An October 2004 trip
to Carthage by btwood2
Quote: Carthage was the site of a Civil War battle, has streets lined by stately Victorian homes, and is home to Precious Moments Inspiration Park and sometimes to Guide JOSE KEVO at his tropical refuge on old Route 66. José, his sidekick Mama Juana, and various spirits, ghosts, and shrines provided a memorable weekend.
Ghostly Carthage: The rainy weekend, the first and badly needed precipitation of the season, only enhanced the mysterious mood of this history-laden town, and it was highly conducive to ghostly presences.
Spooklight: When I heard about the Spooklight, I immediately knew that would be at the top of my list for Carthage "must-sees." Unfortunately, weekend nights are so popular on these state-border back roads, we only caught glimpses of the mysterious light between the car heads and taillights, and only because experienced Spooklight spotter Kev could recognize the difference between the two.
Civil War Bloodshed: This took place in Carthage early in that war, providing the South with a much-needed victory – or was it? The arena where re-enactors have re-played this battle in 2000 and again in 2003 was damp and misty. It was easy to feel that spirits of those killed, though thankfully minute compared to contemporary disasters, could still be sadly wandering these grounds.
So Many Victorians!: All those turn-of-the-century Carthage millionaires had to figure out a way to spend their excess bucks, and obviously keeping up with and surpassing the neighbors was at the top of the list for many rich families. You’ll find examples of classical revival, Italianate, and vernacular styles, and the biggest challenge is getting a good camera shot between the lush tree foliage. No wonder the photos in the tourist brochure of Carthage’s Victorians were all taken in winter, when the trees were bare.
Viet Vatican?: Well, maybe not. But our biggest surprise in Carthage was finding a Vietnamese monastery, home for retired priests, past the rows of Grand Avenue Victorians.
No, I’m not getting a kickback from this. A very nice guy who combines laid-back with contagious enthusiasm, he’s a native son of Carthage. And he lays an impressive table. His slow-roasted pork with guava berry sauce is to die for. The spirit of the Dominican Republic (including a wall-sized flag of that country) is alive within the walls of his home.
Avoid peak Spooklight viewing times: Don’t go on balmy weekend evenings, unless you just want to socialize or view the crowds that are out. On midweek nights, or perhaps quite late at night, you’d have a better chance to be alone with the light.
Now about those Angels … Precious Moments: At the risk of offending those whose main or only reason to stop in Carthage is this major tourist attraction, it’s just too cute for us. We like things a bit more on the gritty side. Go to the Precious Moments theme park website to find out all about them. For the best parts of Carthage, stay with me.
Town Square: We began our architectural tour on Town Square, dominated by Jasper County Courthouse. It was completed in 1895 after more than a year and a half of day and night construction. The courthouse, built of native stone quarried locally, was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by architect Maximilian Orlopp, who also designed the Dallas County Courthouse in Dallas, Texas. The building is still used for Jasper County government offices and also contains a historic mural and historic artifacts in the lobby. The perimeters of Town Square contain mostly viable businesses and a wide variation of building styles.
Victorians galore! Main Street and Grand Avenue between the 900s and 1400s are where you’ll find the highest concentration of Victorians. Undaunted by wet weather and drawn to the big homes looming in the mist, we continued our Victorian tour at the head of Grand Avenue in our Hyundai Elantra, with heater and defrost fired up high. Towel at the ready for window shots, it was impossible to resist exiting the vehicle to get a better feel of these imposing mansions up close. So, cameras in pockets and hoods on, we made our way, sometimes on foot, then again by car. One of these days, I’ve got to get a book that clearly categorizes Victorians. Just when I’m beginning to recognize familiar styles, a drove of new ones pops up, seemingly unlimited and bounded only by imagination. This was again the case in Carthage.
Ghostly presences: Not a few of these rambling Victorians are purported to contain ghosts. The Grand Avenue Bed and Breakfast, built in 1894, is one. Albert Carmean bought the home shortly after the original owner went bankrupt. Albert was a jack of many trades, including circuit court clerk, bank chairman, and owner of a mine and hardware store. He died in 1933 following a brief illness. Especially in fall, his trademark cigar smoke is smelled in the house. An interesting account of a ghost inspection of another Carthage Victorian residence by the Missouri Ghost Hunting Society was found to be quite full of manifestations of not-so-departed spirits.
