Taj Mahal of the Midwest

State 11: Iowa - August 9, 2017

“My hope and prayer is that everyone know and love our country for what she really is, and what she really stands for”

John Wayne


We woke up in Washington, IA well rested, and looking forward to a brand new day. The first event for the day was driving to Winterset, IA to visit the Birthplace and Museum of the selected Cross Country Couple's “Famous Person” for the state of Iowa: Marion Robert Morrison, AKA Marion Mitchell Morrison, AKA The Duke and last but certainly not least, AKA John Wayne. In addition to being a man with many names, John Wayne is a Hollywood legend whose name is synonymous with the genre of western movies. Over a career spanning 5 decades, John Wayne starred in 142 Movies, and 83 were westerns. Although John Wayne passed away before I was born, and I am not much of a western movie fan, I have developed an appreciation for his acting abilities after viewing a few of his movies with my patients in the nursing homes where I work. I was actually very excited to learn more about “The Duke”.

Upon our arrival, we approached the receptionist, and learned the cost of admission to the John Wayne Museum and Birth House was $15.00 per person with no discounts. Woah Boys! Hold your horses right there! We weren’t about to kick of our boots, and stay a while at that price! Instead, we settled on shooting a few pictures of the outside of the museum, and his childhood home. I guess we will just have to rent “Red River”, "Hondo", “Big Jake” or any of his other countless classics, and call it a day. We were certainly disappointed about passing on the museum, but it was time to saddle up, and ride into Des Moines.

Upon arriving in Des Moines, there was no need to search for capitol building, it's gaudiness immediately grabbed our attention, and wouldn’t let go. The external structure of the building is reminiscent of a Russian or Eastern European Palace, and appears extremely out of place in rural Iowa. We have come to learn each state proudly displays a unique characteristic of their capitol building distinguishing it from all others. For example, The Louisiana capitol had the largest dome, and the Virginia Capitol has the smallest dome. The Iowa State's Capitol's claim to fame is having the most domes of any capitol building. The Iowa Capitol not only has a main rotunda, but in addition, each of the 4 corners of the building have a symmetrical smaller dome. If having 5 domes on top of the capitol wasn’t enough, each is gold leafed to draw additional attention to the fact Iowa has more domes than any other capitol. As to proudly boast to all others states, Nana nanny poo poo! I have more domes than you! The observation deck in the main rotunda has been closed since the 1970’s due to structural issues. However, they had a very nice display depicting digital pictures and videos of the views from the closed copula. While we were visiting, there was a 2 year 10 million dollar restoration effort currently underway to restore the main rotunda to its former glory.

Next, we entered the building, and were disappointed to learn, we would be once again, be scanned and searched at the main entrance. Then, we met up with our tour guide, and were led to the interior of the central room. For some unknown reason, the glass floor had been removed back in the 1950’s, and had just been replaced a few years ago. This was another very nice touch we had only seen once previously in our tour of the Michigan Capitol.

They also had a display case depicting dolls dressed in inaugural ball gowns of all of the state’s first ladies. However, the current governor is Kim Reynolds; the first female Governor of Iowa. For the first time in Iowan history, the state’s first lady was a man named Kevin Reynolds. We were pleased to learn a doll would be made in his likeness, dressed in a ball gown, and placed in the cabinet with the other first spouses. Did I say ball gown? I am sorry Mr. Reynolds, I meant to say tuxedo! Kentucky was the only other capitol we visited who honors the state’s first spouses in a similar manner, and we hope to see similar gestures in the capitols to come.

We were then led to the House and Senate chambers which were very nice, but overall unremarkable. Above the speaker's seat in each chamber, George Washington was pictured to the left, Abraham Lincoln to the right, and right between them was a picture of our current president Donald Trump. I found it extremely comical to see our newly elected president, who had yet to prove himself, sandwiched between the two greatest presidents in our countries history. I asked the tour guide if the state is particularly fond of President Trump in order to give him some a prestigious spot on their wall, to which the guide replied, they just put up a picture of whomever is the current elected President.

During our tour, we were very pleased to learn not only does the state have a balanced budget, but even the construction of the capitol building came in 3 dollars under budget. We love seeing a state with a long history of fiscal responsibility. Good job Iowa! Another interesting exhibit was a model of the famous WW1 battleship; USS Iowa. The original full size ship has been restored, and is a floating museum located in San Diego, CA. with one minor exception. The 1000 lb brass bell original to the ship sits on a pedestal next to the model of the ship. We were invited by the tour guide to try and push it off the pedestal. A few brave souls stepped up to the challenge, but no one was successful. We may just have to pay the USS Iowa a visit when get to the Golden Coast.

The most impressive aspect of the capitol was the antique law library, which was free and open to the public. The best way I can describe the library is as an architectural and functional work of art! The 5 story library features an open floor plan design, Victorian gingerbread oak bookcases, original and functional manual dumbwaiter elevator to transport books between floors, and massive floor to ceiling windows flooding the entire space with glorious lateral rays of natural sunlight. If my college had a similar library back in the day, I probably would have spent more time studying and less time partying… nah who am I kidding! This is the first capitol we have visited possessing such an impressive library, and serves as a time honored testament to Iowa's commitment to the legality of it's government. Please view and enjoy the pictures below of this cherished treasure of citizens of Iowa.

