Saturday, April 03, 2010

Happy Pony Express Day!

One hundred and fifty years ago today, at about 0715, the first rider on the Pony Express left St. Joseph, Missouri on a ten-day trip to California. He carried, in addition to a pistol, letters that cost $5 at the time to send: about $100 in today's money.

The Pony Express lasted a bare 18 months, before the telegraph made communications speedier and more reliable. Still, the PE has a place in American folklore and especially a place in St. Jo's history.

St. Joseph is a medium-sized town these days. Because of the confluence of rail and river back in the day, there are a number of brick and stone houses dating to the time when brick and stone were expensive to move. There are rowhouses in varying conditions for sale, most of them in the network of streets named for St. Jo's founder's children. Any native (including my parents) can name off the streets rapid-fire and in order: Messanie, Angelique, Sylvanie, Charles...and so on. Any native can tell you how the numbered streets run, and where you can cross between Edmond and Felix to get to Fish Galore. Everybody knows where the YMCA is.

The Pony Express Museum in St. Jo is one of the more interesting museums I've ever been to. There are, besides the usual dioramas of riders and horses crossing the mountains, stuffed examples of the wildlife the riders might've encountered, including a bobcat over the door to one of the exhibits. It's a strange little dark vaguely rickety museum, but the people who work there are passionate and have fascinating stories.

After your trip to the museum, you can head over to Jerre Anne's, a venerable cafeteria which my mother swears still has the same line ladies as it did in the 1950's. You can still get merengue-topped pie and liver-and-onions there if you want, or macaroni and cheese, or string beans cooked to that classic cafeteria point of no return. Jerre Anne's website says that they'll ensure you a "memorable dining experience", and I can attest that every time I've been there, it's been memorable.

You could also go to the state mental institution and check out the Glore Museum, in which you can find exhibits tracing the history of the treatment of mental illness. It's something to see: department-store mannequins repurposed into the ice baths that schizophrenics used to be put in to calm the voices.

My family didn't do that; we kept our crazies in the attics. Now we keep them out on the street and in the living room.

St. Jo, to me, is early-morning walks with my grandparents, who always carried a bag of dog biscuits for the dogs on their walking route. It's the taste of raspberries in the North 40 (what we called an extra parcel of land Granddad used for gardening) that were warmed by the sun. It's the smell of my Granny II's attic and the joy engendered by back stairs and speaking tubes. It's the feel of the shade from the pine trees around the country club, or the ice-cold water in the Moila swimming pool, and that damned high-dive I finally conquered. It's the bone-deep pleasure that comes from knowing that my family built a whole lot of stuff here; I come from (as the man said) a long line of brick and stone.

Happy 150th anniversary, Pony Express. Happy anniversary, St. Jo. I promise to eat at Jerre-atric Anne's when I next come back.


L said...

There's a pretty good Cajun restaurant in St. Jo's in downtown too: Boudreaux's. If you get out there every so often I recommend it.

Heather said...

That's so funny - my dad and I have been talking about taking a trip there for about a year to go see (among other sites) the Jesse James Museum. Hopefully we can get there this summer! Oh, and btw, the Tigerballet? Funniest thing I've seen in a LONG freaking time :)

messymimi said...

In the annals of the history of the Old West, it's funny how this short-lived program captures the imagination and fascinates us still.

Someday, I want to have a look at that museum.

mother's helper said...

I'm sad to tell you that Jerre Annes has closed, but the rest of the town is still here.

Jo said...

M'sH, the sound you hear is my shriek of disbelief.

Jerre Anne's was where I first had mac-and-cheese my mom didn't make, and where a thumb I'd injured got squeezed by a nice old lady who thought I was my father. I can't believe it's gone!

Bah, humbug. The world keeps changing, and I don't like it.

bdaiss said...

Well Jo, after the disappointment over Jerre Annes, you'll be happy to know the Pony Express is actually alive and kicking. You've just gotta haul your butt to Phantom Ranch (at the bottom of the Grand Canyon) to take advantage of it. Mail there is still delivered via mule train 6 days a week. I've got a stamped post card to prove it.

Anonymous said...

Jerre Ann's is gone, but the Hoof & Horn rose from the ashes of the stockyards and its own fire. *Really* good stuff. You might also plan to see a new Northwest Missouri exhibit, which was built with private funding on the old city dump site on the banks of the Missouri River. Some reclamation, yes? Anyway, it has, among other things, a sandbox that displays, in success, the prints of critters living in the area (with calls and an explanation). In addition, many displays of stuff from the local Indian tribes living there, a huge aquarium with every entity living in the Missouri River, including a paddlefish, and a room with life size exhibits of St. Joe in the early days. AND you are greeted at the door by a stuffed mammoth with calf. Lots of fun. I'm going back next month.