I’ve Seen 99 Cakes, But the Adventure Ain’t Done! – National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows #99

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Cake #99 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows

As we left the Skyview Drive-In Movie Theater in Belleville, I knew there was a great possibility that we would actually have to pass right by the final cake I wanted to see that day at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, even though I hadn’t mentioned this cake adventure to Mama Monster. And so as I started to turn the car towards home, I gave Mama Monster the biggest grin I had and hoped she’d be game for a final cake of the day, luckily she was.

The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows is pretty impressive in that it is the largest outdoor shrine in North America (who knew?). In 1958 the Belleville site was chosen and work began on creating a spectacular shrine that would honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and allow amble space for all those who wish to come and worship.

The shrine itself derives its name from a legend that dates back to 352 AD when Mary appeared in a dream to a Roman couple and told them to build a church in her honor on the hill that was covered with snow. The next day, August 5th, a super hot day in summer, Esquiline Hill was covered in snow. This was declared a miracle and a few years later a church was built on that location.

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Cake #99 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows

Today the National Shrine in Belleville is over 200 acres of lush greenery and fascinating statues that can be viewed either by a driving or a walking tour of the grounds. The location also hosts retreats, services and, when Mama Monster and I visited, a prom – or at least a young person dance of some kind that involved tuxedos and fancy dresses.

And after all that we had seen on our day long adventure, it was calming to drive through the shrine location and take in the natural beauty of the area.

So a little while later, as we crossed the state line back into Missouri with visions of mannequins, movie theaters and massive ketchup bottles reflecting in our rear view mirror, it was good to be back on familiar territory…at least until the  next Illinois cake hunt.

Cake Hunting at the Drive-In – Skyview Drive-In #98

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Cake #98 at Skyview Drive-In

So we’ve all been to a movie theater once or twice to catch a quick flick, right? But what about if you moved that experience from inside the theater to outside under the night sky where you can share popcorn with your friends inside the comfort of your car? Well such a place exists just a little ways away in Belleville, IL at the Skyview Drive-In movie theater – the only remaining drive-in movie theater in the St. Louis area.

Skyview had its grand opening on July 8th, 1949 and not even a tornado in 1955 and a windstorm in 1981 could stop the show. Over the years, the drive-in has expanded as technology has created bigger and better ways to view movies. Interestingly enough the supporting structure of the drive-in used to be painted pink, but after it was rebuilt in the 80s the color was lost in favor of the current light blue.

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Cake #98 at Skyview Drive-In

The Skyview does still show movies, but when Mama Monster and I visited the theater it was pretty deserted. It was a strange thing to drive through the parking lot of a drive-in when no other cars are around, only the speaker stands and the painted lines telling you where to park. But as we came around to the back of the massive screen, the cake was just sitting there waiting for us to arrive, and I have to say that it was pretty incredible to be standing behind such a huge screen thinking about all of the years of movie magic it has provided.

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Cake #98 at Skyview Drive-In

And even though I’m not quite sure what a bunch of cars and checkered patterns have to do with a drive-in theater, Skyview definitely made the list of places to check out a second time.

Four Score and Several Cakes Ago – Victorian Home Museum #97

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Victorian Home Museum 

Even though we scurried away from the Emma Kunz House in a hurry after spying the mannequin twins in the neighboring yard, my heart barely had time to slow down before we arrived at the next cake on our list at the Victorian Home Museum.

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Cake #97 at the Victorian Home Museum 

Another Belleville, IL historical site worth seeing, the Victorian Home Museum is the home and headquarters for the St. Clair County Historical Society, which has had a hand in saving and renovating IL area landmarks such as the Emma Kunz House.

But before the St. Clair Historical Society turned the location into a museum, the building was actually a house built in 1866 for Morris Dobschutz. And today it still retains the essence of what life was like for wealthy homeowners in the Victoria era with several rooms including a few bedrooms, a parlor and a library with furniture and (I’m sure) mannequins displaying clothing from that time period.

