Dream Trip: Iowa

March 19, 2011 — Iowa is another state whose Welcome signs I’ve never passed in my life. I don’t know much about it and have no real feelings toward it, really, other than being impressed by the fact that its name almost has as many syllables as letters. I do know that, on those occasions when I try to anthropomorphize a map of the continental United States, I do so in profile, and Iowa is where I usually place the eyeball. So it’s got that going for it in my mind. However, were I to find myself transported there today, these are the oddities I would search out, in, as always, no particular order…the way life should be.

Palemoon Twilight, Flickr
Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk: I’m an unashamed ashamed Star Trek fan. The fact that a random town like Riverside, Iowa (population 928), found a way in the 1980s to get Gene Roddenberry to acknowledge them as the future birthplace of the universe’s most famous captain, turning themselves into a minor Mecca and getting their state mentioned in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is, well, a pretty awesome magic trick. And for that, I will spend money at its gas stations. And write really long sentences about it.

Mike Cox, Flickr
Villisca Ax Murder House: One hundred years ago, eight people, including six children, were hacked to death with an axe in their beds in the town of Villisca. Even more ghastly, the crime was never solved. Never. Freaking. Solved. The house where it happened, however, was turned into a tourist attraction, where you can stay the night if you wish. I’ve done so at Lizzie Borden’s in Fall River, MA, so I need a matching set of harrowing nights in my life. I also need to come down on how to optimally spell ax/axe.

Theron LaBounty, Flickr
Putnam Museum Mummies: You can find mummies anywhere, but with modern imaging technology and evolving ethical considerations, you’re not always guaranteed to see a naked one. I mean, mummified bodies cocooned in strips of linen are fascinating, but seeing what’s under all that is even more so. The Putnam Museum in Davenport has a pair of the ancient Egyptians, one of which is completely unwrapped from shriveled black head to shriveled black toes. They also apparently have a shrunken monkey head made to look like it’s a human one in case you’re the type that needs two reasons to do anything.

J. Stephen Conn, Flickr
Effigy Mounds National Monument: This park is located on the eastern edge of the state (also known as the Mississippi River) and contains a couple of hundred prehistoric burial mounds in the rough shapes of various animals. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen online, they’re somewhat hard to photograph and often come off as mere grassy slopes, but I’m assuming in person they’re a lot more dramatic. Either way, ancient people buried dead people there, sure enough.

J. Stephen Conn, Flickr
Hobo Museum: On this list because it’s a museum dedicated to hobos, obviously, and because, well, it’s a museum dedicated to hobos. Located in the tiny town of Britt, this small museum chronicles the life of homeless workers who would often hop trains from town to town looking for work, creating a unique itinerant culture in the process…one which apparently still survives since the town hosts an annual National Hobo Convention.

Bryan Vorkapich, Flickr
Children of the Corn Filming Sites: Of all the horror movies I’ve seen, the conceit behind Children of the Corn just seems so right. Cornfields are about the most mysteriously ominous things on the planet this side of the ocean. The movie was filmed in the early 1980s in the towns of Hornick, Sioux City, Salix, and Whiting, and apparently many of the locations are still terrifyingly recognizable. Also, I figured I needed to stick a corn-related site here considering the state.

Susan Groppi, Flickr
Rusty the Giant Sloth: Prehistoric mammals usually get short shrift against their reptilian counterparts, but the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History is doing its part to right that scale. Since 2001, the fossil remains of four giant ground sloths have been discovered in southwest Iowa. These massive bear-gorillas reached heights of 20 feet and have been extinct about 10,000 years. Some of the Iowa sloth bones are on display at the museum, as is Rusty, a giant, hair-covered replica that has become the mascot of the museum. Here’s his Twitter account.

Krista Kennedy, Flickr
Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery: Every cemetery has its stone angels, but a few have extra-spooky ones that become infamous against the intended desires of those who commissioned them. The century-old Black Angel in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery is one of those. It has no real story of its own, but, over the years, it has become the source of many stories, all creepy, all suspiciously easy to predict (causes miscarriages, kills anybody who disrespects it, etc.). Of course, the legends are easily attributable to the facts that the angel has aged to almost black, that its 8.5-foot height looms over visitors, and that its wings are set at a strange perpendicular angle like one of them is broken. All I can say is, even though I want to visit it, it’s not something I’d want to run into in a cornfield.

Heyjupiter, Flickr
Buddy Holly Crash Site: The spot where musicians Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens died in 1959 when their plane crashed into a field near the town of Clear Lake. The site is marked by a stainless steel monument depicting a guitar and three records, and the road to it features a pair of concrete pillars supported by an oversized set of Buddy Holly’s trademark glasses. Today, of course, we all know the tragedy as “the day the music died,” which means I have no idea what kids think they’re listening to these days. Zombie music, I guess.

Sultec, Wikipedia
Earling Exorcism Site: In 1928, it was a beautiful day for an exorcism in the town of Earling. It was in that western Iowa town in a Franciscan convent that still stands to this day that a priest named Theophilus Riesinger evicted evil spirits from a 40-year-old woman named Emma Schmidt after 23 days of all the stuff in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist happening. I’ve kind of got a thing for exorcism sites, but I’m honest about that on my Match.com profile.

And that’s my Iowa dream trip. Honorable mentions for this list are the Field of Dreams baseball diamond, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and Alvin Straight’s grave. Let me know of more sites here in the comments or on the OTIS Facebook Page.

Check out my Dream Trip: Texas piece, as well.