Among the season’s many cancellations was a friend’s planned family vacation at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Before their intended departure, I misunderstood him to say they would sleep in the only surviving wigwam east of the Mississippi.
Huh? The small bark winter houses of the eastern and midwestern woodlands weren’t exactly durable. Wisconsin has several replicas. If an authentic original survived, I can’t imagine tourists being allowed to sleep there. West of the Mississippi, tepees, hogans, and pueblos were more common.
Kentucky’s mis-named Wigwam Motel* is on the National Register of Historic Places, as are its two surviving siblings in Arizona and California. They’re remnants of 1930s and ’40s pseudo-Indian kitsch, akin to cigar-store Indians and now-controversial sports team names and mascots.
Preserve traces of our imperfect past, or expunge it out of respect? Souvenir war bonnets, Confederate statues, anti-Semitism in Shakespeare, gendered adventures in Peter Pan: There’s no one easy answer. Museums, classrooms, and historical parks hold thoughtful spaces to preserve and respect. I hope the Wigwam Motel stays in business, with a conspicuous historical marker near the entrance to put the kitsch in context.
* Image: The "wigwams" look more like tepees.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.