Marion Robert Morrison, better known as John Wayne, was born in this house in Winterset, Iowa on May 26, 1907. Like most boys I devoured his classic Westerns as a child. When growing up, I lost interest in his films and the genre altogether and was also troubled by his political views (although I have to admit I never really made any effort to get a very informed view on them). But in the last few years I have made an effort to build a collection of the best Westerns on DVD and found (rather unsurprisingly), that quite a few of them have got him in them. My favorite is possibly his last film The Shootist, although that’s probably not in accordance with most people’s view, but I liked it a whole lot, both with regard to the film’s message and also because the films melancholic mood and its extremely beautiful photography.
The American Gothic house is located in the small town of Eldon in southern Iowa. Regionalist painter Grant Wood saw it on a visit to Eldon in 1930 when he visited a friend called Edward Rowan who had started an art gallery and school in the town. It was built in 1881 and today is occupied by an old lady who (hopefully for her) apparently has gotten used to the stream of tourists coming to take photos of and in front of the house. The American Gothic House Center is offering a service to take your photo complete in a dress modelled on the one shown in the pointing, dungarees and a fork – I opted to take a photo of the house only. As you would expect, the exhibition in the Center is interesting too, filling in a lot of background knowledge about Grant Wood and the town of Eldon, I enjoyed my visit very much, and the town of Eldon is also lovely, small and rural – very much my kind of town.
Fort Kearny was the first post on the Oregon Trail and in existence from 1848 to 1871. It was used as a way station and supply center for settlers on the way to Oregon and to protect them from Indian raids, which actually didn’t really occur at the fort. It was also used as a station on the Pony Express in 1860/1861. Another use in its last few years was to protect workers building the Union Pacific line towards the west. You can’t really tell how much life there must have been in here as only a few buildings have been rebuilt so far, but it’s still a fascinating place and the visitor center host a very informative exhibition telling the story of the fort and containing a wealth of artifacts from that period. Fort Kearny is located a few miles south of Kearney, NE
Walt Whitman in Specimen Days said the following:
‘… while I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the upper Yellowstone and the like, afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure about the Prairies and Plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest and make North America’s characteristic landscape.’
I haven’t yet been to Yosemite, Niagara Falls or Yellowstone, but I have to say that what I saw of the Plains and Praries so definitely left a long-lasting mark on me and I am very much drawn to them. Here are a few photos capturing the affection I hold for this part of the US well, all taken in Kearney and Franklin Counties, Southern Nebraska
I passed through Franklin by chance on my way from Kearney to Red Cloud, but am very glad I did, if for the Lincoln Hotel alone. It seems to have been standing empty for some time, but at least it is still standing, I hope somebody will give it a new lease of life soon, it would be very sad indeed to lose a fine old structure like this. It is located in Franklin County in Southern Nebraska and close to the Kansas state line. It was founded in 1870 and the site of Franklin Academy from 1880 to 1921. According to the city’s website (www.franklinnebraska.com) its most famous alumni is Frank Cyr, the creator of the yellow school bus. The population is about 1000 people.
Wahoo is a city with a population of about 4500 people and was the first stop I made after leaving Omaha (it’s located about 40 miles west of Omaha). I wanted to check out the Historical Park I read about. As it turned out it was well worth visiting. It’s a small affair with only a handful of buildings, but clearly a labor of love of those maintaining it.
This torpedo in front of the Saunders County Court House is a memorial to the WW II submarine Wahoo.
For more photos from Wahoo, check my Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lorimerblack/
Mt. Pisgah Cemetery State Preserve near Thayer in Union County, Iowa.
Mt. Pisgah was a way-station for Mormons on the Mormon Pioneer Trail from Nauvoo, Il to Salt Lake City, UT from 1846 to 1952. At times up to 2000 people lived here, and around 300 to 800 people perished and were buried here. The headstones are gone by now, but this monument, which was erected in 1888, still stands. After the Mormons left, the site was briefly called Petersville (after the farmer that bought the land).
Chief Pied Riche from the Pottawattamie Indians (who were driven from their homelands in what is now Michigan), visited and told them ‘We must help one another, and the great spirit will help us both. Because one suffers and does not deserve it is no reason he shall suffer always. We may live to see it right yet. If we do not our children will.’ Sadly he was mistaken.
Nowadays it’s totally peaceful, secluded and only a 4-mile dirt road leads to it. On the day I discovered Mt. Pisgah (which was totally by chance), there was nothing to be heard apart from the crickets making their usual loud racket and a few birds, although there’s a farm immediately adjacent to it. It was wonderful and a great place to relax and let your mind wander far back in time.
The view from Mt. Pisgah. I wonder how that view must have looked like during the time Mt. Pisgah existed with regards to the vegetation, and when there were no farm buildings and gravel roads to be seen.
Antioch School, outside of Anamosa, Iowa. Regionalist painter, Grant Wood was born and raised on a farm a few miles outside of Anamosa, near where the school still stands. His family’s farm doesn’t exist anymore, but apparently stood somewhere northwest of here (towards the left of the first photo), it’s all been turned into fields. Grant Wood is best known for his 1930 painting American Gothic, which I sadly still have to see (it’s hanging in the Art Institute Of Chicago, and I shall make it a priority to go and look at it on my next visit to Chicago.
He visited Antioch school from 1897 to 1901 and according to his sister Nan Wood Graham he was already impressed by the landscape around him at this age, which of course should creep up repeatedly in his later artworks.
I don’t know what the purpose of this building standing next to the school-house was, but note the gothic styled window, clearly a nod to American Gothic.
Two views of the surrounding countryside from the school grounds, as they probably would have appealed to Grant Wood.
There will be a few more posts related to Grant Wood in the future on this blog, as he was one of the main reasons for visiting Iowa on my trip, so watch this space.