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Seven Places to Check Out (If You're Ever In Iowa)

My friends and I are planning a long weekend this summer. Cancun? Florida? California? Nope. We're going to spend four or five days wandering around Iowa. It all started when we were talking a couple of weeks ago and realized that most of us (Iowa natives) have never been to the Field of Dreams. It's one of the only "famous" spots in Iowa – the other one is Madison County, home of the famous bridges (which I have actually seen). I lived in Philly for about a year and whenever the locals there found out I was from Iowa, the reactions were usually one of these three things: "Did you grow up on a farm?" No. "Oh, that's why you have an accent." People from Philly telling me I have an accent? And the third comment: "Oh, Field of Dreams, right?" So it's probably about time I check out the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. While we're at it, we're going to check out some other strange attractions around the state. If you've never been to roadsideamerica.com, I suggest you check it out – it's chock-full of bizarre things to see across the States. I'm not under the delusion that Iowa is a hot spot for tourism, but should you ever be in the state and looking for something to do, I thought I'd share with you some of the interesting (read: strange) stops we'll be making this summer. In turn, maybe you can share some strange things in your state with me. I'm always up for interesting stops.

Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend

My husband went here with his family when he was very small. There's a good story his mom tells about him that involves the Grotto and diapers (or a lack thereof), but I'll spare you. If you're thinking Playboy Mansion-style Grotto, you're way off. Way, way off. This Grotto is a religious monument built largely by just three men. Father Paul Dobberstein almost died of pneumonia when he was younger and promised to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary if she would heal him. He got better and kept his promise. In 1912, he started the first of many travels to Hot Springs and South Dakota's Black Hills in search of rocks and crystal to use in his blueprint-less creation. When he obtained these little treasures, he would return to West Bend and set the gems and stones into concrete. Sounds like a pretty small undertaking, sure, but when you consider that the grottoes take up an entire city block and contain more than $4 million in rocks and minerals, you can see why it's a big deal. Photo by Wikipedia's MissouriRichardson

The American Gothic House, Eldon

This one isn't such a big deal to me, probably because I grew up just 20 minutes away. But my friends haven't been there, and it was in the running to be on the state quarter, so it must be pretty important. You might recognize the Dibble House from the Grant Wood painting American Gothic. Apparently Grant Wood came to Eldon in 1930 and thought the contrast of the tiny little house with the "pretentious" Gothic windows was interesting. He sketched the house and then convinced his sister and his dentist to pose as the father and daughter (not man and wife, as most people think) in the foreground. The rest is history. The best part about visiting the American Gothic House is that the American Gothic House Center actually provides drab clothes and a pitchfork so you can pose in front of the house with your own sour expression. I'm a sucker for a ridiculous photo op, so that's another reason the house makes my list.

Buddy Holly Crash Site, Clear Lake

Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake on February 2, 1959. In the wee hours of February 3, the plane carrying the three of them crashed almost immediately after takeoff, killing everyone on board. There's not as much of a monument as you would expect, but if you trek out to the middle of the cornfield they landed in (although I believe it was soybeans at the time), you'll find a stainless steel guitar and three records. Photo by Wikipedia's Fernkes

Canteen Lunch in the Alley, Ottumwa

I can't resist the urge to plug my hometown. Fans of Roseanne surely remember The Lunch Box, the little hole-in-the-wall joint that Roseanne ran with her sister, Jackie. At the time, Ottumwa native Tom Arnold was married to Roseanne and took her to the Canteen. She fell in love with the place and decided to base the Lunch Box on it, loose-meat sandwiches and all. I don't know that I'd visit just because of that fact, but I would visit because the food is amazing. Don't order a "loose-meat sandwich", though, unless you want to get a look of contempt. The burgers there are called Canteens, and don't you forget it. But if you want to look like a native (uh… you probably don't), just order "One", as in "One with everything" or "One with ketchup-pickle". It's served lunch-counter style and the place seats, oh, maybe 15 people. Also? The chocolate malts are to die for. Photo from Iowa Backroads

The First Train Robbery in the West, Adair

Not only was it the first train robbery in the West and the first moving train robbery in the world, it was conducted by none other than Jesse James. On July 21 (my birthday!), 1873, the James-Younger Gang staged a robbery expecting to make off with $75,000 in gold. Turns out that shipment was delayed, so they only got away with the $3,000 in the safe of the Rock Island Express. The tracks are long gone, except for the little piece that shows where Jesse derailed the train. Adair celebrates Jesse James Days the every year on the third weekend of July, including a reenactment of the robbery. Photo by Randy Walker, Roadside America

