In April 2023, Mike traced the raft journey of Huckleberry Finn, using the effort to raise money for cancer research at Dana-Farber as a supplement to his regular Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) fundraising. Donations, large and small, are welcomed and can be made via this link.
Mike's route took him from Hannibal, MO (Mark Twain's hometown) 875 miles through six states, finishing in Vicksburg, MS. A 10-day trip down "Old Man River", taking in the sights and the history along the way.
"Doan' you 'member de house dat was float'n down de driver, en dey wuz a man in dah and Ah didn't let you come in? Well, den, you kin git yo' money kase dat wuz yo' Pap."
There ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it. I reckon I got to light out for the (Indian) Territory, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it.
-Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The conclusion of the book. I had never understood until rereading this year WHY Jim never told Huck about his dead father -- Huck was running away from Pap, just like Jim was running away from slavery. Jim held back Pap's death to ensure Huck remained a fugitive, just like him. As a slave, there was no reason to trust Huck would be true. Only when Jim was free could he freely share the information. (this was probably obvious to all of you, apologies if so).
Modern Vicksburg -- a healthy vibrant city, with three big built-in advantages: battlefield related tourism, mainline railroads and I-20. Nice brewpub, loft apartments looking out at the river from 10 stories above, 19th century mansions befitting a town that made money from commerce and trading before and after the War.
Vicksburg -- a brief history lesson. "The Key to the West", according to Abraham Lincoln. A natural fortress, unlike every other place in the Delta -- built on high bluffs (my video), providing ideal positions for artillery to cover the river. A place that had to be captured in order to secure Federal control of the Mississippi. And a city surrounded by bayous, swamps, rivers -- perfect terrain for defenders.
This video summarizes Grant's campaign in four minutes. It combined World War I style trench warfare with a medieval style siege of the city that lasted 47 days. The siege left the Confederate troops and citizens eating rats, cats and dogs and living in underground bunkers and caves. Ultimately, the 30,000 defenders were starved out and surrendered themselves and the city.
Like most Civil War battlefields, a somber place, full of monuments. I've given a sample in the photos and a video. I enjoyed the treat of seeing the USS Cairo, a Union gunboat sunk in 1862, found 100+ years later, raised and restored -- the only surviving example of Civil War naval technology, see photos and my video.
I went back to the Visitor Center and had a lengthy discussion with the ranger on duty. She was from Illinois and had written her master's thesis on the elimination of the battle flag symbol from the Georgia state flag, so we had common cause. Bottom line -- while Confederate symbols can be removed from city property (like I noted in Memphis), once something goes up on Park Service land, or gets approved as "official video", it takes a lengthy DC approval process to undo, or redo. The Davis statue was added in the 1960's as a white supremacy symbol. She also noted that now was a very delicate time in Vicksburg -- next year is the 150th Anniversary of the Vicksburg Riots, where dozens of blacks, including the elected Black sheriff, where killed by white mobs.
I reflected on this and have decided to write a letter to Vicksburg's congressman, the only Black representative in the Mississippi delegation. Ultimately, these are issues the locals need to address -- but if anyone has the influence to address them, it is a 16 term congressman. I will post back to the d-list anything I hear back from his office.
Heading back to civilization today (writing this from the plane headed back to Boston), Huck's closing message resonates. This trip -- much harder physically and emotionally than I bargained for. While I deeply enjoyed the experience, seeing the country, meeting the people, immersing myself -- in retrospect, being "out there" with no safety net and no good bailout options was more "extreme" than I am likely to repeat.
That being acknowledged, I'm also not prepared to be "sivilized". I enjoy the freedom of the road and exploration too much. Expect that I will be back next year with something that is still pretty crazy and ambitious, just somewhat less so than this year's adventure.
THANK YOU for coming along for the ride, and of course for your immense generosity supporting Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund -- $33 thousand to date and still counting!