Monday, July 6, 2009

Still Experiencing ... trust me

NO! The experiences haven't ended yet! I've just slacked off and haven't posted for the last two weekends, but I will soon document the Experience Summer adventures that have taken place in Des Moines and Ames including: The Des Moines Art Festival, the Principal River Walk, The Asian Gardens, the Ankeny Goodwill Store :), Big Creek, a rainy 4th of July parade, and a walk around Ada Hayden Lake. Nope - not as "out there" as some of my past summer experiences thus far, but sometimes it's OK to take it easy. That's the excuse I'm using anyway.

In fact, I'd like to "take it easy" but for the next month it will be more like hyper-speed. In addition to continuing learning golf and re-learning Spanish, I have 3 upcoming golf games, I'm packing to move out of my apartment and into a house, designing new promotional materials for the Chamber, getting a newsletter out, and - oh yeah, preparing to leave for SPAIN in now less than 2 weeks!

The great thing, though, is that last week when 4th of July was approaching I thought to myself, "Dang - it's the 4th already! The summer is already half over..." But THEN I realized ... YES! It is almost half-over, but I have nothing to regret this year because I've finally made the most out of the great weather, longer days and summer adventure spirit. And I'm thrilled for the next couple months of the season because if it's even half as good as the first 6 weeks, then, quite frankly, I will have accomplished what I set out to do. Feels good to actually have an answer to the "What have you been up to this summer?" question!

Until the next update ...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Experience Summer: Council Bluffs & Walnut

Where It All Began: The Impetus
West Central Iowa
In the last few years, I have been to Council Bluffs, Iowa a handful of times for one reason or another. The last three times I have heard about the historic Squirrel Cage Jail and each time I thought, boy - I should stop there and see it on my way home, but each time I decided against it and just headed straight back to Ames. When I decided to Experience Summer, the Squirrel Cage Jail was foremost in my plans. In diving in to these summer experience adventures, I hope I become better from now on about making the most of opportunities like these, and never miss out on a Squirrel Cage Jail (metaphorically, anyway), so, of course, Council Bluffs made the schedule for this summer.

Saturday, June 20

Historic Squirrel Cage Jail

No, it's no longer in operation. Yes, my 'record' is still clean and I have never been in jail for actual criminal reasons. :)

The "Squirrel Cage" was and is the largest rotary jail in this country. There were a handful across the U.S., but only 3 are standing today, and the one in Council Bluffs is three stories (the other two are only 1-story or 2-story facilities). It was the county jail for Pottawattamie from 1885 - 1969.

So "rotary" means that the whole jail is built as a cylinder, and each cell is a pie-shaped piece arranged a central column. Then it actually rotated (simple gears and handle operation) so all cells could be viewed from a single vantage point. It was produced to "provide maximum security with minum jailer attention" (

I know it's not just me. Both criminal behavior and death are intriguing subjects, I don't care who you
are. The Squirrel Cage was fascinating in the same way you slow down to see a terrible car wreck; it's so awful you can't take your eyes off it. Those pie-shaped cells - there are 10 on each level - were amazingly small, especially when they were built for 2 prisoners, but often had up to 5 in each cell. I have visited the new Story County jail and I've even been to Fort Madison prison, and both are luxury living compared to the Squirrel Cage. But just when you think the cells are small, we were shown the "solitary confinement" cell. I kid you not - I could barely turn around in there. There's no way a grown man could. I'm not making a statement about prison reform, but, honestly, I'm not sure if that's actually an effective way of heightened discipline, or if you would make the prisoner even more violent/angry. There was a shower with two knobs for cold water and cold water. Not sure why there were two knobs. Prisoners usually showered with their clothes as a means of laundering.

There was also a section of the jail that was reserved for women and children. The children's area was reserved for kids guilty of stealing something like a candy bar or for children of prisoners who were left alone. There wasn't another social service agency available to take in the kids, so they stayed at the jail, too. That couldn't have been good.

The jail was home to several prisoners over the year, including their most notorious, Jake Bird, who was an axe murderer convicted of killing dozens of women. There were a couple reports of some escape attempts, and one of the prison guards died from a stroke on the fourth floor. In fact, a "paranormal" investigation crew came out to investigate and they report seeing - and recording - a ghost. The 15-year-old tour guide I had was apparently convinced it was true.

Admission to the Squirrel Cage Jail is $7. Apparently there are "haunted" tours in the Halloween season which I imagine could be pretty entertaining. Even though the jail wasn't my best experience to date, I'm glad I finally got to see it, and even more glad it got me to schedule this summer.

Union Pacific Railroad Days

My intent was to leave the Squirrel Cage and go to the recommended General Dodge House, but right next to the Jail was some kind of event going on so I decided to take a look. It just so happened that I arrived in town during the Union Pacific Railroad Days, which allowed families to see 5 sites/museums in Council Bluffs and Omaha all for $10. Included in the 5 was the General Dodge House, since General Dodge was largely responsible for the Union Pacific headquarters landing in the area, and he was the one who surveyed the route west of the Missouri River. I knew I wouldn't take the time to go to Omaha, but I decided to see at least one of the museums and the price was right.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum
So, as soon as I bought my ticket package at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum ... I realized I had been there before during a Leadership Iowa session a couple years prior. But since I didn't take much time learning anything there the first time, I made more of an effort to look around. The museum was crowded with especially a lot of kids and a lot of older gentlemen who seemed to have had a history with the U.P. What was interesting to me, specifically, was seeing how my experiences are all connecting with each other.
  • First, there was quite a bit about President Lincoln in the museum, including a new exhibit detailing his encounters with General Dodge and in Council Bluffs. Not only was Lincoln remembered for uniting the North and the South, he was instrumental in bringing the East to the West with his support of the railroad. Last week when I saw Mt. Rushmore, I learned that Lincoln was selected for representing "unity."
  • Second, there was a write-up on the U.P. timetable of the Ames brothers who also contributed to the development of the Union Pacific. Oakes Ames is, yes, one of the founders of Ames, Iowa.
  • Third, a friend of General Dodge and an ongoing supporter of the railroad was President U.S. Grant (ref. Galena trip 2 weeks ago!)

