Getting High in Galena


I took my gal to Galena last week.  We (my brother Wally and his wife Bernice too) whiled away  a few romantic days at the Steamboat Bed and Breakfast there. Glen and Char, the "innkeepers" made us feel right at home. Their place was once the opulent residence of Daniel Smith Harris, a mining  magnate and steamboat captain and entrepreneur.  Harrris prospered in the golden days of Galena when it was a major Mississippi steamboat port of call and a flourishing  producer of lead ore. Galena gets its name from the latter.  After the Civil War came the boom in railroads, and  Galena---at its peak a town of 12,000---shrivelled into a backwater, forgotton metropolis.

 For some 50 years Galena was frozen in time. Until like a phoenix it was reborn as one of the best-preserved  antebellum-Civil War-immediately postbellum towns extant.  Walk along Main Street on the lower level(Galena is triple-tierred) and see buildings that Lincoln and Grant and Emerson and Melville must have passed through.  Honest Abe stayed at the DeSoto House and spoke from its balcony to crowds of supporters.

Galena is awash with this kind of Americana. Visit the Galena History Museum on Bench Street on the middle level and you'll be impressed by the famous iconic painting of Lee's surrender at Appomattox. The artist was Thomas Nast, who, you might recall, was the 19th-century  political cartoonist who created the Republican elephant and Democrat donkey emblems.  The dimensions of the painting will surprise you. But that's the kind of place Galena is.

In the very room where the aforementioned painting is, we were surprised to be part of a quasi-jury at the military trial of a Confederate spy, a female Copperhead who was stalking General Grant in a plot to assassinate him.  General Grant himself was present to testify against the turn(petti)coat. It was all part of Ulysses S. Grant's birthday celebration.

Our stay in Galena was short, but we were able to shop for bric-a bracs---some of  the antique variety---and dine at a few charming eateries. Our last night we even spent with royalty. We enjoyed a performance of "The King and I" staged by the Galena High School Drama Club.  It was so much  fun to hear the infectious "Getting to Know You" once more.

And we  got to know enough about Galena  to whet our appetite to come back again.  And again and again!


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