Tuesday, January 26, 2016


From the top of the state capitol tower in Lincoln, Nebraska, we could see a charming white church across the street that looked as if it should be peaking through the rich emerald pine branches of the dense Bavarian forest rather than sitting on the unimaginative flat asphalt streets of a Nebraska prairie town:
St. Mary's Catholic Church of Lincoln, Nebraska, is a hidden gem and a great example of why Americans should spend some time exploring their own country.
I couldn't find any information about this church online other than its own website, which wasn't designed for tourists--no history, no information about the architecture or stained glass--just times for mass, services provided by the church, parish staff, links to important Catholic sites, etc. Clearly, it's a working church and not a "destination," but it was unlocked, and we were thrilled to get a peak inside.

The simple white walls and pink and gold accents give the interior, like the exterior, a Bavarian feel. 
If I had to describe the church in one word, it would be "serenity."

Sunday, January 24, 2016


I have to admit that my initial response to the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln was a mixture of snickering and incredulity.  It looked like a cross between the Ghostbusters building and a state prison--which just goes to show my ignorance.
View from the front
The building was designed by Bertram Goodhue (1869-1924), a celebrated American architect known for his Neo-Gothic buildings. The Nebraska State Capitol is part Classical, part Neo-Gothic.
View of the back
I was surprised to discover that I am familiar with two other buildings Goodhue designed, the California Tower (1915) in Balboa Park, San Diego:
Photo from here
. . . and the Los Angeles Central Library, finished in 1924, the same year as the Nebraska Capitol:
Photo from here
The capitol's 400-foot tower can be seen from as far away as 30 miles, giving the building the nickname "The Tower on the Plains." It is the second-tallest state capitol, topped only by Louisiana's capitol. Thematically, it is said to represent a plant thrusting its way heavenward, referring to the importance of agriculture in this state. This was actually the first state capitol with a functional tower--a much more modern design than the traditional but purely decorative domes seen on so many capitols. Goodhue said he wanted to design "something quite unlike the usual [capitol building], with its veneered order and invariable Roman dome."

Sunday, January 17, 2016


In the spring of 1846, persecution-weary members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were once again driven out of their homes, this time in Nauvoo, Illinois. It had been two years since the murder of their prophet and leader Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. The Saints were determined to "find the place which God for [them] prepared, Far away, in the West, Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid; There the Saints will be blessed." (From the LDS hymn "Come, Come Ye Saints.") The beginning of winter found most of them encamped on the Missouri River, either in a town on the east bank that the Mormons called Kanesville until 1852 (after which time it was called Council Bluffs), or in Indian territory on the west bank.

The east-side town was named for this American attorney, military officer, and abolitionist, Thomas L. Kane, who had met Jesse C. Little, a member of the LDS Church, in May 1846. Brigham Young had sent Little to Washington, D.C., to seek governmental help for the Mormon exodus, and Little had stopped at an LDS conference in Philadelphia. Kane, who was a new lawyer serving as a clerk in his father's court, had read about the exiled Mormons in the newspaper. His curiosity prompted him to attend the conference, where he was moved by the terrible plight of the Mormon refugees. Kane offered Little some legal advice and arranged a meeting for him with President Polk. Later, Kane encouraged President Polk to call up a Mormon militia to fight in the Mexican-American War, providing some much needed income to the poor travelers. This group became known as the Mormon Battalion. Kane also got President Polk to designate some Indian land along the western side of Missouri River for the Saints' use for two years. 

The Mormons were so grateful for Kane's intervention in their behalf that they renamed their settlement on the eastern side of the Missouri River, which had originally been dubbed Miller's Hollow, "Kanesville." (For more about Kane's ongoing relationship with the Mormons, see this article.) By the way, Iowa was given statehood on December 28, 1846, not long after the Mormons established their settlement there, making President Polk's intervention giving them legal rights to live in "Indian territory" on the other side of the river that much more important.