General Dodge House
The trolley took me from the U.P. Museum to the General Dodge House. Because of the Railroad weekend, there was a LOT of activity going on at the house. My recommendation is to go see the house when it's NOT so busy. There were way too many people being herded through each room, and if you dared stray out of order, not-so-friendly 'hosts' would shoo you back with the other cattle-like-tourists. The General Dodge House was recommended to me by a couple people, and when I was in Cedar Rapids at the Brucemore Mansion, I learned that the General Dodge house was also on the National Historic Registry. All that said, it was another old house. My view was definitely tainted by the chaos of the day, but I knew I'd need to limit my trips to "old houses" this summer and I probably should have stopped before this one. I didn't find it to be as interesting as the ones I've already seen this summer (Brucemore, General/President Grant Home, Dowling House), but it was still a nice house with several original remnants of the Dodge family. One thing this house did have that was interesting was a 3rd floor ballroom.

Western Historic Trails Center
The surprise of this weekend was the Western Historic Trails Center. It also serves as a welcome center for Iowa, but contains several displays detailing the western expansion of the Lewis & Clark, Mormon, Oregon and California Trails. I had no idea they all went through Council Bluffs, and today's highways and interstates still follow these original trails with some acccuracy. There were fantastic sculpture displays that told the story of the trails that made it a lot more engaging for people like me who usually like to wait for the movie rather than reading the book. :) There was a great Iowa gift shop inside and if I hadn't left my wallet in the car, I probably would have gone home with a few goodies. The center grounds were also a link to several bike/walking trails. Even though I'm not a cyclist, I'd like to bike some of the nearby trails there.

BUT WAIT! There's more!

WALNUT, IOWA - Antique City
I've known for a while that there was this town off of I-80 where there were lots of antique stores, and while I'm not at a point where I'm buying stuff for my house anymore, I do enjoy an occasional stroll through an antique store and it's one of Iowa's travel/tourist detsinations. Hence, the stop in Walnut - Iowa's Antique City.

Well, I either picked the perfect weekend or the worst time to come to Walnut, depending on your thoughts on antiques. Just last week I heard there was a big "Antique Walk" going on with hundreds of dealers. Apparently I didn't grasp the enormity of this event, but I am not exaggerating when I say THE ENTIRE TOWN was COVERED with antique dealers; residential streets, church lawns/parking lots, the business district, ball fields .... It was antique-palooza craziness.

If you've ever gone for a run and realized you've just made your "half-way point" way too far because now you're stuck crawling back home, you know how I felt in Walnut, Iowa on Saturday. At first it was kind of exciting to see all the booths ... until I realized it was like an antique purgatory with no definitive ending point. I eventually started cruising pretty quickly past the vendor booths and headed for the main street where the actual antique stores were. The stores ranged from the quaint/cute to the complete dump. There is that slight nudge that tells you to look through because there may be that one can't-find-unique item there that you can't live without, but I was feeling so smothered and suffocated by musty smells and complete chaos that I didn't spend much time in any of the stores. The only thing I was tempted by was a pair of old, joined folding theater seats that I thought would be cute on the back porch I'll soon have, but the thought of shlepping it back to my car made it quickly unattractive.

Don't get me wrong - if you love antiques, you'd love this place, especially during the AmVets Antique Walk weekend (which apparently happens every year on Father's Day Weekend). but I reached my limit quickly. One bonus: while there weren't many food vendors, there was one that made home made ice cream and I did make that purchase. Hands down it was the best home made ice cream I've ever had.

Up next? Not sure. My original plans called for a weekend trip to Davenport, but that may be moved back to August with a pending trip to Chicago, but have no fear - I won't be grounded for long!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Experience Summer gets Monumental

South Dakota concentrate:
All the experiences in a fraction of the time

I never said all my experiences this summer would stay within Iowa. A week and a half ago I was in Galena, IL. This past weekend, I drove a bit further - actually, a LOT further - for my latest adventure. Welcome to my Black Hills experience!
Friday, June 12
Heading out from NW Iowa
The route was well charted, although it wasn't hard. Even the tourist spots we planned to stop at along the way to the Black Hills were all along I-90, making the directions ridiculously easy. The 'hardest' part was probably navigating out of Okoboji, and then convincing myself we were still going the right direction after we left I-90 in Rapid City as we headed for Keystone.
"We," by the way, is me and my friend Lynn who is a fellow Chamber professional in Iowa. After attending a number of conferences together, we have recognized we have far too many things in common, and this trip only proved it more. Even though my original plan a couple months ago was to make this trip solo, having Lynn along was SO much better. I mean - that's a whole lot of driving to do by oneself or, worse, with someone you don't get along with as well. I was glad Lynn was able to share in the crazy experiences with me. Just how crazy the experiences got will be explained later. :)
As anyone who's made this trip will attest, there are 2-3 stops you 'need' to make on the way to the Black Hills. I'm all about seeing cheesy tourist traps, so I had resolved to stop at all of them: The Corn Palace (Mitchell, SD), Al's Oasis (Oacama, SD) and, of course, Wall Drug (Wall, SD).
The Corn Palace; Mitchell, SD
In stopping in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace, we become members of an illustrious club that know the secret of the Corn Palace; unfortunately a secret I cannot share here in case there are others who haven't yet seen the attraction. But I will say that the Corn Palace is all it promises to be and more. In fact, I had to get out of the car at my first sight of even the spires of the Palace just to take my first photo. So ... is it corny? Well, of course. Is it covered with corn? Absolutely. Do I wish I would have skipped it? No way. Trust me, if you're making the trip, you need to stop. Remember this: there's no other Corn Palace in the whole world.

A couple hours later along 90, we crossed the Missouri River and experienced one of the most gorgeous sights I've seen in a while. You literally come over a hill and you think you're about to drop off the face of the earth, but the Missouri River is huge and beautiful surrounded by rolling hills. I can't remember ever crossing a body of water that large without crossing into another state or country. Pretty impressive, but unfortunately I don't have any photos.

Al's Oasis; Oacama, SD
Just past the river Al's Oasis. We never met Al, and, truth be told, this was a last-minute add based on a couple recommendations we got just a couple days before the trip. But Al is supposed to have the world's best Buffalo Burgers. Well, Al's is not your typical Oasis as it stretches out to include a couple souvenir stores, grocery store, bakery, restaurant and more things that, quite simply, just confused us a bit. We did learn that Al's Oasis is, however, "where the west begins." Not sure who determined that, or if Al just decided it was so, but that's what the sign said. The unfortunate part was that when we arrived in Oacama, we just weren't hungry enough to eat a buffalo so we just took a quick look around, filled up with gas (fuel - not buffalo), and headed back on the road.