Just south of St. Anne’s Catholic School, we thought we’d stumbled upon a Civil War unknown soldier graveyard of rows upon rows of white, anonymous crosses, but no, these crosses symbolized the 4,000 unborns whose partially begun lives are cut short by abortion every day, making a powerful and controversial statement. The Catholic presence is strong in Carthage. Not much further south lays a monastery dedicated to Mary, home to Catholic Vietnamese seminarians and priests.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 1, 2005
Independence Day 1861: For the Confederacy, Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson and 4,000 armed State Militia (plus 2,000 unarmed volunteers), retreating to join friendly Confederate forces in Southwest Missouri and Confederate Arkansas. For the Union, Colonel Franz Sigel, German revolutionary, or "forty-eighter" (referring to the failed 1848 German revolution espousing communist ideas of Marx and Engels), led mostly German-American troops of 1,100. Needless to say, the "forty-eighters" were no longer very welcome in Germany, so a slew of them immigrated to the U.S. They staunchly backed Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause.
The Union plan was to have been a double attack on Claiborne’s Confederate forces, frontal by Sigel, and from the rear by Union General Nathaniel Lyon and his 3,900 troops. But Lyon’s troops were delayed by rain-swollen rivers and supply problems. When Claiborne learned that his militia greatly outnumbered Sigel’s, he decided, rather than continue his retreat, that he’d stay to fight. The battle began on the morning of July 5th, about 9 miles north of Carthage, and became a moving battle that lasted all day and into the night. In Sigel’s words, "Our rearguard took possession of the town to give the remainder of the troops time to rest, as they had, after a march of 22 miles on the 4th and 18 miles on the 5th, been in action the whole day since 9am, exposed to intense heat, almost without eating or drinking. The enemy, taking advantage of his cavalry, forded Spring River at different points, spread through the woods, and partly dismounted, harassed our troops from all sides." In the end, Claiborne’s larger forces were simply too much for Sigel’s, who retreated 2 ½ miles beyond Carthage before Claiborne’s men gave up the chase. Union casualties included 13 killed and 76 wounded, while Confederate forces sustained 30 killed and 125 wounded. Though some Civil War researchers have taken issue with this "victory" and termed it more of a "draw", the outcome was a strong morale booster for the Confederacy.
Re-enactments of this battle were held in 2000 and 2003. The Civil War Museum in downtown Carthage, on 205 S. Grant, (phone number 417/237-7060) gives more details and depth to the story.
Civil War Battlefield – Battle of Carthage
East Chestnut Road
So when did the Spooklight originate and what are some theories from believers and skeptics? Earliest origins are estimated to be mid- to late 1800s, after the beheading of a Quapaw Indian, whose wife hid his head. The Spooklight is said to be the spirit of the man searching for his head. A more romantic version tells of a young Quapaw couple pursued to a cliff, where they leapt together into Spring River, their spirits merging forever into a wandering light. Variants of the headless tale include one about a miner decapitated in a mining accident, and whose spirit wanders about carrying a lantern, also in search of his head. Another tells of a Confederate sergeant killed by cannon fire, and yes, searching for his head. Yet another has a miner searching for his kidnapped children. Some researchers maintain, though, that Spooklight is an Ozark legend that began following the introduction of the automobile, not before. The lights could be reflections from car lights on nearby roads, including old Route 66, deflected by heat rising from the hills. Issue is immediately taken with this by firmer believers, who maintain Spooklight showed itself LONG before highway construction and even the advent of motorized vehicles.
Apparently most people who’ve grown up in the Spooklight area have seen it many times and take it for granted with a combination of amusement, awe, and a little fear. There are no reports that the light has harmed anyone, although people have harmed themselves trying to get away from it too fast or from the combined effects of drinking and driving en route or away from the Spooklight. Reports of sightings range from the far away to very up close, its movements described as dancing, darting, floating, bouncing, hopping, skipping, spinning, swaying, and zipping. Colors also vary, as well as shape of the light itself. For more info and stories, view the 4-State Explorers Spooklight Page.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 1, 2005
Road E40 or Road E50
The top of a statue off to the left and behind the seminary caught my eye as I stood in front of the seminary building. I walked around the left side of the building and found myself in a courtyard dominated by a 33-foot-high Mary, Queen of Peace, holding baby Jesus high and encircled within her right arm, his head above hers and his left hand holding a cross aloft, above them both. A barefoot boy, representing the Vietnamese boat people, whose head comes just to her waist, grasps her sleeve as she gently pulls him closer. The figures, compelling and comforting at the same time, stand barefoot on perfectly circular boulders, atop a sky-blue, double-staired pedestal. The monument was donated in 1982 by an anonymous Vietnamese family in Port Arthur, Texas.
