Travelers define a soulful journey in many different ways

  • Article by: Chris Welsch
  • Star Tribune
  • January 3, 2007 - 1:22 PM

The term "cultural pilgrimage" casts a broad net. By our definition, it's a journey to a place of cultural significance: an artist's home, the location of a pivotal event or an iconic destination. We hope this sampling of landmarks will trigger memories of your own cultural pilgrimages. You are invited to share your thoughts about your pilgrimages, and read those of others, at (click on "Soulful Journeys").


Sometimes people travel to remember the awful lessons of history. For this purpose, the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is unparalleled. The Nazi German government made bigotry against Jews, dissidents, gays, gypsies and other groups a matter of policy. The personnel at this extermination camp near Krakow, Poland, murdered 1.1 million people in 4½ years. The ghosts of the dead are palpable.

Civil Rights Trail

In the United States, blacks had to fight to end segregation, to gain equal access to education and to ensure nondiscriminatory voting policies. The revered landmarks of the civil rights movement include the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the King National Historic Site and Center in Atlanta and the churches and museums of Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala.


Anthropologists call places like Disneyland "cultural creations." Disneyland is a calculated expression of an ideal world, where the whole goal is having fun. Disneyland has spawned many imitators, including the adult versions found in Las Vegas' mega-casinos.

Ernest Hemingway's home

The Nobel Prize-winning author's home on Key West reflects Hemingway's bigger-than-life personality. The house is decorated with trophies from big-game hunts as well as art and furniture from all over the world. More than 60 cats roam the grounds, many of them polydactyl descendants of Hemingway's original six-toed cat.

Georgia O'Keeffe's New Mexico

When the artist moved to a ranch near Abiquiu, she cast off conventional ideas about painting to pursue a deeply personal vision of the desert Southwest. In her paintings, she turned tiny flowers into monumental statements of color and form. Bleached antelope skulls floated in azure skies, and the red humped hills ripple with flesh and muscle. Her house, the places she painted and her namesake museum in Santa Fe draw thousands of art fans each year.


Battlefields and war memorials deserve a separate category in the array of cultural pilgrimages. These places serve as reminders of the awful price of war and honor those who gave their lives, whatever the cause. Gettysburg is the most popular and famous Civil War battlefield, and these Pennsylvania fields are stained with the blood of more than 50,000 dead or wounded soldiers.

National Parks

The National Park is one of America's great inventions. Teddy Roosevelt's brainstorm was in part a way to assert pride in the special qualities of the nation. Europe had its great cathedrals and monuments, we had our magnificent wild landscapes. Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Smoky Mountains are iconic choices for family roadtrips.


National debates on the nature and meaning of the Constitution make this an ideal time to see the places where the architects of the nation designed the system of checks and balances that have given us stability, justice and freedom.

The Upper Midwest

We have our own universe of pilgrimage possibilities, ranging from the high-brow to the low. From the grace of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen East (Spring Green, Wis.) to the unmitigated kitsch of the House on the Rock (also in Spring Green), from Bemidji's Paul Bunyan to Grand Rapids' Judy Garland, from the nostalgic homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Walnut Grove) to the small-minded Main Street of Sinclair Lewis (Sauk Centre).

Chris Welsch • 612-673-7113 • By CHRIS WELSCH

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