Wall Drug; Wall, SD
Where is Wall Drug? Well, it's in Wall, South Dakota, of course! What else is in Wall, SD? Not much! The story of Wall Drug is that it was started years ago during the Old West times, but the store owners weren't getting much traffic. In a stroke of genius, they decided they should advertise free ice water to travellers heading West, and they started putting up a bunch of signs along the road. In fact, when the owner started putting up signs, the first customers beat him back to the store. The signs are key, because they are ALL ALONG I-90 ... starting in Minnesota, and apparently they go just as far West of Wall Drug into Wyoming. Truly - if you can't find Wall Drug, you're an idiot. :)

So, what is Wall Drug? Well, it's a Drug Store. Duh.

Oh - well, it's also a few other things, too. Wall Drug is also a restaurant, cafe, ice cream parlor (with home made ice cream), leather store, cowboy boots & hats store, book store, old fashioned apothecary, toy store, jewelry store, and home of a caged, angry T-Rex, jackalope collection, stuffed bears on the wall, animated singing characters, dancing fountain, playground, photo studio, and a souvenir or two.

Yes, there are a couple other things in Wall, but they're all across the street from Wall Drug. For example, the Wall Post Office is there, along with a couple tacky souvenir stores, a bar and a bank. But the real attraction is Wall Drug.

Be warned; there are those out there who will try do dissuade first-timers from stopping at Wall Drug, citing it as tacky or a waste of time. However, I would argue ... that's the point! And Wall Drug is as much a part of Americana as apple pie. It's a humorous attempt at recapturing the Old West, and you'll kick yourself for not stopping - I don't care how old you are or who you are. You miss this, and you'll be sorry!

Sheer randomness; all over South Dakota
So, these were the things we knew we'd see along the way - the aforementioned stops. What we did not count on were the dozens of completely random things popping up all along I-90. Seriously. There is some crazy, crazy, crazy stuff. To name a few: swingset/playground all by itself in the middle of a field no one could get to, a dragon on a garage roof, tiny little church not even the size of a dog house, sculpture garden with an oversized buffalo head and horrendously awful metal creatures, a human skeleton "walking" a dinosaur skeleton on a leash, upside down firetrucks, buffalo (ok - maybe not so random, considering), fake horse, sign reading "BAR - on/off liquor," Exit 241 that goes nowhere, John the Baptist's van, Reptile Gardens, the General Lee, a tiny little barn - again, not even large enough for a dog house (and nowhere near the tiny little church), a 7-lb peanut butter cup, and much more. While the trip from Okoboji, Iowa to the Black Hills was pretty long, the three planned stops along with all the complete randomness made for a pretty interesting drive.

Saturday, June 13
The Black Hills!

We made it to the Black Hills late Friday night and realized why they call them the Black Hills. It's stinkin dark at night, and they apparently don't believe in street lights in the Black Hills area. We stayed in Keystone, SD, which advertised having the closest hotels to Mt. Rushmore. The town of Keystone is pretty small, but it has the touristy 'Old West' look that seems par for course for the area. On Saturday morning we got up and after breakfast our first stop was to go to the Borglum Rushmore Museum. Gutzon Borglum was the creator of Mt. Rushmore, and the museum stop was a great prelude to seeing the monument because we got to see some of Borglum's other works, along with the history of how he was chosen, how he did his work, why he chose the presidents he did, and more.

My favorite part was finding out about Borglum's first attempt to carve a mountain in Georgia. He was commissioned to sculpt some of the Civil War heroes, but after he finished the head of General Robert E. Lee, he had an argument with the committee that hired him, and they fired Borglum. Well, unfortunately for Georgia, Borglum was the one with all the dynomite, so he blew up the head of Lee. The museum also had a life-size replica of the eye of Abraham Lincoln which put things in perspective a bit. Borglum came up with a way to make the eyes of all the presidents so that the sun would catch them and make them 'twinkle.' Kind of amazing when you think about it, but it really did give them even more depth. I was impressed.

After going through the museum we went straight to the monument itself. $10 to park, but the permit is good for the rest of the year ... just in case I have another free weekend in the near future. Unfortunately it's non-transferable as they also included part of my license plate on the parking pass. However, they shortened my personalized Iowa CEVEGO plate so my parking pass reads "IA - EGO" which I find a little humorous in itself.

So, Mt. Rushmore really is monumental. There's really no other way to describe it. I really kind of thought I'd show up and see it and be done with it, but it's impressive and I wanted to get as close as possible, and take as many photos as possible (although, they, of course, looked pretty much the same). The setting is beautiful, and the carving is just amazing. It's hard to not be a bit in awe looking at it.

Borglum chose the four presidents to sculpt, but they had to get approved by a committee. The only choice that met some debate was Teddy Roosevelt. I appreciate Borglum's rationale for his choices, and for his desire to sculpt the mountain in the first place. First, Borglum wanted to create a monument that was as impressive as America itself, so I was encouraged by his patriotism. Second, he chose each of the four presidents because of what he believed they symbolized for America: Washington - LIBERTY; Jefferson - DEMOCRACY; T. Roosevelt - COURAGE; Lincoln - UNITY.

There's a walkway up to the mountain with all the flags of the 50 states, and then there's a path that takes you around the front of the base of Mt. Rushmore, so we walked around there taking photos along the way. The path (which is also featured in "National Treasaure II" of course) leads to another education center where we could also see a scale model of what the mountain was supposed to look like upon completion. Borglum died before they could finish the work entirely, which would have included more of Washington's and Lincoln's torsos. We could also see scale model of the Hall of Records. Borglum's original plan also included a room behind the faces of Rushmore that would store busts of "great Americans," as well as historical documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He had planned to create a grand staircase of 800 granite steps. Unfortunately, those plans were never finished. I mean - how cool would it be to actually climb Mt. Rushmore by staircase, and see that stuff?

We left Mt. Rushmore after a trip through the gift shop (of course), but planned to return later that evening for the lighting ceremony.

Time for lunch, we went back into Keystone to ride a chair lift up to a 'mountain top' lunch where we enjoyed more views of Mt. Rushmore, Keystone, and the Black Hills. That's where I had my first Buffalo Burger ... and it was great! Tastes like ground beef, but juicier and more flavorful. Getting down the mountain was the real fun, though. Instead of making the return trip via chairlift, we decided to experience "2000 feet of fun" on the "Presidents Alpine Slide." It's like the luge of the Black Hills. When we bought our tickets, we noted that we could buy tickets in packs of 5 or 10 if we wanted ... and now I know why. Man - who wouldn't want to take the slide down? Sure, there's a few warning signs, a waiver that needs to be signed, and a teenage kid at the top telling you to be careful in the turns or else you'll flip and get hurt or die, but - pish posh - that's a whole lot of fun. 2000 feet of fun, in fact.

