After being pleasantly surprised by the understated delights of Nebraska, we pushed on to spend a single night in the Hawkeye State. Like me, you might not know all that much about this “flyover state”. I had heard of the Iowa State Fair – due to it becoming a must-visit for presidential candidates, but beyond that? I didn’t know much. Thrillist says it’s: “like that kid you bunk with at camp who has decent snacks, and never tries to steal your diary and read it aloud at lunch, even though he can hear you weeping while you write your missives under the covers. So basically it’s pleasant, but not entirely memorable.” It’s motto is: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” A quick google revealed some cool facts: sliced bread was invented by an Iowan and it’s home to the house in Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Oh and Iowan Arabella Mansfield was the first female lawyer in the U.S. Google revealed some odd insights: that this is a state where there are more hogs than people; and a sad fact: that Buddy Holly died here when his plane crashed into Clear Lake. With only one night we frankly didn’t have time to get to fully know Iowa but we’d try and see as much as we could!
Our first stop was to pull over and gawp at the First National Bank in Stuart. A sleepy town where, we quite literally, saw tumbleweed dance across the pavement – we were here to see a bank that Bonnie and Clyde had stuck-up. As I’m sure you well-educated dudes know, Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow travelled with their gang during the Great Depression, robbing people and killing when cornered or confronted. They made it to Stuart on 16 April 1934, shortly before their luck ran out and they were killed on May 23, 1934, on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. This was a quick stop for a slice of grisly American history.
A little while later we pulled over in the carpark of the Iowa State Capitol, in Des Moines, only partially because Hannah needed to go to the loo. And, if you’re going to use any restroom, why not one housed within a Neoclassical, golden-domed landmark. Serene, dignified, built with cool marble and warm rich wood, we poked around the Houses of Representatives and Senate and gazed up at the inside of the dome, from the rotunda. Around the rotunda on the frieze above columns is the famous quotation from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “This nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” If you need to have a pee, we can recommend having a pee here.
Our bellies were rumbling and we hopped in the car for quick drive to Smitty’s Tenderloin for, nothing less than a state delicacy. Louisiana has the Muffalett, Philly has the cheesesteak and Iowa has the pork tenderloin sandwich. Smitty’s famously advertise that they create the ‘King of the Tenderloins’ – a breaded and fried cutlet the size of a medium-sized kid’s face in a teeny-weeny white bread bap. Doused liberally in mustard and ketchup, it’s a bit of an institution. As were the waitresses who worked here – sassy, funny and they loved our accents.
We heaved ourselves into the car and onto the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. Much like my knowledge of Iowa, my knowledge of the 31st President was patchy. It turns out he was a brilliantly capable and fascinating young man – with a background in mining and humanitarian work – who, as a Republican president saw his ambitious programs overwhelmed by the Great Depression. Roundly defeated in a landslide in 1932 by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, he spent the rest of his life as a conservative denouncing big government, liberalism and federal intervention in economic affairs. As so often with Presidential Libraries, looking at the past helped us to understand the present and as we wandered through the exhibits it was fascinating to contemplate how then, and now, big a role Governments should play in people’s lives. This museum, like every single Presidential Museum we’ve been to so far, was an absolute joy. Incredible artefacts, intelligently presented – with videos that helped people, like us, with limited knowledge of the topic get up to speed. It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Alas the rain, which had started as we drove into the Presidential Library, followed us to Burlington as we checked into the very cute Squirrel’s Nest B&B. From our attic bedroom, on a clear and bright day, we would have had an unparalleled view of the Mississippi River. The rain lashed against the windows and we decided we wouldn’t go exploring too much – apart from a trip to The Drake for dinner – but we did enjoy the squirrel themed board games (“Squarrels – a game of absolute nuts”), décor and breakfast the next morning.
And that, was it. The tiniest peek into all things Iowan. Next time we return we’ll have to visit the State Fair, where Josh can sample as many of the 17 Heart-Stopping foods at the Iowa State Fair as possible.
Rate the State
Good for: Big portions of fried food, rolling hills and corn fields.
Bad for: Seaside or big city lovers.
Overall: 6/10 (side-note: we barely saw much of this state, so it feels a bit harsh giving it any mark at all.)