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Cake #97 at the Victorian Home Museum

However what I found to be the most interesting piece of the collection located in this museum, which unfortunately was not open when we visited (such a common theme during this cake hunt!) was a balcony from which Abraham Lincoln spoke when he gave a speech in Belleville in 1856. Now that alone would have been worth seeing…although I’m sure that there was a replica Abraham Lincoln mannequin just waiting to join the troupe in my nightmares, so…

And as far as the cake for this location goes, thankfully it was placed outside so we could memorialize it on film, but unfortunately it was behind a little fence on a small hill beside the museum, and there didn’t seem to be a great way to get to it. So I did the only rational thing I could think of…and climb the small fence surrounding it to trespass on museum property in order to make sure future generations could be impressed with my cake hunting skills! All in a day’s work for a Cake Monster:)

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Cake #97 at the Victorian Home Museum 

They Tried to Pave Paradise and Put up a Parking Lot – Emma Kunz House #96

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IMG_2392By this point in the cake hunting adventure, Mama Monster and I had seen restaurants, Mounds, ketchup bottles, planes, a farm and now we were face to face with something we hadn’t yet seen: a historical house – the Emma Kunz House to be precise.

Located in Belleville, IL the Emma Kunz House is named for the woman who occupied the house for the longest span of time, which in Emma’s case was 77 years. The house itself was built in 1851 in what is called Greek Revival Style which was brought into the area and made popular by German immigrants as they moved west. This type of home contained a small or minimal front yard in order to accommodate a large garden in the back.

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Cake #96 at the Emma Kunz House

Interestingly enough the current location of the Emma Kunz House is its second home. It was originally built in downtown Belleville, but in the 1970s there were talks of destroying the house to build a parking lot. At that point, the St. Clair Historical Society stepped in and moved the entire house to its present location where it was converted into a museum in 1978.

The museum was not open for business when Mama Monster and I stopped by to see the cake – at least not as far as we could tell. But we did take the opportunity to walk around the house and peek in as many windows as we could see into on tip-toe, which, truth be told, wasn’t many.

But as we rounded the side of the house from the backyard, I began to get that strange feeling I often get when I sense something is amiss in the area. And lo and behold, I look to my right, and what do I see? Two sketchy mannequin types looking at me!!

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So that happened, and at this point in the day, I can’t say I was surprised, but despite that unfortunate sighting, the house and the cake itself were fantastic to look at and admire in the warm afternoon sun. And without even realizing it at the time, Mama Monster had captured on film what would become the new masthead for this very blog – pretty solid adventure in my book!

How Do You Like Them Apples? – Eckert’s Belleville Country Store #95

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IMG_2385I’ll be honest and say that during my cake hunting adventures, the cake locations usually fell into one of two categories – either visiting the location to see the cake was probably the only time I was ever going to be at that location again, or I knew upon sight that I was definitely going to have to explore the location a second or a third time in the future. And Eckert’s Belleville Country Store (or really Eckert’s Farms) fell into that second category.

Eckert’s has different locations throughout Illinois, but the Belleville location, where the cake was placed, is where it all started. In 1862 Michael Eckert started planting fruit trees in an area called Drum Hill southeast of St. Louis, and in 1890 his son Henry followed his father’s lead and began planting fruit trees on a plot of land called Turkey Hill Farm which became the location for the current Eckert’s Farm in Belleville.

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Cake #95 at Eckert’s Belleville Country Store

In addition to the apples, peaches, strawberries and blackberries that the Farm is known for, Eckert’s Belleville location also has a Country Store that is filled with glorious amounts of delicious looking food, a shop with cute little knick-knacks, a place to grab a bite to eat and most importantly, a window where you can walk up and order ice cream, which Mama Monster sampled as we walked around taking in the locale. The Farm also puts on different events throughout the year as well as the ever popular pick-your-own options for many of their fruits and vegetables.

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It’s like this place knows me!

