Monday, December 28, 2009

Fields of Gold

Magnet # 128: Iowa Map

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: The Kibby Family

On this day back in 1846, Iowa was granted statehood by President James Polk.  Ever since it became a territory, the settlers there had been extremely eager in pursuing statehood, and this was a great victory for them.  The French were the first Europeans to claim and settle the area, and when they lost the French and Indian War, they were able to pass the area onto their ally, Spain, who had little to do with the area, mainly allowing the British and French to trade there.  Under Napoleon, however, the French took it back from Spain in a treaty before selling it to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  About thirty years later, the first American settlers arrived, coming from states such as Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and even as far as New York.  Before long, the Territory of Iowa was established and statehood would be realized as quickly as possible.

Having never been to Iowa myself, I turned to my Mom's sister, who married a Iowa native, for a little extra info about it. According to her, yes, there really is that much corn in the state - they're not making it up.  For the most part, the state is made up of small towns and communities filled with down-to-earth, patriotic citizens.  Most of what she's seen in Iowa has been very flat land, with the exception of Winterset, a picturesque, hilly area that's one of her favorite places in the state.  Its covered bridges were the inspiration for the novel The Bridges of Madison County and the movie it inspired was filmed there.  It also has Clark Tower, a single, limestone tower that's reminiscent of a medieval castle turret and gives its visitors a beautiful view of the surrounding hills.  But perhaps the area's greatest claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of film legend John Wayne.  There's even a birthplace museum that I'd love to tour someday - after all, how can you not like the Duke?  Sounds to me like Winterset is definitely worth visiting.

In becoming more familiar with the state capitols, I've come to share the popular opinion that Iowa's capitol is one of our country's more attractive. It is the only state capitol in the nation that has five domes. The central dome, at 275 feet is the largest, and its covered in thin sheets of 23-karat gold sealed off to prevent damage.  It's flanked on four sides by smaller but nonetheless impressive green domes with gold accents.  There are also pediments and Corinthian columns on both the front and back entrances that make the building even more impressive.  The overall brown color of the structure really sets off the colors of its domes, and helps to set it apart from other state capitols.  Inside, there are impressive features such as a grand staircase, a five-story law library, and a rotunda that filters light as far down as the basement.  Truly, this is a distinctive and strikingly beautiful capitol building, and I'd like to see it for myself one day.  The grounds it stands upon are also worth mentioning.  There are a great deal of memorials scattered on the grounds surrounding the state capitol, but in learning about them, I was most interested in a Japanese Bell and Bell House that was given to Iowa by the citizens of Yamanashi. When that city was devastated by typhoons in 1959, the people of Iowa stepped up and sent them livestock and feed corn. Their interactions eventually formed a sister-state relationship, the first between the U.S. and Japan. There are also quite a great few war monuments on the grounds, and even a miniature Liberty Bell and Statue of Liberty. I think a visitor could almost spend as much time touring the grounds as the interior!  My aunt told me that, while she's never toured the capitol, she has visited its grounds around July 4, when a symphony orchestra performs and canons are shot off for families who've gathered to enjoy the celebrations from chairs and blankets on the lawns.  It certainly seems like an incredible way to celebrate our nation's birthday.

So, although some might be tempted to write off Iowa as a really long cornfield (and I'm guilty myself), clearly there are some great sites to be visited in this quiet state.  I certainly hope that someday I'll be able to overlook Winterset from Clark Tower, walk through John Wayne's birthplace, and take in all the opulence of the state capitol building for myself.  And I imagine there's even more great places to be found in the Hawkeye State.

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