Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the second day... turtledoves, but a fun trip to Appleton, WI, hometown of one of my favorite middle-brow American authors, Edna Ferber. Who, you may ask? Well, Edna won a Pulitzer Prize and was very popular in her own time, hanging out with the glitterati and theatre folks of NYC, but now it's the movies made from her books that are remembered, chiefly Showboat and James Dean's Giant. That's her with Jimmy to the left, apparently either demonstrating or learning how to twirl a lasso.

The beautiful Appleton historical museum, which looks oddly like a castle (former Masonic temple) had a small but informative and well-chosen cabinet on Ferber, including two of her typewriters (she hated hand-writing) and lots of her first editions. (Houdini, the other famous Appletonian, had a whole floor.) The gift shop also was selling a novel of hers that I had never encountered before, a tale of a logging family called Come and Get It.

Afterwards, we drove around town looking at Edna's old stomping grounds, including two houses that she lived in, the former site of her father's dry-goods store (on Main Street), and the temple she attended, the best-preserved of them all. All of these spots are immortalized in her most autobiographical novel, Fanny Herself. It doesn't paint a very flattering portrait of the temple's congregation, though; Ferber seems to have resented them for looking down on her mother for working after her father's death, rather than starving to death genteelly.

On the way out of town towards Neenah, I even got to see the paper mills mentioned as destroying the environment in Fanny. To be sure, they're still belching out a tremendous amount of smoke, and I'm sure the land around them is no prettier than when Ferber took a swing at them.

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