So I know you’re all dying to find out where I’ve been. Sorry to disappoint you, but it wasn’t a top-secret mission. And it wasn’t a research trip, either. At least not originally. It was just supposed to be a little getaway with my BFF. That changed once we arrived at our destination, however, as so often happens when I’m traveling. For us writers, story ideas lurk in the most unexpected places…
And this time, that unexpected place was the middle of nowhere–the tiny town of Fulton, Missouri, to be exact.
(Sorry Fulton, I don’t mean to insult you, but you kinda have to admit you really ARE in the middle of nowhere…)
The first thing you see when you drive into town is the church.
Isn’t it gorgeous? That’s because it’s a Christopher Wren church. Wren was the legendary 17th-century English architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, one of my favorite spots in the whole world, which played a part in my book Spy Mice: Goldwhiskers. So how did this church, built in England in the 12th century, destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, restored and rebuilt by Wren only to be destroyed again in 1941 during the Blitz of World War II, the church where the poet John Milton was married and where Shakespeare–Shakespeare!— most likely worshipped–end up in MISSOURI of all places, you ask? Ah, therein lies a tale.
And the tale begins with Winston Churchill, one of my heroes. Here’s a picture of him:
See that quote above his head? It says “Criticism is easy, achievement is difficult.” I love that! Winston was full of great sayings like this — in addition to being Prime Minister of Britain during World War II, he was also a writer. More on that in a minute.
First, though, let’s turn the clock back to 1946. The war has been over for a year; Churchill is no longer Prime Minister. Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri (believe it or not this tiny town boasts not one but TWO fine liberal arts colleges — Westminster and William Woods University) decides to invite Churchill to give a speech. But how to convince this world-famous statesman to make the trip?
President Harry Truman was in the White House at the time, and he and Churchill were great friends. It just so happened that a Westminster College alum worked at the White House, and he offered to give the invitation to Truman first and see if maybe he would add a personal note as an enticement. Truman did, telling Churchill that this college was in his home state of Missouri, and that he’d be glad to accompany him and introduce him if he agreed to come.
Long story short — Churchill DID come, Truman DID accompany him (apparently the two played poker all the way from Washington on the train), and the speech was a huge success. In fact, it became one of Churchill’s most famous, and in it he coined the term “Iron Curtain” and warned the world of the communist threat and the coming Cold War.
Have I lost you? Sorry — I’m kind of a history wonk. Did you know that about me? And you wonder where Darcy Hawthorne gets it…
Fast forward a couple of decades. In 1966, the college decided to create a museum to honor Churchill and commemorate the 20th anniversary of his speech. The church of St. Mary Aldermanbury, meanwhile, which had been bombed out during the war, was still in ruins and slated to be bulldozed. It was given to the college, who transported it stone by stone to Fulton, and restored and rebuilt it to house the museum in its basement.
So Patty, my BFF (yes, the same Patty to whom I dedicated Home for the Holidays) and I had been talking for a while about a wee getaway next time I visited St. Louis, where I often go to see my son, who attends college nearby. She knows I love history, and she’d heard of Fulton, so that’s how we ended up there. We stayed at this adorable B&B called the Loganberry Inn:
I was in the Margaret Thatcher room, where the former prime minister stayed (yup, the very same one that Meryl Streep portrayed in the movie The Iron Lady, and for whom she just won an Oscar) when she came to Fulton in 1996 for the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s famous speech. Patty was across the hall in the William Woods room. It was just like being back in college together! We put our pajamas and robes on and stayed up late watching a movie and talking, and snacking on the inn’s famous homemade cookies. Breakfast the following morning was amazing — I wish I’d thought to take a picture of it for you. The apple French toast was both glorious to look at and even more glorious to eat…
Also glorious was the inn’s dog Logan, a most adorable little Shih Tzu. Here he is snoozing on the rug in the parlor:
What could be nicer than an inn with a resident dog who likes to snuggle with the guests? Logan spent a very happy half hour in my lap after we got back from the Churchill Museum.
TO BE CONTINUED
Tomorrow: More fun in Fulton — and another dollop of history — as we peek inside the museum, tour the church, and learn a writing tip or two from Winston Churchill!