Friday, September 02, 2011

Vachel Lindsay's meeting with Civil War veteran, old-time fiddle player in west central Illinois

Excerpted from the first of his vignettes in Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty (1912). Copied and pasted from

[p. 21]

* * * These selections from letters home tell
how I came into Kansas and how I adven-
tured there. The letters were written avow-
edly as a sort of diary of the trip, but their
contents turned out to be something less than
that, something more than that, and some-
thing rather different.

Thursday, May 30, 1912. In the blue
grass by the side of the road. Somewhere
west of Jacksonville, Illinois. Hot sun.


Cool wind. Rabbits in the distance. Bum-
blebees near.

At five last evening I sighted my lodging
for the night. It was the other side of a
high worm fence. It was down in the hol-
low of a grove. It was the box of an old
box-car, brought there somehow, without its
wheels. It was far from a railroad. I said
in my heart "Here is the appointed shelter."
I was not mistaken.

As was subsequently revealed, it belonged
to the old gentleman I spied through the
window stemming gooseberries and singing :
"John Brown's body." He puts the car top
on wagon wheels and hauls it from grove to
grove between Jacksonville and the east
bank of the Mississippi. He carries a saw
mill equipment along. He is clearing this
wood for the owner, of all but its walnut
trees. He lives in the box with his son and
two assistants. He is cook, washerwoman
and saw-mill boss. His wife died many
years ago.


The old gentleman let me in with alac-
rity. He allowed me to stem gooseberries
while he made a great supper for the boys.
They soon came in. I was meanwhile as-
sured that my name was going into the pot.
My host looked like his old general, McClel-
lan. He was eloquent on the sins of
preachers, dry voters and pension reformers.
He was full of reminiscences of the string
band at Sherman's headquarters, in which
he learned to perfect himself on his wonder-
ful fiddle. He said, "I can't play slow mu-
sic. I've got to play dance tunes or die."
He did not die. His son took a banjo from
an old trunk and the two of them gave us
every worth while tune on earth: Money
Mush, Hell's Broke Loose in Georgia, The
Year of Jubilee, Sailor's Hornpipe, Baby
on the Block, Lady on the Lake,
and The
Irish Washerwoman,
while I stemmed goose-
berries, which they protested I did not need
to do. Then I read my own unworthy
verses to the romantic and violin-stirred


company. And there was room for all of
us to sleep in that one repentant and con-
verted box-car.

Friday, May 31, 1912. Half an hour
after a dinner of crackers, cheese and raisins,
provided at my solicitation by the grocer in
the general store and post-office. Valley
City, Illinois. * * *

From Vachel Lindsay. 1914. Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty. Internet Archive Italics supplied.

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