails monuments honor the pioneer woman who had the courage to cross this country and explore new territories.

Each of the 12 monuments are identical. They are made primarily with Missouri granite which gives them a pink color. The mother
holds a baby in one arm and a gun in her other hand while a small child holds on to her. It was the Daughter's of The American Revolution, specifically Arlene B. Nichols Moss, who originally wanted the statues made. They had previously established a committee, National Old Trails Road Committee, to commemorate the old historic pioneer trails. And in 1927 a design was made for the statues and the Committee chair at the time, Harry Truman, a judge at that point in his career, guaranteed the funding.  The design was that of a German-American immigrant August Leimbach. August was quoted as saying he imagined the moment of the statue was the mother waiting for her husband to return home. When he is not back on time she takes the children and a gun to search for him. August also said that as a child the stories of the American pioneer captivated him and made a lasting impression. He imagined that these brave woman were just like the people form his own country who had left to travel to America in search of new life and opportunity.  August continues "[w]hen I came to America, I often saw these people of the pioneer type, strong and brave and always ready to protect themselves against any danger. Asked to make a sketch model for a monument of pioneer days, I was inspired by my own impression of these people I had met, and the Madonna of the Trails is the result."

On the base of the statue the East and West sides of all 12 are identical while the North and South sides are specific to the statues location.

Here are the Vandalia specific sides.

Nearby were several plaques with info about Vandalia and the Cumberland road which had gone through the town in the early days.

Here are a couple more pictures from downtown Vandalia. The paintings of people on the stairs of an old brick building grabbed my attention and made me laugh. And then the junction sign listing the roads that brought people here.

At this point we went to grab dinner and head back to the dragon for some night time fire viewing.

It was time to see what this cute fellow would look like against a night sky.

He looks sweet

As we pulled back in we could now see that his belly was lit up with green lights that blinked on and off. Well the cute dragon during the day was much more menacing at night!

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