After all that fun, we drove to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Now - word to the wise. Just because the sign says that something is 11 miles away in the Black Hills, don't think that means it's just about 10 - 15 minutes away. The roads through the Black Hills are, well, hilly and curvy and forces even a driver like me to go slow. Needless to say, Crazy Horse was a little bit away from Mt. Rushmore.

After Mt. Rushmore was started, Native American Indians commissioned Korczak Ziolkowski to sculpt one of their heroes in a mountain. Crazy Horse was one of the heroes of the Battle of Little Bighorn, and a hero to Native American leaders because of his dedication to serving others and perserving his culture.

Let's get this straight, though. The Crazy Horse Memorial is not done. It's nowhere near done. You can most definitely see the image beginning, but it's taken over 50 years to get to this point. Crazy Horse is not being funded at all from government money; puposefully so, the Native Americans don't want to accept them and want the monument funded compeltely from donations. In addition, Crazy Horse is HUGE. In fact, the four faces of Mt. Rushmore (Washington's head is 60' tall) fit in the space of Crazy Horse's forehead. So, yes - if you put all the pieces together, that means that not only is the Memorial not done now, it's not going to be done in my lifetime.

It cost us $10/each to get in to the Visitors Center, essentially. If you're coming to Crazy Horse from Mt. Rushmore, you pretty much think that's your only option. However, if you're not so excited about seei
ng the center, here's the Crazy Horse secret; keep driving past it. That's when you'll actually see a pretty solid view of the huge monument ... for free. Now - that said - we know our $20 (total) went to the continued efforts of completing Crazy Horse, and we did get to see the museum and video and gift shop (of course) and all the other accouterments. I really didn't begrudge it - it was worth it to get the history.

The Black Hills are really gorgeous. There are the little towns that pop up along the way that, quite frankly, don't offer a whole lot, but if we had more time it would have definitely been fun to do some hiking or more driving around to see more buffalo and great scenery. But what we did see was tremendous. With no offense to the state of South Dakota, I just don't think people would normally think of it as so beautiful. Given the opportunity to drive through South Dakota or to drive through Nebraska or Kansas, South Dakota will win hands down. I understand why it's a big area for camping, and I can understand why most people spend several days here - as opposed to the 36 hours we spent in the area. :)

We did do a little shopping back in Keystone, but I think the most we came out with was a couple bottles of South Dakota wine (now chilling in my fridge). Our timing was good in that it started to rain in the late afternoon, so we were able to enjoy a nice dinner on the covered deck and enjoy a glass of wine while we watched the rain. Keystone was bustling. We did all there was to do in Keystone, so it doesn't take much, but it served as a good home base.

We did return to Mt. Rushmore in the evening for the night program and lighting ceremony. The rain hadn't let up yet, and it was getting cooler, but that didn't stop the crowds from showing up. We staked a great location under the cover of the elevator shelter, bought a deck of cards, and kept ourselves - and several others around us - amused until the show started.

The program was emceed by a member of the military who then introduced a video showcasing the history of Mt. Rushmore. We didn't bother coming out of our shelter for that since we had seen much of the same thing at the Borglum museum. However, it was a grand experience to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem right there at Mt. Rushmore. C'mon - admit it - you just got chills, too.

As the anthem starts playing, lights start fading up on the darkened mountain. The rain provided an interesting perspective as it kind of looked like the faces were even crying. After the anthem and lighting finished, the emcee invited all those in attendance who had served or are currently serving in the military. That night there were several, which was so cool. They stayed on stage for the lowering of the flag, and then the emcee had each one introduce himself/herself. Before they started, though, he reminded them to listen carefully, because they have often had people come up and realize they were up there with members of their former unit. We didn't hear any of that on this night, but that must be a very emotional experience whenever it does happen.

We were pretty chilled by the time the program was over, so headed back to our hotel right away and packed up for the long trip home the next morning. We had been staying at the Presidents View Hotel which was pretty basic, but, again, scored points for proximity. So I'd give them credit for that. However, our adventure wasn't completely over as we were awoken at 2:00 a.m. with crazy screaming in the hall that went on and off for about an hour and a half. It's not worth writing all the crazy details here, but we do know that some chick got kicked out of a hotel room, some guy was a felon, both had limited vocabulary, and neither were happy. At 2 in the morning it wasn't fun, but admittedly, we've been laughing about that ever since.

The trip back to Central Iowa was long, but we made it in just under 9.5 hours. Plenty of caffeine and snacks got us through, and we even got a bonus stop to see the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN. Lot of driving, but well worth it. I totally get why it's a national treasure (no pun intended). It might be a while until I go back, but I feel that much more satisfied after seeing it. Two thumbs up.

When I finally got home on Sunday evening, I was beat. And I was still tired on Monday. But now, revelling in the experience, I'm so glad I did it (and thrilled I had company), that I'm that much more excited for the next adventure. We're back in Iowa this weekend, but loving every minute of this Experience Summer!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Still Experiencing Summer

On the Blog Again ...

The purpose of this summer is to make the most out of every opportunity so I don't get to another September and say to myself, "Where did the summer go???" and not have anything to show for it. So, with an ABI Convention to attend in Okoboji, the path was set for my next round of experiences, although because there were so many experiences, this will have to be a 2-part entry. :)

Tuesday, June 9

The Grotto of the Redemption. I had heard of it for years, but really never knew what it was. The photo or two I had seen previously really didn't give me any idea what I was in for, although the word "redemption" tipped me off that it had something to do with a religious purpose. I'm quick like that, you know.

I started weaving North West to West Bend and was disappointed when the first rain drops started falling. While I was determined to experience the Grotto even if it were raining, the thought did occur to me that, if I were ever to pray for a miraculous rain-stoppage, one might argue that it would be most appropriate en route to the Grotto. Well ... believe it or not, it stopped raining just as I pulled in to West Bend.

I don't know what the population of West Bend is, but it can't be very big. The Mapquest directions led me through residential streets when all of a sudden I turned from 2nd Avenue to Broadway and .... BAM. There it is. I still couldn't tell exactly what it was, but it was larger than life. As was the case last week when pulling in to the Agribition Center, I again got instantly excited as I was on the verge of another summer experience.

