There was one last thing I wanted to see in Wapakoneta Thursday morning before moving on. My roadside bible had alerted me to the fact that there was an extraordinary place improbably hidden behind one of the innocuous old homes that line the streets of downtown Wapa and I meant to find it.
Writer and fiercely proud Wapa denizen Jim Bowsher spent 18 years constructing a huge rock garden (maybe more appropriately called a boulder garden) behind his home. Jim built the Temple of Tolerance as a peaceful retreat from the dizzying pace of the outside world, and once you make your way down the asphalt driveway and through the gate you cannot help but be transported.
In a Tardis-like feat of physics, Jim's backyard is impossibly large. Pathways meander through leafy lanes, past grotto after grotto, each embraced by vines and secluded by branches. Charming little benches for quiet contemplation adjoin each and every shrine along the way. Eventually these criss-crossing ant trails lead to a broad opening in the dense vegetation which is predominated by a giant temple at its center.
Jim claims he knew exactly where each and every item should be placed from dreams he had, and in support of that claim has meticulously recorded a description of every rock in the place on index cards which have since been computerized. I so admire that sort of maniacal documentation, being of that persuasion myself. In my experience, it goes right along with the storytelling gene, which Jim definitely has in spades.
The sense of predestination one gleans from Jim's explanations is also quite fascinating. Not long after I met Jim, he mentioned in passing that he had "finished" the Temple some years ago. That's extraordinary language in these sorts of environments. Most artists working on projects of this nature build until they drop in their traces like Harry Andrews and his medieval folly. Jim knew exactly what he wanted to build, left no stone unturned and pronounced it "finished". Wow. What a concept!
Many of the stones are beautiful banded boulders taken from area farmers who were wanting to clear their fields. Mixed in with the natural forms is a wild assortment of lintels, steps, blocks, bricks - you name it - all items he's saved from the wrecking ball and seated in a place of honor. And because Jim is such an accomplished story teller, he can tell you something about any slab of stone you point to. "That's where a fellow sat after his Civil War service had come to an end and read about Lincoln's assassination!" for example, only with a LOT more words.
I myself was mesmerized by the river of words pouring from Jim's mouth. He's part historian, part philosopher and part chaplain (among many other parts). In the movie version, he's played by James Cagney as a sideshow barker who saves souls with a long gray ponytail and a broad toothy grin.
I climbed to the top of the temple after Jim apologetically departed to get back to his writing and was very pleased to find a large fire pit at the apex. How beautiful it must be at night with a golden firelight dancing across the carvings and crevices. What an extraordinary place, even in isolation from any words, stories, explanations.
I left not only with a healthy dose of tolerance and peace, but also with tidal waves of the feeling I cherish most in this world. Humans are amazing. I feel so weighed down sometimes by the fearfulness and smallness exhibited by mankind, but a place like the Temple of Tolerance restores me to believing that we are all bigger than those unfortunate acts of meanness. Thank you, Jim, thank you.
Next on to Lima (pronounced like the bean, NOT the city in Peru) for some quick lunch and a visit to the Allen County Museum. I parked downtown and luckily, a meter maid was walking by at that exact moment so I could question her about good local places where I could grab some lunch. She recommended a hometown favorite: Kewpee Burgers.
When I rounded the corner and saw the place, I knew I'd hit roadtrip paydirt. Kewpee, it turns out, was historically the second franchised burger chain in America and this location, (one of only five left in the nation) was first opened in 1927. At one time, Kewpee had over 400 restaurants across the US and is credited by Dave Thomas of Wendy's as his inspiration for getting into the hamburger business. Or hamburgs, as they call them up here. So quaint.
Check out the wrapper from my delicious burger:
My heart definitely went flippity-flop at the same time my arteries were hardening just a little bit more. While I enjoyed my classic American repast, I smiled to see the age-old ritual of two young boys out for lunch with their grandparents, aggressively vying for who got to sit next to grandpa. I expected to look around and see Norman Rockwell painting in the corner.
I passed up the delicious looking pie (! - really! - at a fast food place?) and pushed on to the Allen County Museum. I'd read about several interesting collections held there, and was certainly impressed with the wide array of things they'd assembled. An excellent diorama of the scene of John's Dillinger's escape from the Lima jail was on view along with three cabinets stuffed with the contents of a Willy Wonka style shoe store magnate's bizarre taxidermy collection from the early 20s. But what had really drawn me to this charming small town museum was the Things Swallowed exhibit. The label above the cabinet reads: Objects removed from esophagus, bronchial tree (lungs), and larynx of patients by Drs. Estey C. Yingling, and Walter E. Yingling
The Drs. Yingling thoughtfully preserved and labelled these objects for me to enjoy immensely six decades later. Possibly the most hilarious combination of object and name, poor Mr. Dumm:
This thought provoking exhibit led me to start assigning meaning to what I saw before me. A few resulting observations:
* Don't EVER put a safety pin or nail in your mouth
* Don't EVER eat animals with bones
* Keep duct tape over the mouth of any child under the age of 3
One thing I particularly enjoyed was picking out the cases where it was obvious insanity was the cause of ingestion. This one was obvious enough:
But this one took a minute to sink in:
Holy cow! How do you even swallow something like that? This fantastic display made the entire visit worthwhile. Good work, Allen County museum.
She then dusted her hands off, saddled up and rode off into the sunset, making a beeline for Cleveland where she'd be meeting her sweetie and spending a few days attending Twins Fest. Oh goody!