But there’s plenty more to be seen in the square. Another fascinating statue lay north—a stiff-legged, mythological gargoyle-looking creature with cupped back and toothy grin, facing east, stands atop a benevolent-looking turtle facing west. Entitled "Peace and Prayer", the inscription states: "The incense urn is a symbol of prayer. The turtle stands for the sign of peace. Peace must come through prayers." The square itself contains rows upon rows of plaques, each inscribed with names and birth and death dates of martyrs to the Catholic faith. Most of the names are Vietnamese.
As we wandered back to the front, a group of Asian men carrying umbrellas emerged from the chapel. We asked about this place and were told they lived there, and that it was also a home for retired priests. Every August (since 1978), these grounds and surrounding Carthage are host to Marian Days, a four-day celebration that in more recent years attracted between 50,000 and 60,000 people, mostly Vietnamese and many of whom were ex-refugees. Families and individuals from all 50 states come to meet and attend Masses, communions, confessions, and family conferences. Plus, enjoy the tent city of food and product booths set up, and meet with distant relatives and friends. They camp in tents on Co-Redemptrix property and in the yards of willing Carthage families, as motels book up a year in advance. Law enforcement beefed up since they became aware that this gathering also reportedly served as neutral meeting ground for gangs. The police have set up a command center on the grounds, displaying posters of wanted Vietnamese-American gang members, and they also monitor a small, but vocal Carthage minority who’ve threatened hate crimes during the gatherings.
Although it’s estimated that only 7% of Vietnamese are Catholic (most are Buddhist), this contingent, among the earliest boat people in 1975, has demonstrated strong religious faith, gratitude, and devotion. Location: 1900 Grand Avenue Carthage, MO 64836 Phone: 417/358-7787
We were back in the motor home after a most satisfying evening of Caribbean dining and enjoyable company. Back at my computer station, I was showing Kev some of the photos I’d taken and also how slowly IgoUgo loads using my cell phone as a modem. The page hadn’t even finished loading before Bob asked me if I’d seen his cell phone anywhere. I hadn’t, but his continued searching, first in the motor home, then in the car, and then in Kev’s home, yielded no results. He’d had his cell phone in the left pocket of his jacket all day, as we’d been driving around Carthage, hopping in and out of the car to look more closely and take photos. Could the phone have dropped out of his pocket, unbeknownst to Bob, while he was shooting photos? But wait – wherever it was, I’d call his phone on my phone and it would ring. We’d hear it if it was still in the motor home, and I’d try it again in case it was in the car. After dialing, Bob’s voice immediately came on giving his "can’t come to the phone right now" message; he’d never turned it on!
Bob determined to retrace our steps in the dark of night and a steady rain in the hope of reuniting with his cell phone. Kev said to me, aside, "How about if you look for it? Sometimes when guys lose things, the woman can find it right away." I should have followed his advice. But both Bob and I often misplace things, and the "lost" item is usually found by the one who lost it, eventually, after some initial frustration, most often where it was supposed to be and overlooked in the initial panic. Bob assured me he’d looked "everywhere it could possibly be," so the only alternative was for us to go out into the night. Off we drove, stopping at the places we’d stopped and getting out of the car at the places we’d gotten out at earlier, with our flashlights shining beams of light through the rain onto the soggy ground and the wetness gradually soaking through our shoes and socks as we tramped about. But no glint of silvery metal was to be found that night, and I was relieved that we’d returned to the motor home and dry feet within the hour.
The next morning I called the police to find out if anyone had turned in a cell phone to them. No, no one had. We learned that there was a Verizon store in nearby Joplin. But first Bob wanted to re-drive yesterday’s route, which was by now becoming quite familiar to us both. Perhaps the light of day (even though it was cloudy and still raining) would reveal the stray phone. The phone didn’t turn up, but we did stop and admire some handsome Victorian houses we’d missed the day before.