The highest point of access within the capitol open to the public was the whisper room located at the base of the of the lower curvature of the interior dome. The whisper room consisted of a balcony encircling the entire lower curvature of the interior rotunda. It is this curvature, which allows the faintest sounds to carry over far distances. To demonstrate, our tour guide directed us to stand on one side of the balcony, and she stood on the opposing side. She then hid behind a pillar and whispered “The tour is over”. We all heard what she said perfectly clear even though we were approximately 110 feet in the air and 50 feet away from where she stood. We then descended 63 stairs back down to the ground level.

After our tour was over, we had a nice conversation with our tour guide, who by the way did an excellent job. Upon learning we were from Connecticut, she shared her experiences visiting the Connecticut Capitol, and was overall unimpressed. She continued by saying even the security guards told her about the long history of fiscal irresponsibility and corruption in Connecticut. Even though we are over 1000 miles away from our former home state, we still can’t seem escape Connecticut’s reputation as poorly run state. Just out of curiosity, I recently went online to check the headlines in my old home state, and I learned the following about Connecticut: They still have not passed a state budget, they still have a growing deficit currently at 2.6 billion dollars, Aetna, one of the largest health insurers, just announced its departure from CT, and last but certainly not least, Connecticut may have to delay the start date the of the public schools this year, since it can’t pay for the teacher’s salary. It seems in the 3 months since we moved out of Connecticut things have gone from bad to worse, and we are both extremely happy we no longer live there!

After leaving the state capitol, we walked down the front steps, and crossed the street to the Iowa State Museum. Upon entering, we were greeted by quite the unexpected concierge, a massive woolly mammoth skeleton towering over us. For reasons still leaving scientists scratching their heads to this very day, woolly mammoths loved living on the land we now know as Iowa. More woolly mammoth bones have been found in the state of Iowa than anywhere else in the entire world! We then approached the receptionist, and learned she would be both the bearer of good and bad news. The good news was admission to the museum was free, and the bad news was the museum was closing in 45 minutes. Damn, I hate marathon museum visits! If I knew I had such limited time, I wouldn’t have wasted 15 minutes taking selfies with the woolly mammoth! Oh well! If 45 minutes was all the time we had, then we were going to see as much as we could in the allotted time.

The Iowa State's Museum was an overall middle of the road museum with many pros and cons. As silly as it may sound, what we enjoyed most about the museum was its focus on the accomplishments of the state of Iowa. Many state's museums try to exhibit people or items from their state that are nationally known, while Iowa celebrates people and events well known within the state. For example, have you ever heard of Peggy Witson, Charlie Wittmack, or the RAGBRAI? Unless you were native to Iowa you would most likely not know: Charlie Wittmack was the first Iowan to scale Mount Everest. Peggy Witson was not only the first Iowan astronaut in space, but also holds the record for the longest time in space at 534 days. RAGBRAI is an acronym for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which is the largest annual bike touring event in the US. Exhibits of each are pictured below.

Another well executed museum exhibit depicted movie stars native to Iowa. John Wayne, Tom Arnold, and Ashton Kushner all hail from the Hawkeye state. In addition, the classic American movies Fields of Dreams starring Kevin Costner, and The Bridges of Madison County starring Clint Eastwood were both filmed in Iowa. They even had movie theater seating where you could sit down and watch the entire length of both movies, but unfortunately we did not have time to spare. Earlier in our trip through Iowa, we stopped at the farm where “Fields of Dreams was filmed”. We also drove past the location where “The Bridges of Madison County” was filmed, but regretfully could not visit. The clearance on the covered bridges were too low for Rosie to fit through.

There are some glaring negatives to the Iowa State Museum. Overall, the museum exhibits were extremely scattered and lacked unilateral direction. In one room, I was looking at the skeleton of a woolly mammoth. In the next room, antique airplanes hung from the ceiling. In the following room, I was sitting in a make shift movie theater watching Field of Dreams on the silver screen. In addition, the museum had too many written displays, which appeared as a overcompensation for it’s lacking actual artifacts specifically related to Iowa. Finally, I did not see the Iowa State Constitution on display, which is always very disappointing.

After leaving the state museum, we saw people erecting lawn chairs along the sidewalk, and decided to investigate further. We soon learned today was the official start of the Iowa State Fair. Apparently, the fair is a very big local event, and the entire state practically shuts down for 10 consecutive days of observance. In addition, the Iowa State Fair kicks off each year with a parade at 6:30 pm on the front stairs of the State Capitol, and draws a crowd in excess of 1,000,000 people! Holy corn cobs! We had to vacate Des Moines immediately before we ended up stranded in the city, and forced to write the next 10 blog posts about The Iowa State Fair! We immediately set a course for anywhere but Des Moines, and were fortunate to escape the city unscathed! We then drove North 2 hours to Mason City, IA were we found a Walmart to spend for night.

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