Wanderings in Central Texas


Blooming wildflowers in old oil fields near Mexia, Texas

This blog was always meant to be a chronicle of my travels, and virtual connection to my friends and family in distant places. Now that I have made the monumental move from Chicago to Texas, this connection seems more important than ever. And so, after my first month living in this strange country (indeed, the state slogan is “It’s like a whole other country”), I’m learning lots of new things.

One of which is that driving an hour or more for anything is totally normal in Texas. And if I want entertainment, I have to drive somewhere. So, one of my first ventures was to the historic city of Corsicana. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary here, but the downtown has that old “Main Street America” look to it, and there’s an antique or thrift store around every corner. Believe me, I had a good ole’ time checking out every single one.


The 1908 City Jail in Corsicana, which seems to be a private residence now


Public projects in downtown Corsicana – once a burned out building, now a cozy courtyard

But I did something even more interesting on my way back home… As you might know, I am big into historic cemeteries, and I had read something about the grave of a famous blues guitarist in the vicinity, so I had to check it out. The man was known as Blind Lemon Jefferson, and was a talented and influential blues singer and guitarist in the 1920s, eventually being buried back near his little hometown of Wortham, Texas upon his death.


Historical marker and gravesite of Blind Lemon Jefferson

The strange thing to me was the shabby state of the cemetery itself, and it’s proximity to the larger and better kept Wortham Cemetery right next door. It seemed like most of the markers were pretty old, with some falling over, and surely some covered over with tall grass. I figured it out soon enough; this was the Negro Cemetery.


Inside the Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery

Never in my previous experience have I come across a separate cemetery for African Americans. I suppose its just my ignorance, or this is simply a more common sight in the South. This same day, I heard about a Jewish cemetery in Corsicana, because of a bizarre story about a Jewish tight-rope walker that was buried there. I think all of this murky history will keep me busy for a while…


The oldest grave I found, with the Wortham Cemetery in the background


Old World Wisconsin

This was going to be a post about my visit to Madison, Wisconsin, but my day at the living history site Old World Wisconsin was the star of the show! What is Old World Wisconsin? It is an open-air museum on more than 500 acres of land, that portrays the lives of immigrants in 19th century Wisconsin. The buildings are grouped into ethnic areas, based on the immigrant populations that came to Wisconsin, such as Germans and Scandinavians. And in most of the houses there are costumed interpreters, learning to do things like use a loom, make wool into yarn, harvest crops, and make bread in an outdoor oven.

The best thing about the experience was not just having the place to ourselves for much of the day (the benefit of Tuesday museum visits!), but the fact that staff were genuinely excited to talk and show you things of interest. When staff are excited, it makes visitors excited! You are learning how to use a spinning wheel, and do I want to watch? Absolutely! Check out the park map below…

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

A map of Old World Wisconsin shows how truly big it is.

It is hard to imagine, but the 60+ historic structures at Old World Wisconsin were brought to the site from all across the state, before the museum opened in the 1970’s. A schoolhouse from Raspberry Bay far north on Lake Superior, to a one-room chapel from an African-American community in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. How did they get the buildings here? Well, I honestly can’t imagine.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

In front of the Schulz house in the German area.

This place has a lot going for it, including excellent staff and interpreters, hands-on interaction and more than enough to keep you busy for a full day. We stayed for a solid 6 hours, and commented that we could see ourselves coming back again. Perhaps celebrating the summer solstice Scandinavian style, or an old world Fourth of July parade…

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!

Women in bonnets diligently working the garden!