I pulled up right next to The Grotto Cafe (well, of course there would be a Cafe) at 2:55, thrilled that not only had it stopped raining and the sun started shining, but that there was a sign that read "Next tour begins at 3:00." There were just 5 of us on the tour, led by our guide Mary. who, bless her heart, repeated everything she said on the tour at least twice if not more. To her credit, I probably remember everything better than if she had only said it once.

Apparently "grotto" means "place of worship," although says it's a "natural or artificial cave used as a decorative feature in 18th-century European gardens ... regarded in antiquity as dwelling places of divinities." The West Bend site was a collection of 7 Grottoes, the inspiration of Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein. Before coming to Iowa, Father Dobberstein was quite ill as a young man and prayed that if he would be healed, he'd build a shrine to honor the Virgin Mary. Hence, the West Bend Grotto of the Redemption.

Here's where the road forks, as I need to present some different perspectives on this one site:

From a tourist perspective, the Grotto is maybe half the size of a football field, but made completely from stones, rocks, shells and marble from around the world, although most of the pieces were from all over the U.S. It's an impressive work, even if it's not your particular 'style.' Since it's a tourist site, it shouldn't be surprising that there's not only a Cafe, but also restrooms, museum, rock studio, campground and, of course, a gift shop. It's one of the things in Iowa you should see because ... well ... you just should.

From an artistic perspective, the Grotto is ... well ... borderline tacky, but impressive, nonetheless. Truly. Admitting to subjectivity, I'm not sure I could call the Grotto beautiful, but I will say that it's intricate, well thought out, and an obvious display of painstaking work. It's certainly visually interesting, and you're drawn in to see every nook and cranny. The variety of rocks and shells used for the majority of the grottoes are intriguing.

And, yes, there's certainly a religious perspective. The Grotto was a series of conflicts for me. While I certainly appreciated much of the symbolism and the accounts of Creation, the Nativity and the stations of the Cross, I also struggled because I believe some of the accounts depicted in stone fall short of the full truth. One example is in the Grotto with Moses holding the 10 Commandments. On either side of Moses are two other figures. One is a young man who is asking (words written in stone) how he can have eternal life. The other figure is Jesus, who responds by telling him to follow all the Commandments. However, that's where the Grotto ends - instead of completing the story where Jesus confronts the young man with not just his inability to sell all he has to give to the poor, but with his focus on the temporal rather than the eternal. Coincidentally, we just studied Matthew 19 in church a few weeks ago.

Grotto: suggested $5 donation for adults. I bought a $3 booklet in the gift shop explaining the history and the different portions of the Grotto, and I bought an ice cream cone in the Grotto Cafe. 2 hours from Ames - it's worth the trip.

So ... there's nothing really to Mallard, Iowa, except for one excellent welcome sign.

13 miles away from West Bend, and directly on the way to Okoboji. C'mon ... friendly ducks? You'd take a couple photos, too.

The Iowa Lakes; I've been there 3 times now and I still don't know which is East Lake and which is West, but the Okoboji area still seems like Iowa's playground. Fortunately Tuesday and Thursday - the 2 days I was actually outside a bit - the weather cooperated. The rest of the time I was inside for the conference anyway.
But while I've been to Okoboji before, I never took the time for a few of the local experiences, so now was my opportunity.
First, the Arnold's Park Nutty Bar. I mean - it's ice cream, covered with chocolate and nuts. Hard to imagine I would have passed that up the other 2 visits, but now I can say I've officially had one of my own. I'm a big fan of ice cream, so I'll give it a thumbs up, but I will admit it wasn't the end-all of ice cream novelties.
Second, I wanted to see more of the Abbie Gardner Cabin State Historic Site. A friend had taken me by there a couple years ago, but I didn't get to go inside and learn more of the story until this trip. Abbie Gardner was 13 years old when she witnessed the Spirit Lake Massacre; after a series of events where settlers had murdered native American indians in the territory, the Wahpetuke attacked the Gardner family and kidnapped Abbie Gardner in 1857. Led by Chief Inkpaduta, the Wahpetuke led Abbie and a few other women they kidnapped along the way hundreds of miles west of The Lakes area. Two of the women were killed, but ultimately Abbie was ransomed to another Indian tribe, and a rescue party from the Lakes area retrieved Abbie. Years later, Abbie returned to the area with her husband and reclaimed the cabin where her family lived and were killed, turning it in to a museum for visitors who wanted to hear what happened during the infamous Spirit Lake Massacre.
Hats off to Mike who was working in the visitors center right next to the Cabin, where he was on hand to show a video telling about the events leading up to and including the Massacre, and answer any questions about the Gardner cabin. In fact, Mike was the narrator of the video, too. He was a "Grizzly Adams" type guy who was obviously thrilled with anyone who came in to visit the center and cabin. I learned later that Mike is also on the City Council. I asked him a couple questions about the story and cabin and couldn't stump him. It's fun to meet people who love their jobs.
There's a monument built a little ways from the cabin and center honoring the rescue party and memorializing what happened on that site. If you're in the Lakes area, it's worth the visit, but make sure you check the hours the cabin and center are open (with budget cuts the hours of operation have been reduced). Admission is free, but donations are accepted. :)
The only other thing I wanted to experience in Okoboji is to ride the rollercoaster at Arnold's Park, one of the 'classic' wooden coasters still running and thrilling children of all ages. Well, I met my friend Ann to walk over to Arnold's (amusement) Park, and she took me through the "Tipsy House" which is a building filled with sloping floors and roofs and the only way to walk through it is to stagger on like a drunk and to fight to regain equilibrium. It was surprisingly challenging and fun, even though it took me a moment to walk 'normally' outside the house. However, when I got out, there was a bit of a line for the coaster. Add to that, I hesitated at spending $7 just for the one ride, and Ann also had to return to her office. I resolved to return right when the Park opened in the morning. Famous last words. Unfortunately, the next morning it was POURING rain, and only got harder as it neared the time I needed to leave town. So - while the Arnold's Park Coaster wasn't on my original list of planned 'experiences,' it is the first one I haven't been able to check off. However, I know this wasn't my last time to Okoboji. I'll be back. :)
Onward ...
A couple months ago, I saw a multi-page travel brochure for South Dakota in the newspaper. At that point I thought - hey, I should see Mt. Rushmore. That was just slightly before I decided this would be the Experience Summer. As I plotted my travels, and then realized I was already going to be headed northwest when going to Okoboji, I wondered how crazy it would be to just shoot on over to the Black Hills for the weekend after my conference. Well, stay tuned for the next blog to find out just how crazy it was!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Experience Summer 4: History on Highway 20

History on Highway 20
June 5-6

Heartland Acres Agribition Center

I've driven past the Agribition (Agriculture + Exhibition = Agribition) Center a handful of times driving back and forth to Chicago on Hwy 20 over the last few years, but never had any idea what it was until I started planning Experience Summer. Simply put, even for - and maybe because I'm - a "city girl," this is a great place.

