mississippi river mansions

On a narrow spit of land, at the confluence of two mighty rivers, lies ancient Cairo.  Not the one in Africa, with pyramids and camels, rather the one along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Cairo, Illinois.

Cairo has seen better days, the 1920 population of 15,000 having dropped below 3,000 souls.  Once a shipping center strategically located at the two rivers, the city later developed as a rail center, consolidating its status as a bustling nexus of commerce.  During this period of prosperity, merchants and shippers built themselves grand mansions and protected them with ever-increasing levees.  However, as commerce increasingly hitched a ride on trucks and roadways, ever more efficient and larger bridges were constructed across the Mississippi River, by-passing Cairo.  This loss of trade and a history of violent racial interactions isolated the city and like many cities in the turbulent late 1960's lead to white flight and subsequent further loss of businesses and population.  Rapid economic decline soon followed and with it came its usual fearsome playmates, crime and poverty.

Cairo now is a shell of its past former glory and the old mansions and former Custom House still haunt the city's architecture and memory.  Even when restored and blessed with careful stewards, the grand houses of the wealthy businessmen only accentuate the despair of the place.  Hundreds of years after the Fall of Rome, when cattle grazed in the Forum and moldering ornate capitals and pediments lay half-buried, what did the contemporary Romans imagine of their past? Were they proud of their heritage crumbling under their feet or burdened by it, unable to synthesize their current plight with the desperate melancholy of a past long since gone.  And once mighty Cairo, by-passed by technology and progress, torn apart by race intolerance and violence, has to live with the mocking edifices of past glory glaring with unapproving eyes, fully restored in body but not spirit.