The Mormons spent the winter of 1846-1847 in Kanesville and across the river in the Nebraska Territory. After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844, a struggle for the Presidency of the Church had ensued, and by 1846 Brigham Young had emerged as the new Prophet and President. He directed the Saints in Kanesville to build a "tabernacle" that could hold as many people as possible for a conference in December 1847 at which the presidency of the church would be formally reorganized. About 200 men set to work cutting down trees, hauling lumber, and building the tabernacle, completing the structure in less than three weeks.
In the LDS Church, a tabernacle is a large building that serves multiple congregations in a geographic area. They were the precursors to today's stake centers, but were generally larger and more ornate. The Church continued to build tabernacles through the 1950s, about eighty in all, the most famous of which is the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. 
Photo from Wikipedia
Most of the tabernacles have been destroyed or remodeled for different uses, including one in Provo built in 1898 that was being used as a cultural arts center. When it was gutted by fire in 2010, the decision was made to rebuild it as an LDS Temple, and it will be dedicated in March 2016. For more information, see this article.
Photo from here

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Maybe I'm naive, but I don't associate haute cuisine with Des Moines. Leave it to my husband, however, to scout out a restaurant with a chef who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for best chef in the Midwest, which is a pretty big deal (especially to my husband).

First impressions were good. I liked the name--"Proof"--and the unassuming location in a brown brick building next to a sculpture park was very nice.

The presentation of the food plays a huge part in upscale restaurants like this one. If you do it right, you can pass off a very thin slice of cucumber wrapped around a thin bit of salami as an actual course and charge a lot of money for it:
 It's hard to go wrong with a cheese plate:
. . . followed by a delicious blend of prosciutto and artichokes:
However, not only was the duck confit (left) ugly, but it didn't taste very good. The pork belly (right) was a little better looking but only a little better tasting:
Tender, flavorful, Spanish-grilled ribeye with three unique dipping sauces was the dish that made the visit worth our time:

The perfect pairing for these artistic dishes at Proof was the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, located right next door. Open since 2009, this 4.4 acre park contains an assortment of 24 sculptures by internationally renowned artists. The total value of the art exceeds $40 million, making this one of the premiere sculpture parks in the nation. The works were donated by the art collectors for whom the park is named. (John Pappajohn made his millions as a venture capitalist.)

Saturday, January 9, 2016


As I said in my previous post, the Iowa Capitol Building is one of my favorite of all the capitols we've seen. I have to say the same for the interior. The building was completed in 1886 at a cost of $2.9 million, a huge amount (according to this site, it would be $71.6 million today). 

As in most capitols, the dominant feature is the dome that rises 275 feet above the rotunda. It measures 80 feet across and is decorated with 23 karat gold.

Directly beneath the dome is a round glass floor. The original building had a glass floor like this that was removed in the early 1900s and railings were placed around the open circle. The glass floor was reinstalled in 2011.
Delegates to Iowa Boys State were touring the capitol while we were there. You'll notice them in their white shirts in many of my photos. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


During the last couple of years, as we have been marking states off our States List, we've also started a State Capitol Buildings list. Unfortunately, we developed our appreciation for capitol buildings a little late, and now we need to go back to a few state capital cities we visited but where we neglected to see the capitol building.

The Iowa capitol building in Des Moines has perhaps the most striking exterior and interesting grounds of any capitol we have visited. With its four rich green domes surrounding a resplendent gold dome, it reminds me of a Russian palace, but at the same time, it has a classic state capitol look. It is the only five-domed capitol in the United States. We took pictures of it three different times, which accounts for the variety of sky color in the background.
View of the back
Another view of the back
View of the front
The domes

The pediment above the main entrance

Saturday, January 2, 2016


A couple of interesting religion-based places to visit that are within driving distance of Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, are the Amana Colonies and Graceland University. 

The Amana Colonies are 100 miles directly east of Des Moines. They were founded by a Christian sect known as the Community of True Inspiration (also known as "Pietists" or "Inspirationists") in 1855. The sect originated in Germany in 1714 and focused on simple worship based on Bible study. Like so many other groups of that time, religious persecution drove them to settle in America. They had established a system of communal living in 1846 in their settlement near Buffalo, New York, but wanted to escape the worldliness of New York, so they bought 26,000 acres in Iowa. They named the area "Amana," a term from the Song of Solomon that means "remain true." The group established seven villages or colonies, each with a church, school, bakery, and blacksmith shop. Fabric factories made money for the colonies. The communal system ended in 1932 when the communities voted to form a corporation. A few years later they developed Amana refrigeration, their most widely known business enterprise. We've owned one of their fridges. Hasn't everyone?

Today the colonies are a popular tourist destination. We spent some time walking around the main village, known simply as Amana (the others are East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead), and I enjoyed the old architecture, but I was disappointed that we didn't find more unique local crafts.