About halfway between I-35/Hwy 20 interchange and Dubuque, the Agribition Center is like a museum documenting the history of agriculture in the Heartland and, specifically, Iowa. It was advertised to have antique farming implements, farm animals, machine shed, historical displays and, most attractive to me - hands-on activities including the opportunity to milk a fake cow. Yes, that's right. At Heartland Acres you can squeeze fake milk out of a fake cow. C'mon - who wouldn't want to do that????

I had a fairly limited time to spend at the Center as I was meeting my mom in Galena later that afternoon, and I was afraid that I would be at the Center the same time a school bus of kids got dropped up and there would be a long line for the cow-milking. I mean, there would be nothing worse than having to elbow my way in front of a bunch of kids just so I could fake-milk the fake-cow, but I was on a mission so I was prepared to take whatever measures necessary. As I pulled in the parking lot I actually felt my heart skip a beat because I was so excited ... and then my heart almost stopped when I realized there were only 2 cars in the parking lot. It wasn't closed was it????

Not only was it not closed, it was clearly not crowded. :) The (seemingly) 12-year old girl working at the registration desk had no idea why I was there, and seemed kind of surprised that I really wanted to visit the center. And she thought I was a bit too excited when I asked about the fake-cow to fake-milk, but then she seemed very happy to take my photo fake-milking the said fake-cow. She took a few photos, in fact, and was happy to answer some questions I had about milking cows. For example, I didn't know you didn't actually pull, but, instead, you just squeeze the teats. Hey - in Experience Summer I learn something all the time. And, for what it's worth, the fake-milk the fake-cow experience fully satisfied any desire to really milk a real cow. However, I'd still be up for seeing - for real - a chicken running around with its head chopped off.

There was plenty more to see and learn at Heartland Acres. And while, for me, it was a real education in something I knew very little about, I also think it would be enjoyable for those who do know a lot about farming because I would hope they could appreciate the history even more. I could imagine grandfathers taking kids and grandkids through there explaining "this is how we used to do this when I was young ...", or even seeing this as required touring for researchers at Pioneer, John Deer, or even value-added fields.

I'm not completely ignorant to farming - I read my share of Little House and I have lived in Iowa for almost 20 years - so not all the concepts were new to me, but I learned more about the incubation process (and thought of my friend Mandy's bad incubator/science experiment fiasco!), single vs double pulley systems, turning corn in to cornmeal, cream separators, the pilgrimage to Iowa to begin farming, the rise of farming, the farm crisis, and even a polite way to ask where your outhouse is. The center was packed with antique farm implements, farmhouse items, and vehicles. I was surprised to also find quite a classic car collection that I would think even Jay Leno would admire. Cars from a 1905 Ford to a 1981 Delorean were on display, including a couple program cars that only had a handful created. Perhaps knowing even less about cars than I do about agriculture, the cars were very pretty and shiny. That counts for something, right?

Heartland Acres also has a fully-stocked machine shed, live farm animals, a one-room schoolhouse, an event center and an ISU extension office on their grounds. It gave me a heightened appreciation for farmers and God's provision in general. Admission is $5 for adults. Two enthusiastic thumbs up, and that's just because I only have two thumbs to give.

Galena comes from the word Galenium, a crystal made in nature with sulfur and lead. Galena was established as a mining town and was the largest city in Illinois in the early 1800s with 15,000. At that time, the Galena River running through town was 350' wide, able to hold several steamboats and shipping boats on its banks. After harvesting all the area trees to stoke the mining fires/kilns, the natural erosion control was depleted and, over time, the river was reduced to the narrow 'stream' it is today. Over time it was also discovered how poisonous lead was to humans, causing Galena to lose its primary export. Today there are just over 3000 residents in Galena, IL.

DeSoto House Hotel / Downtown Galena
While I've been to Galena before, I was fortunate to have won an overnight stay at the historic DeSoto House Hotel on Main Street so I met my mom there on Friday night. Built in 1855, the hotel has retained all its charm - grand staircase, elegant decor, lovely rooms, and they still used actual door keys instead of programmed key-cards like more modern hotels. And, for the first time there was bottled water provided in each room that was FREE for guests.

Galena's Main Street is probably what most people know about the area. It's a windy, historic street packed with unique stores and restaurants. Mostly fun stuff that no one needs, but definitely a fun window-shopping town where everyone is pretty friendly.

Ulysses S. Grant Home
Galena has had its share of famous visitors, but it was also home to our 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant. OK - I'll fully admit I don't know a lot about most of our presidents, and Grant is way up there on my ignorance scale. However, I learned this weekend that he wasn't the best of presidents, even though he was a great general and military leader. Among his successes, though were the anti-KKK legislation he passed, and his commitment to African American Civil Rights. In fact, Grant's parents didn't come to his wedding because they couldn't accept the fact he was marrying someone who came from a slave-owning family.

That said, Julia Dent Grant seemed to be sympathetic to African Americans, and, when land was cheap, she encouraged them to buy land to secure their futures. As First Lady, Julia was also always cordial to the White House staff, making daily rounds to make sure she spoke to each one. (Ulysses' parents eventually accepted both Julia and the marriage)

Actually, it was more interesting to learn about Julia Grant. She was the first President's wife to be called First Lady. In fact, the American people were so taken with her that they really called her the First Lady of the Land, a title which has never been used again for another First Lady. Julia truly embraced her role as First Lady and she was the first president's wife to send out her own press releases as she sought to help others. She was gregarious and hospitable. Galena loved her.

Dowling House

There is not much written about the Dowling House if you Google it or look on the Galena CVB website, and that's really a shame because it was really interesting and we had a very enthusiastic tour guide. The house is the oldest home in Galena. The first floor had served as a general store for Galena miners, and the second floor was the living quarters for the Dowling family.

