Across the Continent, Again

It has been years since I’ve traveled the great expanse of North America by car.  Normally, we fly from Los Angeles to Chicago and then drive around the Midwest.  But this year we are driving, and it’s great fun to see the local sights, billboards, bumper stickers, diners, and all the confusing Americana that we normally miss.

Here’s something we saw in the historic Haymarket district of Lincoln, Nebraska.
"Iron Horse Legacy," Lincoln, NE 2013
At one end of a public space in an area of old factories and warehouses turned into restaurants, condos and (a really good) bookstore is this brick mural. It’s both interesting as intricate brick work, and extremely ideological. It put me in mind of the Currier and Ives lithograph “Across the Continent.” But instead of looking out into a suggested, but incomplete future, this one looks back on a sanitized past. Perfect history for a contemporary commercial zone. The old Haymarket and train station were places in which real distribution took place. It was a market both in the sense of money exchange and in the sense of stuff and people moving about. Now, like every other rehabbed urban nightlife district, the only exchange is money for things immediately consumed on the spot (food and beer, mostly). So the mural has just the faintest suggestion that the train is going to displace the buffalo–no suggestion that the people on the train are coming to shoot the buffalo. And of course, no Native Americans at all. The 19th century was more honest about its imperialism.
Across the Continent

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About Tobias Higbie

Transplant from the Midwest to the West Coast, recently returned--temporarily to Chicago.
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4 Responses to Across the Continent, Again

  1. Reblogged this on cynthyareed and commented:
    This reminds me of the time our older son traveled y car in a daring blend of “career vssurvival, and has seen all of the lower 48 United States, not once, but twice before his 30th birthday. within 2.5 years time frame.

  2. Danni says:

    There definitely is some part of the country that you just can’t grasp unless you’ve just driven the roads. I drive almost everywhere on vacation. It’s an awesome, immersive way to travel. Glad to see I’m not the only one who still enjoys the open road!

  3. Jaime Danehey says:

    This reminds me: have you seen the Everywhere West blog, which some folks at the Newberry have been doing, as they process the records of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company? They’ve posted some really interesting finds. Here’s the link: http://publications.newberry.org/cbq/

    • Tobias Higbie says:

      Hi Jamie! Yes, I’ve read the Everywhere West blog but not for 6 months or so. Looks like they’re doing some interesting stuff. I believe the picture I posted is on the wall of the old C B & Q depot (currently BNSF office space), so very relevant to the collection.

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