Monday, May 14, 2012

Aurora Australis

Saloon on Aurora's main street at the Plainsmen Museum
May 9

I advanced south today on Highway 14, down to the city of Aurora.  Failing to go in much of a westerly direction is often frustrating, as I have alluded to ad nauseum, but the amenities of my destination made the trek worthwhile in this case.
The mileage also brought me to a major milestone, as I passed over 2,000 total for the last year.  I celebrated by taking a half-day, arriving at in town by noon.  On the way in I'd observed the aerial displays of a crop duster, who sprayed the fields to my east with pesticide whilst skillfully dodging telephone wires.  I'll let you know if there are any harmful effects associated with inhaling the chemicals.  The third nipple growing on my neck is probably merely a coincidence.
With the early arrival I had plenty of time after completing my errands to indulge in a rare treat: a trip to the museum.  The Plainsmen Museum and Edgerton Explorit Center (named after the local man who invented the stroboscope a.k.a. the strobe light).  turned out to be a gem.  The outstanding collection of local artifacts from the era of the early pioneers up to the 1950s  was barely able to fit in two large warehouses.  Although Aurora is a town of merely 5,000 inhabitants, there was nothing tiny about this treasure haul of history.
Most memorable was "Main Street" which re-created a vast and intricate view of life in Aurora at the turn of the 20th century.  Full-sized shops including a saloon, barber's, hardware store, doctor and dentist offices, post office, etc. were all furnished and stocked with period items.
The second warehouse held the agricultural artifacts.  Equipment dating back to McCormick's famous reaper, which eliminated hours of back-breaking manual labor, filled the room.
Roger was in charge of this wing of the museum and he painstakingly described what each piece had been used for and how it was operated.  As I am a city boy with virtually no mechanical aptitude to boot, his patience was put to a stern test.  Luckily, a glacier would seem to be in a rush compared to Roger.
I was more in my element at the Delevan Bates house next door.   A Union general during the the Civil War, Bates was also one of the earliest settlers of Aurora, arriving one year after the town was founded in 1871.  A decorated soldier, Bates participated in many of the main battles with the Army of Northern Virginia, including Gettysburg.  In 1864 he was appointed to command one of the first all black regiments.  He fought together with them at Petersburg, although the battle was not to be one of Bates' greatest moments.  The union was routed as General Grant's plan to explode mines under the Confederate earthworks and then charge into the resulting gap turned into a fiasco.
A few years after the end of the war Bates took up his residence in Aurora.  His command experience made him a natural candidate for local office and he became an important local politician as well as a business leader.   He served on the school board, was vice president of the bank, and even spent two terms as mayor.  Through his influence the county courthouse was built as well as the memorial park and bandstand.  The general even secured land for a cemetery, where he was later buried.

11 miles/2000 total miles

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