Bank Robbed by Bonnie and Clyde, Stuart

In a funny twist of fate, the bank Bonnie and Clyde robbed in Stuart, Iowa is now houses the police station. The Barrow Gang paid a visit to Stuart in April of 1934, a month before they were killed in Louisiana. Several months earlier, Bonnie and Clyde were in the same area and had a close run-in with a man from a nearby farm. Marvelle Feller, his parents, sister and uncle were held at gunpoint by Clyde and W.D. Jones. The gang eventually stole the family's car and took off. Photo by Randy Walker, Roadside America

Bank Robbed by John Dillinger, Mason City

Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, and Dillinger – who knew Iowa was such a hotbed for outlaws? Just a month before the Bonnie and Clyde robbery, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and their gang hit the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa. They took $52,000, which was much less than they had planned on getting. The building is now called the City Center, but it's still around. To commemorate the occasion, the town started holding Dillinger Days (officially called Dillinger Meets Mason City) in 2007. Derek Arnold from Flickr has some pretty interesting pictures of the Dillinger robbery re-enactment. OK, your turn! Share your little-known state stops in the comments.


Great plug for Iowa! I live in Des Moines and grew up in the Quad Cities and can honestly say I've never been to any of these places. Fantastic Post!

Also to be noted:
Field of Dreams (Of course)
Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa (the Transcendental Meditation place)
Winterset, Iowa (Bridges of Madison County)

And of course you can always come visit me at my place of work:
Better Homes and Gardens (the garden will be open to the public soon)
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This is awesome! I grew up in Osage, IA (its up north, between Mason City and Charles City) and I never knew most of these things existed! I remember driving by the Buddy Holly field a few times when I was little but next time I head back to IA, I will have to swing around the state and see a couple of these other sites!
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ok so I just read the paragraph above (I have a habit of skipping content a bit) you talked about the field of dreams thing AND bridges of madison county
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ok so I just read the paragraph above (I have a habit of skipping content a bit) you talked about the field of dreams thing......
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the iowa state university parks library, and the ames iowa post office have some amazing murals done by Grant Wood. they were a part of the Great Depressions WPA project.
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In Winterset City Park, look for Clarke (or Clarke's) tower, not far from the Cutler-Donahoe covered bridge. I spent many summers in Winterset and East Peru when I was a child. :-)
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I love the Canteen! Before seeing relatives in Ottumwa, my family always stops in for a few. Makes the four hour trip from Omaha bearable!
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I didn't know you were from Iowa! I went to the U of I in Iowa City, Iowa! If I were you and it were still there, I'd go to Pearson's Drugs lunch counter! Or George's Bar. Or The Foxhead!
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Good to see some Iowa fame on my favorite site. I'm from Walcott, IA, a small town outside Quad Cities and home to the World's Largest Truckstop, exit 284 on I-80. Nothing particularly amazing, though.

It was already mentioned but definitely check out the Foxhead Bar in Iowa City. Iowa City has one of the richest literary histories in America with its famous Writer's Workshop, and the Foxhead has long been the bar of choice for the Workshop's writers.

I wrote about the Foxhead for The Daily Iowan in my college days. The place has a fascinating history (they refuse to serve Busch products because of an argument that dates back to WWII) and they have an even richer literary history: George Plimpton playing, and cheating in a pool game, poker games with National Book Award winners, visits by Nobel Poet Laureates, and the owner personally kicking Hunter S. Thompson out of the bar.

To read the story I wrote for The Daily Iowan, check out:
http://tinyurl.com/yqv8sy

And check out the Foxhead's Myspace page (sort of weird that it has a Myspace page):
http://tinyurl.com/28px2q

Also in Iowa, John Wayne's childhood home in Winterset.

The Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, one of the world's premier great ape research center.

Effigy Mounds near Harper's Ferry, IA are 2,000 year-old burial mounds.
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I left Iowa 5 years ago...born and raised and the #1 question I get is...." So you must like potatoes..huh?" Then I advise them of the fact that it's idaho and not Iowa....lol
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i was born and raised in iowa, no i didn't grow up on a farm, i don't own any overalls and i've never ridden a tractor in my life.
-cedar rapids is the only place in the world besides paris to have its government building on an island in the middle of a river. its home to the national czech and slovak museum and library. also the mother mosque of america is supposed to be the oldest mosque (purpose built. it is where quaker oats first started- that would be the smell.
-keokuk (my hometown, no snickering) is a few miles south of galland school which is a reconstruction of the first school in iowa. it has a large reenactment of the battle of pea ridge, the last weekend of april. there is a statue of chief keokuk overlooking the mississipi river. its said his body is buried there, but his head is buried under a tree in the park. the hydroelectric plant, lock and dam 19 (where my dad works) was the largest in the world for a long time and draws many bald eagles in the winter since it breaks the ice.
-if in iowa city, go to the hamburg inn
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What I remember from my bike ride (RAGBRAI) across Iowa:

Clarinda was the home of Glenn Miller (?)
Falling asleep on the 40 yard line at the UNIDome
Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarians, and good to seek out in small towns.
It's really field corn, innit. The pigs are more noteworthy than the corn.
People are nice. But soda pop is called Coke. As in "honey, you want some Orange Coke?"
Maharishi University. As in, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. As in Lennon's "Sexy Sadie."
Field of Dreams
Really nice people. Worth mentioning again.
"Trash Can Lemonade"
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I used to live in Ottumwa and taught at Indian Hills Community College -- sure brings back a lot of memories.

Eldon, Iowa's other claim to fame is that is where Tom Arnold and Rosanne started to build a mansion -- they gave it to IHCC when they divorced. They also started a diner there, called "Tom & Rosanne's Big Food Diner."
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another quad citian here. i love iowa. pardon me blogwhoring here for a bit, but i wrote a sugary post about the state here:

http://bluegoldandgreen.blogspot.com/2007/11/iowa.html
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Somehow I think the Indiana landscape is pretty similar to Iowa's. Corn. Soybeans. Corn. Hogs. Corn. But, should you ever find yourself in the Hoosier state, we've got a few pretty cool things to show off.

James Dean's hometown of Fairmount, for starters. It's a tiny little town in east-central Indiana. Every fall they have James Dean Days, which is an enormous festival with a carnival, car shows, James Dean look-alike contests, stuff like that.

John Dillinger was born in Mooresville, IN, and you can visit his grave at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis (which, incidentally, is the largest civilian cemetery in the country, and a truly beautiful place to spend an afternoon).

While you're in Indy, you can also stop by the Children's Museum, which is the largest of its kind in the world, and is definitely not just for kids (but brace yourself for screaming school groups, no matter what day of the week you go). The Dinosphere is especially amazing.

East of Indy is Knightstown, where you'll find the gym in which the movie "Hoosiers" was filmed.

North of Indy is Conner Prairie, which is a living museum set in 1832(?).

Yeah. I love my home state. Not much glamour here, but it's pretty interesting, if you give it a chance. :-)
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I grew up in Tipton, Iowa. A couple years ago I took the kids to see Field of Dreams... was unexpectedly cool. We hit a few balls, ran a few bases, listened to the crickets, met the man who owns the farm...

On the bleachers at this site, look for where Kevin Costner, during a break in filming, carved a "love note" to Annie.

I think there's a farm toy museum in the town next to Field of Dreams, if my memory is correct...
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Oh, and by the way, if you just HAPPEN to be in Tipton, Iowa, the town library has a permanent exhibit of about 20 Grant Wood prints, many which I'd never seen elsewhere...
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I'm from Monroe IA, but live in Omaha now. I went to school Ottumwa but didn't know about the Canteen. Iowa is great in the summer. Rollin hills of green. Not like the flat, desolate waste land here in Nebraska.
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My wife's family is from Ottumwa, and I've eaten at the Canteen. In case anyone is wondering about the weird architecture, when I ate there is was a free standing building in a parking lot. When they constructed a (I think) parking garage, the Canteen was so popular they just build the new structure over top of it.
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I leave in Radcliffee, Iowa, Never been to this strange places.. But I'll see to it.. That I'm not gonna miss visiting this places on my next vacation... Good day.
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In addition to the Canteen, Ottumwa is also known as the Video Game Capital of the World AND had it's share with a prohibition-era bank robbery, conducted by Vernon Miller, Tommy "Machine Gun" Kelly, and others back in Sept. 1930.
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I'm an Iowa native myself (I'm 30). Born and raised in Sioux City (north western tip of the state on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota). I've never been to any of these places. Closest I've been is Clear Lake but I didn't make it out to the memorial. I did however see a few of the Bridges from Bridges of Madison County and John Wayne's birth place in Summerset.
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Marvelle Feller who is the last survivor who had a gun pointed at him by the Barrow Gang in Iowa is at the same care center as my inlaws. We visited with him this weekend and he told us all about WD Jones pointing a gun at him and his uncle and how they stole their family car to excape. Marvelle is now 96 years old. It is quite facinating to hear him tell the story.
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