The Muscatine Journal was available in the lobby of our hotel this morning. It’s the paper that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote for in his early life as a writer. His older brother Orion Clemens was a part-owner of the newspaper actually. Clemens wrote rhapsodically about the sunsets of Muscatine and claimed they were among the most beautiful he saw throughout his life. He had no comments on the sunrises, and we won’t either since we got to bed after 1:00am CST last night…even later for us Florida girls. We awoke late and planned to meet in the lobby at 10:00am as Patty’s old friend from middle and high school, Kelly Peak, was to meet us and become our Muscatine Tour Guide!
What can we say about Kelly? She showered us with kindness all day. She started things off by taking us to the Mississippi River which was exactly what we had in mind…
This gal is FUN. She was a classmate of Patty’s in middle school and until the Callaghans moved to Florida in 1978. It was in this year that Betty and Dan Callaghan did the unthinkable…they had the audacity (and let’s face it, the sheer bravery) to uproot four teenaged girls. Boyfriends and crushes and sports teams were left in the wake. Hearts were broken. Later in the day we visited the house where Jane and Patty had shared a room…both told us stories of the time that they were first kissed by boys…both at this house.
Patty says that she and Scott had organized a fairly scientific approach to their first kiss in her garage one day. It wouldn’t impress many of us with its romance, but in sixth grade the mechanics alone were daunting. Clear heads prevailed. They decided on an unorthodox method that has never caught on, luckily. They decided to stand back to back, count to three, then turn and kiss. Scott’s lips landed to the left and low but hey, they got it done. Scott took off running like a shot and went straight home….Patty saw Scott not too long ago, and in his version of the story he completely agrees, “I ran!!!!!!” he said. Hey Scott, we feel ya. Terrifying times.
Janey’s first kiss was apparently much more rewarding. It also occurred at this house this time on the back porch. David left Jane’s head spinning, and she was certain she was in love. A week later he was dating one of her friends. David. David. David. Wherefore art thou, David? Everyone has a David in their past. Sorry Janey
Those thoughts were well behind us as we walked down a beautifully lush path near the river picking apples along the way with Kelly. A train passed by…the sound of trains seems to be part of the charm of a river city…we have heard trains roll by all around us all day: the occasional whistle but often just a distant rumble. As Patty says, “It’s a working river…” and the work of a river is transportation and shipping and ports… We made our way to the waters’ edge for our requisite “Toe in the Water” photo…we had done this when we reached the Pacific Ocean on the Route 66 Trip as well you may remember…and we searched for shells and sea glass and drift wood as we walked on the rocks at the waters’ edge. We searched for flat stones to cast out across the river hoping that they would skip across its surface. We began to find freshwater clam and mussel shells that are the stuff that pearl buttons are made of…more of that later, but below you can see some of the shells we found that have had buttons “stamped” from them…
Kelly took us back to her house to freshen up, and we got to see her lovely home that overlooks the bridge above and the lovely river, and soon we made our way to lunch at, wait for it, THE YACKY SHACK!
Lovely folks at the Yacky Shack remembered Patty of course and showered us with extra treats and attention.
We made a solid effort to embarrass ourselves per usual.
I confess that since the day that I heard we would be going to Muscatine, Iowa I’ve been eager to see the #2 destination (per Trip Advisor) in Muscatine: The Muscatine History and Industry Center a.k.a. The Pearl Button Museum.
So awesome. I mean how many chances in your life will you have to go to a button museum and then get to write about it? See what I mean?
You may not know that the Button Industry was a tough gig back in Germany in the late 1800s. Poor John Frederick Boepple had a hard time with new tariffs, etc. so he emigrated to the United States and took a long look at the map of the Mississippi River. As you know, there is a hard turn in the river at Muscatine, Iowa (when the river flows East to West for the first and only time) and this makes all the difference…if you are a freshwater bivalve mollusk. Boepple knew this and knew it meant that freshwater mussel shells would be in abundance. He needed these shells to make his buttons. He moved to Muscatine, started a button factory and started what is affectionately called the Clam Gold Rush in these parts. At its highpoint the button industry employed half of all those in the workforce in these parts. Muscatine is the “Pearl of the Mississippi” and its pearl buttons made up 3/8 of the pearl buttons sold in the WORLD in the early 1900s.
The shells are harvested in an interesting process and then “blanks” are punched from the shells. You still find shells with holes in them scattered around town and at the river although many of the leftover shells were turned into food for poultry (to help strengthen the shells of the laying hens) or into fill for construction and roadwork. Previously this area had relied on the lumber industry due to great forests and the ease of transporting logs.
Muscatine is a now a pretty town of 24,000 people located along the Mississippi with a rich history born on the backs of hard-working folk. We headed back to the hotel for a short break before a party to be held in Patty’s honor at a local river bar, The Missippi Brew.
Kelly had contacted friends from far and wide…anyone in the area who knew Patty, and they drove in from across town and across the state…from Des Moines and Iowa City and even from Michigan.
Friends from high school, friends from the neighborhood…you name it…they all came! They were thrilled to see HER and they were super nice to the rest of us. You really haven’t met nicer folks.
And tomorrow morning we leave for St. Louis with other stops along this great U.S. river…
We won’t be forgetting Muscatine, Iowa and our time skipping stones at the edge of the Mississippi.
Me and Suzie had so much fun
Holding hands and skimming stones
Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own
But the biggest kick I ever got
Was doing a thing called the Crocodile Rock
While the other kids were Rocking Round the Clock
We were hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock
moments at the edge of the river: