Monument Mystery Tour: Memphis to Montgomery

memphis-montgomery mapOne of my favorite things about my research on Civil War monuments is that it has given me a ready excuse to plan crazy road trips. There are thousands of soldier monuments, and they are spread all across the United States. From time to time over the past decade, I’ve planned out a route and hopped in the car to visit as many of them as I can. In densely-packed New England, I’ve hit as many as fifteen to twenty in a day, jumping out of the car to photograph a site and then heading on to the next destination, camping out or sleeping in roadside motels. Doing this, I’ve visited a lot of cities and towns that I might not otherwise have seen, and I’ve developed a keen appreciation for the open road.

This Monday, March 18, I’m looking forward to a one-day monument excursion that will involve visiting some monuments in states where I haven’t traveled extensively before. I’m leaving New Jersey on a flight to Memphis on Sunday afternoon, and I need to be in Montgomery, Alabama by Tuesday morning to meet my fellow Smithson fellows for a visit to the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In between, I’m planning to hit several key sites in Mississippi and Alabama: two monuments whose histories have been altered by car accidents, two more that feature a very early and highly idiosyncratic design for a Confederate soldier, and one whose days may be numbered depending on the outcome of student protests. I have twelve hours of daylight, and eight and a half hours of driving to do. If all goes well, I’ll be pulling into Camden, Alabama, my last site, just as the setting sun hits the golden hour, and then I’ll head off to rest my head at my motel in Montgomery in the twilight.


Weather conditions were ideal when I photographed this Confederate monument in Winchester, VA in 2012

When planning a trip like this, there are several variables that could contribute to success or failure. One is the weather: sunshine makes for the prettiest pictures, although an overcast day is also fine. Rain can mean dreary photographs with less legible details. For now, predictions for my trip suggest that Monday will be sunny and warm, which is music to the ears of this winter-weary traveler. But sun can also pose a problem if it is at an awkward position for photographing a particular site. Since I have a long way to go next Monday, I won’t have a lot of time to wait if the sun is directly behind a monument when I arrive to photograph it. I’ll have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Other variables could include traffic conditions and time to eat and deal with other physical needs. Since I’ll be traveling mainly through rural areas, I’m hoping that I won’t run into too much traffic, and I’ll have my GPS to guide me through unfamiliar territory. And this is exactly the kind of trip that fast food was made for – I’m hoping to pick up something to eat in the car during my longest stretch of driving between Ripley, Mississippi and Demopolis, Alabama.

Wondering if I’m going to make it to all of my sites before darkness falls? I’ll be posting updates from the road throughout the day on Monday: look for me on Twitter (@SarahBeetham) and Instagram (@sdbeetham). I’m excited to take a break from my manuscript and spend some time on the open road.

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