The American Road
The Newsletter of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association
"Because History is Now...and Forever"

Contents of Spring 2005 Newsletter

New Exhibit Features America’s Greatest River!
April 19 – November 2, 2003 only at the Hoover Library

This summer you will be swept away on a journey of discovery down the "Father of Waters" - the Mississippi. The Hoover Library will offer a spectacular and original exhibit entitled "Old Man River: History along the Mississippi." It is the story of our nation told through the life and times of its greatest river.

It begins in Minnesota and flows south nearly 2,350 miles, draining water from 31 states from Montana to New York, and discharging 612,000 cubic feet of water every second into the Gulf of Mexico. But the mighty Mississippi is so much more than statistics.

Home to fish, mussels, amphibians, and mammals, the river system also serves as the main flyway for much of the continent's migratory birds. The flood plain supports thick hardwood forests, prairie grasslands, rich farmlands, and cypress swamps.

The river was our first "interstate" linking farflung communities from a dozen states. More important, the Mississippi formed pathways to exploration, settlement, and freedom. For generations men have fought to control the river even as it periodically proved to be uncontrollable. Floods, epidemics, and earthquakes have threatened life along the riverbanks, yet industry flourished as millions of tons of freight traverse its waters every year.

Millions of Americans of Native American, European, and African heritage lived along the river. The mighty Mississippi provided the setting for a spectacular literary heritage as well as a rhythmic blues highway from Memphis to St. Louis to St. Paul. It nurtured American genius, artists with names such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, John James Audubon, Charles Schultz, and Elvis Presley.

This lithograph of Burlington, Iowa, comes from an illustrated book, “Das Illustrirte Mississippithal,” printed in Germany between 1854 and 1857. Henry Lewis, the author, was an English artist living in America in 1848. He travelled the Mississippi River from Fort Snelling to St. Louis, making sketches along the way. The original of this drawing is colored. Louis described his visit to Burlington: “It is beautifully situated on a gradually rising slope surrounded by very picturesque hills.” Only twenty copies of the book survive today. This illustration is reprinted courtesy of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Legendary pirates, flatboatmen, steamboat pilots, voodoo priestesses, ghosts, and even cartoon characters gained depth from the river's rich culture and history, full of human emotions ranging from utter despair to soaring hope. The Mississippi River truly is the heartland and heartbeat of our nation.

"Old Man River" is divided into a number of themes. The opening section will explore the contrast of cultures between the upper Mississippi (from Lake Itasca to Cairo) and the lower Mississippi (from Cairo to the Delta). The featured element in this section will be a raft that you can "ride" down the river!

The second theme is "exploration and trade," a detailed discussion of the life of the river from the 1500s to the 1800s. The mound builders, the traders, the explorers and the early soldiers will hold court. The featured elements will be an old fashioned trading post and an authentic birchbark canoe.

"River Days" is the centerpiece of this imaginative exhibit. Here you will find the life of the river as influenced by the river boats from flatboats to steam and tow boats. Mark Twain memorabilia, including the pen he used to write his famous books, will be displayed in showboat-style cases with authentic Victorian accents. There will be models of steamboats, tickets,

costumes, whistles, lanterns and other artifacts. The next theme is "Riverfront Property." Highlighting river towns and industrial development, this section will include the flour milling industry, timber and lumber, clamming and the pearl button industry, John Deere, Rock Island Arsenal, and Anheuser Busch in St. Louis. Also featured will be the river as a gateway to the west, and the cotton and sugar plantations of the South.

"Man vs. Man" focuses on the historical events and man's struggles along the river: the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, The Mormon Trek, The Dred Scott Decision, Slavery, the Vicksburg Campaign during the Civil War, and assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Among the items on exhibit will be slave shackles and indentured servant documents, pamphlets from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, a saddle used by U.S. Grant, and special items honoring Martin Luther King.

"Man vs. Nature" focuses on natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, as well as engineering and the building of locks and dams in man's attempt to control the River. Here also will be told the stories of epidemics such as cholera and smallpox and environmental concerns of pollution and loss of wildlife habitats. An original painting by James J. Audubon will be on display.

The next theme is "Arts and Inspiration." The creative output of artists along the Mississippi is oftentimes shaded, multi-leveled, even dark. The arts of literature, music, visual arts, and entertainment are incredibly rich in this area of the country, and strongly based in the region's frequently unhappy history. From "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams to "Crossroads Blues" sung by Robert Johnson, these dark undercurrents of life transformed the American arts. Among the special items here will be Louis Armstrong's trumpet and B.B. King's guitar. "Legends and Spirits" will round out this rich history and more that you will experience when you come to the Hoover Library in April. It is a journey of seven hundred years and a thousand miles that you can make in just one afternoon. You will be glad you did!

Contents of Spring 2005 Newsletter

Contents of Spring 2004 Newsletter

Contents of Winter 2003 Newsletter

Hoover Presidential Library Association
302 Parkside Drive
P.O. Box 696
West Branch, IA 52358

Phone: (319) 643-5327
Fax: (319) 643-2391