Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

My Visit to Illinois

Posted in photography by Jason Gray on September 21, 2009

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Today, my wife had a meeting with a client of hers in Freeburg, Illinois, so we decided that I should tag along, and that, after her meeting, we would check out  Eckert’s Farm and Country Store in Belleville.  It’s been a while since I’ve been through that part of the state (I lived for a time in Greenville, Illinois, and our swim team used to compete against Freeburg), but nothing seems to have changed.  Eckert’s still features a great big grocery/fruit/country kitsch market, and unless I’m deluded, they seem to have added on to their attractions over the years with the “Kid Corral”.   It’s been eons since I’ve last been there, though.  Anyway, we picked up some delicious Jonathan Apples from their orchard, and Mandi bought a caramel apple while I got some homemade Rocky Road Fudge. After Eckert’s we followed our curiosity, which led us to the grounds of Our Lady of the Snows Shrine.  The facility and compound houses a lot of Catholic-themed quirkiness that I found mostly beautiful and interesting, but do not  understand (unsurprisingly, I am not Catholic).  Still, we had a lot of fun walking around.  On our way back to Missouri, we followed our Garmin’s directions through an interesting stretch of East St. Louis, which gave the impression of either an urban ghost town or a city devastated by war.  Living in Chicago and L.A., I’ve seen areas like this, and my wife and I accidently drove through some bad areas of Oakland, Ca. that evoked these notions, but the scope is incomparable to what’s here.  Sooner or later, I’d like to go back and photograph more of the area.

All shots Nikon D300 with Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G Lens attached.

Eckert’s: A family-owned farm and orchard (in three locations) that goes back seven generations. The Belleville annex is the headquarters for the Eckerts’ operations.

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Our Lady of the Snows Shrine: Was built in 1951 in the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River Valley near Belleville, Illinois. It features numerous devotional areas transformed from the surrounding rock and pith into places of spiritual reflection. The shrine’s mission reflects a goal to reach out across religious beliefs, but still retains a presentation of Catholic iconography and practices. Admission is free.

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East St. Louis: Considered an “All-American City” in 1958, East St. Louis epitomizes the corrosion of the Rust Belt and the negative implications of “White Flight”. When I was growing up, and going to St. Louis, East St. Louis was a place that you didn’t want to wrong-turn into. The stories of gang warfare, mixed with poverty and desperation, became the stuff of parents’ cautionary tale legend. Still though, despite its avoid at all costs reputation, East STL is the city that brought Miles Davis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Tina Turner to light. I’d love to see East St. Louis re-inhabited and re-invigorated, but it’s pretty unlikely to occur in my lifetime.

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Back in the Lou!:

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