Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

01 October, 2007

An Afternoon in Cornish Town Wherein Robert Johnson's Lyrics are Illuminated

With my illness having abated for the most part, The Dulcinea, M., and I drove down to Mineral Point on Saturday for Cornish Fest. Neither I nor The D is Cornish but M is of Cornish stock. So it seemed like a good excuse to check out Mineral Point and eat Cornish food while M ran around oblivious to it all. This was my first time in the town and I have to say that the historic downtown was marvelous for the antiquarian in me.

Most of the buildings downtown looked as if they were from the second half of the 19th century. By this time, the town was booming with lead mining, hence the town's name. Word of this had reached Cornwall, England a couple decades previously and scores of Cornish families came to Mineral Point attracted by the available work in the mines. Thus we have Mineral Point being home to Cornish Fest.

With tourism being such a big economic component, most of the buildings downtown were in good shape and relatively unmolested by current architectural fads or designs on making things look modern.

The coffeehouse/tavern we stopped at was gorgeous with dark wood everywhere and huge doorways. Aside from some modern conveniences such as coolers and beer taps, it was truly like walking into a different time. There was the odd sign in Cornish about town as well as the ubiquitous pasty which had found company with other assimilated cuisines at the Red Rooster Café.

After wandering around for a bit, we found that we still had time before the Miner's Buffet was to start. Since I have an interest in the history of rail in the area, we zipped down to the Mineral Point Railroad Depot Museum. On the way down the hill, we passed Brewery Creek, a brewpub.

Unfortunately, they were closing to prepare for the dinner hour and, with M along, it was not a day for hunkering down at the tavern.

I believe that railway service to Mineral Point started in 1857 as there was lots of lead (and later zinc) to be shipped out. The tracks are long gone and now are a trail but the depot has been lovingly restored. It opened only three years ago. It's a beautiful limestone building.

Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden inside. There was a display which documented the restoration efforts and, after seeing pictures of the interior which was totally trashed, kudos must be given out to the folks behind bringing the depot back to life. All the wooden floors and moldings were lovingly restored and the place was just great to wander around. Display cases lined the walls with artifacts from a long-gone era. It was more than ore and people that the trains moved as was evident from a shipping receipt for 2 barrels of whiskey. Shovels, pry bars, and levels lined one case along with a series of photos demonstrating how track was laid and how bad spikes were replaced. If you think it sucks sitting in front of a keyboard and mouse, think about lugging around a 26 pound pry bar all day. There was also a bunch of implements for the guy who kept the fire going on the locomotive. They looked quite a bit like those you'd have for your fireplace at home excepting that they were much bigger. I was reminded of the bit in Tony Robinson's series The Worst Jobs in History for the Victorian era - the engine cleaner. It's a great show so, if you've not seen it, do so. The engine cleaner would crawl inside the area where the coal or wood burned and sweep it out. Then, after the locomotive parked itself over the inspection pit and the guy would clear out the ash pans from underneath. Keeping the iron horses running was dirty, ball-busting work.

There was a slick pocket watch on display which made me wonder where I put my own pocket watch which is from around 1916 and, like the one I saw at the museum, belonged to a conductor. Aside from the neat maps and whatnot strewn about, the real treat was a gentlemen whose name I cannot recall. He was an old duff donning your typical Sconnie outfit of flannel shirt and suspenders and walked with a cane. The guy was a volunteer there and he wandered around the room which was the ticket office and waiting area looking for folks to talk to. It didn't take him long to flag down M, who was a little hesitant to talk to him. I, however, was quite willing. He'd worked on the rail in Mineral Point from 1957 until 1969. And he loved talking about his former profession and his current passion.

At one point I was looking at a map on the wall and he pointed out the routes that he had traveled while working for the rail. By the desk of the ticket agent was the ticket dispenser which was a shelf with a bunch of little compartments for stacks of tickets. Back then they were a bit larger than your typical raffle ticket is today. There were wooden balls in each of the compartments and it was explained to me that they kept the tickets from pouring out the openings. This guy was a font of information. He even knew the parents of my former co-worker who lent me the rail magazines I used in my Madrail series linked to above. This guy was a treasure and he put all the video displays and fancy interactive hoolies at larger museums to shame with his wonderful human touch.

While looking at one wall of lamps, I noticed one that had red and blue lenses. The gentleman explained that those used to hang from the caboose. I then realized I was standing before an illustration of some of Robert Johnson's lyrics, specifically those towards the end of "Love in Vain":

When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind
Well, the blue light was my blues
and the red light was my mind

One can just imagine folks sitting or milling around waiting for the train. I found out yesterday that, if a Madisonian didn’t want to brave the rail yet needed to get to Mineral Point, they could always hitch up the wagon and take a certain road west from town – Mineral Point Road.

With 4:30 approaching, we headed off to the Hodan Center to fill our bellies at the Miner's Buffet. As the pictures below demonstrate, I stuffed myself.

This was my first course. We have a beef pasty, Cornish meat pie with dumplings, corn pudding, and mashed turnips. There was just the right amount of horseradish in the turnips. How many root vegetables can you get in one dish? Oh, and that's a bit of pepper relish which, I was told, was for the pasty. It was sweet and sour and quite good.

My second course consisted of baked squash, a slice of Herbie pie, and some sweet and sour beans. Herbie pie was essentially a quiche. A quiche with manna from heaven – bacon. And just look at all that bacon in the beans. They were excellent!

For dessert, I started with a slice of saffron bread and one of figgyhobbin.

I am not sure if the Cornish made saffron bread because they loved saffron or because they were ensconced in a perpetual butter shortage and they wanted it to look yellow. Either way it was very tasty. Figgyhobbin. What the hell is figgyhobbin? A figgyhobbin is a long pastry roll filled with nuts, brown sugar, and raisins. For the life of me I cannot find anything on the Net about its origin or name. I suspect figs were involved at one point or that the name is perhaps the corruption of some Cornish word but these are mere speculations on my part. Traditionally, one puts caramel sauce on it. I refrained but can say that it was very tasty nonetheless.

My second dessert was a scone-like hoolie and a piece of pie which, if my ears heard rightly, was sugar pie.

The scone thingy was soft and moist and good. The pie was, as the name implies, sugary. For a filling, it had a load of gooey caramel stuff which sent me into diabetic seizures. But it was oh so good!

This was a hearty meal. Much heartier than this office jockey required. But I can imagine a bunch of sweaty miners covered in coal dust grabbing a tin plate of stew and a pasty and chowing down.
|| Palmer, 1:08 PM


Thank you for your commentary, and I hope you will come back to Mineral Point. We do have a wonderful community...

come and stay with us and enjoy our hospitality.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:22 PM  
Oh, I'll be back. Fairly shortly, in fact. Those computers at Pendarvis need some attention.
Blogger Palmer, at 6:59 PM  

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