The Dowling House was filled with antiques, and even if the majority of the items there weren't original to the home itself, however, they provided an incredible historical perspective. The average age of miners was 31 years old; for women, 38 years old. In addition to a hard life and consuming ridiculous amounts of salt due to the meat preservation process, lead covered everything - including every plate, cup and utensil. With such short life-spans, I guess it makes sense why girls were usually married by the time they were 14.

Speaking of marriage, inside the living quarters hung a needlepoint sampler. I always thought it was called that because it was a sample of different kinds of stitches. But apparently it was also called that so mothers could send their young daughters' works to potential husbands: "this is a sampler of what my daughter can do for you." Clearly, I'd be out of luck in the 1800s too!

A few other origins were revealed for common terms/phrases on the Dowling House tour. The beds they slept in were mattresses stuffed with hay that laid across a web of ropes holding the frame together held together, and had to be tightened often to keep the mattress from sinking. And, of course, the hay attracted all sorts of insects. Hence, "sleep tight," "hit the hay," and, of course, "don't let the bed bugs bite."

As mentioned earlier, Galena was a river town, so much of the town sloped down towards the river. As houses were built on the include, they had to be stablized. In the Downing House you can see an iron rod running through the whole house with bolts on the outside. When the house would start to lean because the walls were shifting due to the slope, two men would go to each bolt and tighten it to bring the walls back together, straightening up the house, as it were. In 'nicer' homes the rods were buried in the walls, and often on the outside of the home the bolts were covered by tin/metal stars. I've often seen those stars and thought they were always decorative, but didn't realize they were actually purposeful as well. In the photo below you can see the rod, with a towel hanging over it, as well as the hay-mattress, rope-tight bed.

On the way back from Galena, I was able to end Experience Summer 4 with a visit over dinner with friends in Waterloo. Drew & Angela are always a wealth of trivia, and as I told them about my experiences over the past 24 hours, they were able to enhance some of my education. I've always admired Drew for his goal to read through all the Presidents (reading at least one book on each of our presidents starting with Washington), so he told me more about Grant, including the fact that the reason he wasn't such a good President was because people really took advantage of him. Since he was a commanding general who troops followed unquestionably, Grant assumed others would follow him. However, apparently in the political world, people would say they'd do one thing, but either didn't follow through our would work towards their own agenda. Grant was apparently a good leader, but a poor manager.

But, hats off to Angela who gave me an even more interesting nugget that's closing out this week's Experience. Brown eggs come from chickens with brown earlobes. Don't question it. Just pass it on.

Until the next Experience ...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cedar Rapids takes care of its own

Experience Summer: Week 4
May 29-30
I hit the road again, finally venturing out of Central Iowa for this weekend's Experience. I'm fortunate to have a few trips planned for either business or family this summer that helping direct my course for which things to try when. On Friday I had an ICCE Board meeting in Cedar Rapids so I decided to make a weekend out of it (or at least 36 hours or so). I called Amy, my best friend from college, to see if she wanted to meet me in CR Friday night and join me in some of my tours the next day. Thanks to Marriott Rewards points, I could get a free hotel room.

I headed east Friday morning. I'm hoping that in the midst of my set travels I have the flexibility and initiative to take some unplanned stops if they offer the opportunity for more experiences. On Friday I did just that, although it only resulted in about a 5-minute diversion. In Tama, Iowa a "historical marker" sign caught my eye. Since it was literally right off the road, I pulled off to see what it was. I ended up finding the Lincoln Highway Memorial bridge.
Back on the road, I got to the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce without too much problem, although I'm not a big fan of the street system in the city. That night when Amy arrived, we got dinner, did a little shopping, and got back to watch Jay Leno's last late show appearance. Even that I count as an "experience," especially since I vividly remember gathering 17 years ago with friends to watch Johnny Carson's last late show appearance.
Yes ... I'm that old.

Brucemore Mansion
The Brucemore Historic Site and Community Cultural Center is a mansion built in 1884 by Caroline Sinclair after the death of her husband, Thomas Sinclair, who had established one of the 4 largest meat packaging plants in the world at that time. Mrs. Sinclair moved in to the 21-room mansion with her 6 children in 1886.
In 1906, Mrs. Sinclair's children were grown and actually traded homes with George and Irene Douglas who lived in the "city." The Douglas family was also pretty prominent in the community, as George Douglas started a company that ultimately grew in to the Quaker Oats Company which still dominates the Cedar Rapids skyline today. The Douglases purchased another 23 acres to add to the original 10 acres purchased by the Sinclairs, added a new front entrance and outbuildings, and, eventually a pool.
The Mansion was given to the oldest Douglas daughter, Margaret, in 1937. Margaret was married to Howard Hall, who had been president of the Iowa Steel and Iron Works and had started the Iowa Manufacturing Company.

All three historic families were also historically famous for their generosity, especially benefitting the Cedar Rapids community. Among those who were helped by the Douglas family was, appropriately, Grant Wood. There were a couple Grant Wood paintings in the mansion, but Grant was also commissioned to do a plaster mural in the sleeping porch built for one of the Douglas daughters. The Douglas family were also very big contributors to Coe College. In fact, according to our tour guide, Coe College might not be here today were it not for the Douglas family.
Amy and I also noted that it seemed like the Sinclairs, Douglases and Halls were all good employers, showing generosity to their help. There was an employee chart that showed how many of the staff had stayed for years, and there were even husbands & wives, brothers and sisters employed together. Several of the staff had their own rooms or even separate homes on the property. And, when Margaret Hall bequeathed the Brucemore to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one of the stipulations she made was taht any of the staff still living at the Brucemore after her death must be allowed to live there until their deaths. Today there is still one woman living on site in a separate cottage on the property. Her husband had been the last chauffer for the Hall family.

The Brucemore mansion was definitely impressive, but probably even more impressive were the grounds, including amazing landscaping. Especially since the weather was so beautiful on Saturday, the Brucemore grounds were really neat to walk through, although it proved that I am more than illiterate when it comes to naming flowers and plants. If I lived in Cedar Rapids, I'd definitely go back for some of the events held at the site each summer.