 

And so even though Mama Monster and I only spent a few minutes in each section of the Country Store, looking through all the seed packets and lawn ornaments they had for sale, I still knew there were so many things we didn’t even know we weren’t getting to see. Plus walking around the Farm on a warm spring or early summer day picking fruit to take home and enjoy sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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Cake #95 at Eckert’s Belleville Country Store

So after we had some nice patron of the Country Store take our picture with the cake, and we were driving away from the Farm on our way to the next cake location, I knew that even though the Farm was slowly disappearing in my rear view mirror, it would not be the last time I took a look around this particular Illinois attraction.

 

Great Scott! Those Planes Are Huge! – Scott Field Heritage Air Park #94

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Cake #94 at the Scott Field Heritage Air Park 

With four cakes already behind us – two in Missouri and two in Illinois – it was time to break the tie and head out to Scott Air Force Base in IL for the fifth cake of the day at the Scott Field Heritage Air Park.

Now I will admit that I was a little apprehensive about driving on the Air Force Base, especially because the only direction I had from the official cake hunting list on the cake’s location was that it was somewhere on the base. Right. Not sketchy at all. And although up to this point in my cake hunting travels, I have pulled some pretty wicked sweet driving moves, I felt like maybe the Air Force Base was not the best place to exercise my sketch driving muscles.

Thankfully as soon as we got closer to the Base, there were signs pointing toward the Heritage Air Park, and soon enough Cake #94 was before us as well as several humongous airplanes.

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Cake #94 at the Scott Field Heritage Air Park

Prior to this cake sighting, I knew pretty much nothing about Air Parks, but after reading about them, I learned that they essentially serve as open air museums for retired aircraft that were integral in the Base’s history. This particular Air Park was built in 2008 and showcases five retired planes.

You are able to walk right up to these five planes, but since I was still reeling from the one-two punch of the mannequin museum and then the beastly climb up Cahokia Mounds, we saved that portion of the visit for another day.

And I will say, as an insider to the world of cake hunting, the cake at this location was originally right up next to the plane you see in the background of the photos, but it had already been moved closer to the parking lot by the time we got to see it. And for me, being able to stand in the parking lot and take in both the cake and the plane in the distance is way cooler than being right up against the side of the plane trying to take a selfie when your arm is only so long. So despite some votes to the contrary, I think this secondary location was pretty extraordinary. Plus who doesn’t want a sweet picture of themselves with the wind blowing in their hair, leaning on a cake in the foreground and a plane in the back?

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Cake #94 at Scott Field Heritage Air Park 

It’s Time to Catch Up on Your Ketchup Landmarks – World’s Largest Catsup Bottle #93

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IMG_2377Ok, I can admit it: I love ketchup. I mean, who doesn’t? There’s really nothing better than finding that perfect ratio of salt, French fry, and ketchup during a delicious meal:):)

But regardless of my taste in condiments, the next cake on our list at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, IL was definitely one that had intrigued me from the moment it entered the official list of cake locations.

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Cake #93 at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle

Ok, so now for some history: in 1891 the Collinsville Canning and Packing Company was founded. It did well for a few years, but then in 1907 when it was struggling, Everett and Elgin Brooks bought it and renamed it the Triumph Catsup and Pickle Company. And even through changes in owners and economies, the Triumph name and company has survived. So what about the catsup bottle?

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Cake #93 at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle

Apparently a water tower was needed to accommodate daily operations at Triumph, so the brilliant idea of shaping that water tower to look like a giant catsup bottle was born. It was completed in 1949 and still stands today, after having gone through a few rounds of restoration in more recent years.

From the highway this beautiful beast of a landmark is stunning. And, admittedly, although once you drive into the little makeshift parking area, look up into the center of the bottle, shielding your eyes from the sun, and snap a picture, you’ve pretty much seen all there is to see, as with many cake locations, I don’t think I would have ever crossed paths with this particular landmark if it weren’t for the cake hunt, and for that, I am thankful.