At the Verizon store in Joplin, salesperson Brian amazed us and himself by locating in their back room the exact model of cell phone we required for our internet connection, which is no longer being produced. They’ve held on to it for warranty purposes. After purchasing the phone and learning about some higher-speed options for the future, we drove back to Carthage. Bob was jubilant about having a cell phone again, even though it set us back $80. Picking up to get ready to depart, I removed the bag of recyclable aluminum cans from in front of the driver’s seat and uttered an exclamatory cry as the little lost cell phone slipped out from the folds of the plastic sack. "But how could it have been there?" puzzled Bob. When we’d returned from our explorations of Carthage the afternoon before, while taking off his shoes at the entrance of our motor home, Bob must have tossed his jacket over the driver’s seat before handing it to me to hang up. In that toss, the cell phone slipped out and onto the plastic sack, where it remained hidden in its folds for the better part of a night and day.
Back to Joplin we drove to turn in the new cell phone, me muttering and grumbling, Bob sheepish. Had either of us merely lifted up that plastic sack, the cell phone would have been right there all along. As it was, all we lost was time. And we gained some lessons, like turning the phone ON if you’re going to carry it with you. Like carrying it in something more secure than a shallow, slippery jacket pocket. (Can you figure out whom I’m talking to here?)
So was it a meaningless mishap or fate, or was Mama Juana to blame? Who knows… but as Kev says, "Mama Juana can do some pretty strange things." As a postscript, I was tempted to take a reenactment photo of Bob’s cell phone lying lost amidst plastic bags at the front of our motor home, but luckily was able to hold myself back, figuring it would be just too corny.
Meeting Mama: We suggested taking Kev out for dinner our first night, and he was agreeable but doubted we’d need to after a very enjoyable happy hour(s), in which we were introduced to Mama Juana along with tropical fruit drinks and luscious, richly flavorful quesadilla appetizers. Mama Juana was quite nice, too… the combination of mysterious tropical roots, bark, herbs, and spices formed the centerpiece of the bottle, and reportedly just continues to improve in healthfulness and potency with each "rejuvenation" by rum, red wine, and honey. Kev had several bottles of Mama J out on the table, along with some shot glasses, the preferred way of downing the mixture. For those not so inclined, combining the shot of Mama with your favorite tropical fruit juice dilutes the intensity and eases the entry. After sampling the quick shot and the mixed fruit version, I liked the taste of it straight enough to decide that sipping it slowly from the shot glass would be my way. Using that method, I think I drank about seven of them, at least that’s what Kev told me later. To tell the truth, I wasn’t keeping count, but clarity remained, and yay, no hangover at all the next morning.
A True Feast: After a full wet day of exploration of Carthage, we were eagerly anticipating the get-together at Kev’s at 4pm. Outside, rain and drizzle was darkening sky. Inside were tropical plants, light, warmth, musica, Kev, and two of his friends. Hiram, a Puerto Rican college student and basketball player recovering from knee surgery, has a smile that would melt the frozen North. Donna, Kev’s landlady of Galveston fame, is a thoughtful and interesting conversationalist. Though I wouldn’t know, since I can’t smell due to a severe respiratory infection at age 2 that wiped out my olfactory nerve, the cooking aromas were reportedly tantalizingly floating throughout the rooms. We didn’t have to wait long to sample some of the fare. Along with Mama Juana (of course), Kev brought out a trio of deep-fried appetizers, a couple of tropical veggies, and fish. They reminded me a little of a combination of tempura and the fried krupuk my dad used to make. Not heavy and easy to keep eating. Obligingly, Kev kept bringing refills as plates emptied.
Main Course: The slow oven-roasted pork that had been preparing itself in the oven all day was fork-tender. And the rice with pigeon peas and much more went perfectly with it. After eating about half of my first helping, I was told I’d forgotten the guava-berry sauce, so I went back out to the stove for a couple of spoonfuls. I couldn’t stop eating it. The sweet sauce enhanced and contrasted with the rich pork flavor in such a way that I continued getting extra helpings of both well after my satiety receptors had been more than surpassed. The veggies also were a trio - chayote, platano, and a white root with a fiber down the middle. Dessert was almost anti-climactic but went down well enough considering how full I was: a bowl of a profusion of mysterious tropical marinated fruits topped with Cool Whip. After dinner, I basically couldn’t move and continued to sit at table talking with Donna, while somehow Bob made it to the jungle-living room and fell into a nice post-meal siesta. Kev and Hiram, conversing in Spanish, retired to the kitchen to wrap things up.
Rodeo, New Mexico