Quirky things about the Brucemore:

  • The Douglas family had several pets as did the Halls. The Halls had 3 lions - one right after the other - all named Leo. There were also 4 dogs named King, among other pets.
  • The Brucemore continues to be a host location for art fairs, outdoor theater and musical performances, a greenhouse and floral shop, and even an annual Night Glow hot-air balloon event. Organizations and businesses can rent the mansion for meetings, dinners and conferences. However, as gorgeous as the grounds are, Mrs. Hall stipulated that it was never to be used for weddings.
  • Howard Hall had many contacts in Hollywood, and traveled to the West Coast often, including getting to go behind the scenes and take personal movies of "Gone With the Wind." And one of the Leo Lions was actually the daughter of the original MGM Lion.
  • It was very "Narnia-like" on the grounds, complete with sculptures of dogs and deer that looked more like wolves and far too anatomically correct fawn.
  • And ... SPOILER ALERT! There are 5 total floors to the Brucemore. The upper 4 are expectedly formal. Then we went to the basement, which was mind-blowing in uber-tacky Tahitian and Hunting lodge themes. No kidding. About 2/3 of the basement was turned in to a ridiculous tiki-hut with 1/2 plastic naked women with grass skirts and leis on the walls, 'bamboo' and straw faux roof and walls, diaramas of sea life, shells and more. Then you walk in to the Grizzly Bar complete with beer steins a'plenty, a couple more diaramas of bar scenes, 'log cabin' type walls, and all the tacky bar signs you can think of. According to the tour guide, Howard Hall wanted a place to entertain clients. Clearly, all his clients were men. :)
We paid $7 for the Mansion tour, but you could walk around the grounds for free and give yourself a self-guided tour. It's definitely worth the $7 for the tour. Thumbs up. :)

Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

Amy had to leave town after the Brucemore, so I headed for the Art Museum on my own, which should have been an easy drive if I stopped to ask for directions, but apparently I thought I knew Cedar Rapids well enough to not need them having been in town for less than 24 hours. Anyway, I finally got the the Art musuem and found it was the opening day for the new John Buck exhibit, which was primarily large woodcut pieces. And, John Buck was actually there to do a lecture, although after looking at the Buck pieces, I was happy to skip the lecture. :) Art is subjective - what can I say. Two artists I did like there, however, were Malvina Hoffman (sculpture) and especially Thomas Jackson (photography). Ms. Hoffman (1885 - 1966) did a great job capturing personality in her subjects, especially the non-famous subjects, like her neighbors or her father. Mr. Jackson (still alive) was born in Rock Island, IL, and used to teach at Mt. Mercy college in Cedar Rapids. I'd love to have some of his pieces in my home; very unique combinations of different photographs. Check out his photography:

Admittedly, there's not a lot to the Museum of Art. I was happy to make the $5 donation, even though, ironically, all the Grant Wood pieces were not on display this weekend. Bad timing on my part.

Downtown Cedar Rapids

I kind of thought the Grant Wood studio was right next to the Art Museum or attached or something. I was wrong, but it was only about 3.5 blocks away, so I walked. I had never really been downtown CR before, so this was my first opportunity to be here, but it was still definitely 'post-flood.' Cedar Rapids is far from recovered, and there are still lots of empty storefronts, even in just the few blocks I walked. However, there were also a spattering of "We are open for business" signs, beckoning potential customers to come back. The day before while I was in our board meeting, there was another meeting going on at the Cedar Rapids Chamber with many angry citizens who still haven't gotten much progress on recovery funds from the State or federal agencies. Cedar Rapids is huge ... and hurting. But, as I learned from my experiences this weekend, Cedar Rapids is good about taking care of their own. Though the rest of the country was virtually blind to the severe flooding (unlike the enslaught of aid directed towards the gulf states after Katrina), Cedar Rapids will continue to rebuild because they don't know any other way to respond. Iowa needs Cedar Rapids.

Grant Wood Studio and Visitors Center
The studio is quite unpretentious as it's located, really, in the parking lot of a funeral home ... or so I thought. I followed the signs to the entrance and was immediately greeted by two volunteer workers. I purchased my ticket and was directed to a viewing area to watch the video "Grant Wood and Me." Just as it was starting, an elderly man also came in and purchased a ticket and watched the video with me. The video was pretty good, actually. Grant Wood was born in Iowa in the country, but moved to the 'big city' of Cedar Rapids when his father died and his mother need to find a job (3 jobs, actually) to take care of the family. Grant was well-liked everywhere he went, and in school he was recognized right away for his artistic talent. He went to school to pursue art, and returned to Cedar Rapids where he was offered a job teaching art. The principal said the kids loved Grant and would follow him like the Pied Piper. He also continued to do other art work which the Cedar Rapids community loved (and they loved him), so on summer breaks he was sent to Europe to study more. On his first trips, Grant was in France and learned about the impressionists which he could imitate, but he never really liked it, sensing something was missing from the finished work. Later, back in Iowa, Grant was commissioned to do a portrait that was a different style for him, but was more detailed. Grant decided to enter the painting in the Iowa State Fair. He not only won the Fair show, but he gained even more fame and fans. The subject of the portrait, if I remember correctly, was John Turner, who then owned the mansion earlier inhabited by the Douglas family and later Mrs. Sinclair. The Turners were so enamored with Grant Wood, they offered him the loft above their carriage house to be used as a studio and apartment.

The studio apartment is almost exactly as it was when Grant lived there. He was not only a masterful artist, but he was also innovative in using space efficiently, he was a builder, a craftsman, and even started the community theater in Cedar Rapids. He turned the Carriage House loft into an amazing studio and apartment where eventually he lived with his mother and his sister. He even had plays performed there. The 11 years he worked and lived in the studio were the years Grant was most prolific, and where he painted his most famous works including "American Gothic" and "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

The thing that stood out to me most about the Grant Wood Studio experience was what a well-liked guy he was. He didn't appear to ever be wealthy, but he was so popular with everyone people loved to be with him and see what he'd do next. He definitely had a sense of humor, he was generous to friends and family, and he was profoundly creative. In fact, everyone who referenced him, even my tour guide, always referred to him as "Grant" - as if everyone was his friend. It makes me want to learn more about him, and, actually, it made me envy his life a bit.

Grant lived a short life. He died in his early 50's from pancreatic cancer. As I drove back from Cedar Rapids, I couldn't help but notice what perhaps Grant saw - a beautiful state. There were "Grant Wood landscapes" all along Highway 30. I mean, who wouldn't want to experience all this state has to offer?
American Gothic facts:
  • The "models" never posed for this painting in front of this house
  • The "models" were Grant's younger sister Nan and his dentist. His dentist posed in the dentist's office.
  • The house is in Elwood, Iowa. The window is a 'gothic' style.