This is a transcript of an August 13, 2015 broadcast of "Talk of Iowa." Host Charity Nebbe talked with the creator of the Iowa Culture mobile app and then (see → ), participants in the upcoming History Camp Iowa.
Charity Nebbe: It's “Talk of Iowa” from Iowa Public radio. Good morning, I am Charity Nebbe. It's a very good time to be a history nerd in the state of Iowa. Coming up in a few minutes, we’ll learn about History Camp, which is coming to Des Moines on November 14th. But first, the new Iowa Culture App puts Iowa history and cultural attractions in the palm of your hand. Jessica Rundlett is the Special Projects and Outreach Coordinator for the Iowa State Historical Museum, she was very involved in developing this app and she is here with me today. Hello, Jess!
Jessica Rundlett: Good morning, Charity.
Charity Nebbe: Thank you for being here. I hear you just got in from the fair, so a busy day.
Jessica Rundlett: Yes, we led a historic walk into our 1K with the healthiest state this morning showing off some of the fantastic historical buildings at the state fairgrounds that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Charity Nebbe: Nice! And a lot of those are probably listed on the Iowa Culture App. Give me kind of an overview, what is this app about?
Jessica Rundlett: So, Iowa culture is a brand-new mobile app that features arts, history, and culture from all across the state. We have just over 3500 points across Iowa and were adding more to that every day, showcasing everything we’ve got here.
Charity Nebbe: Alright, and when I open up the Iowa Culture App on my phone, I can see all of these different categories, cemeteries, historic ballrooms, historic barns and farms, historic bridges, historic districts. There are lots and lots of categories. How did you decide what categories you were going to include on the app?
Jessica Rundlett: We started really broadly and ended up narrowing it down to about about 20 categories, really, that fit within the mission of the Department of Cultural Affairs.
Charity Nebbe: And and I was just listening, the history categories that there are three overarching categories, the arts, history and science and nature. And under history there all of those different categories but there are also categories that subcategories under those other those other overarching categories as well. I'm tripping all over myself right now. So these are things all over the state of Iowa. When you came up with all of these different categories, then how did you go about finding the points of interest that you wanted to include?
Jessica Rundlett: Well, we started with the list that Travel Iowa has in their Iowa tour guide, and we also worked with the State Historic Preservation Office, which is part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and we listed almost 2000 sites from the National Register of Historic Places. And it's also been a lot of boots on the ground work— people out in the state, finding new places to add.
We've spent a lot of time traveling the state to take photos of the locations that are included in the app and vetting the places making sure that they really are points of pride. And, far and away, most of what we found has been great. And what we found is when we're out and about there's more things in every Iowa town and community we found so many veterans memorials and one of the really great things we found that were adding are the Freedom Rocks painted by Bubba Sorensen from out in Adair County.
Charity Nebbe: So, when you add something to the app, do you have to confirm it before you include it? I mean, I know that there are, of course at the Iowa State Historical Museum, there are lots of things that will tell you about places around the state. Are you double-checking everything before it gets included in the map?
Jessica Rundlett: Yes, we’re double-checking, triple-checking and verifying so that we can feel really good about where Iowans and non-Iowans are going to visit when they use this app.
Charity Nebbe: Now, I mentioned earlier in the show that you can use this as a guide if you're going on a road trip. You say you’re going you know somewhere in Iowa and you want to pick some points of interest to hit along the way, but you can also just click on the app wherever you are and allow it to use your location and just see what's around you see, you may even discover some new things about your hometown or a place that you're really familiar with. How do you envision people using the app?
Jessica Rundlett: Well, I certainly hope that Iowans and Iowa natives will use the app to rediscover their local communities and we’re also hoping that people will use it to find more about where they're from, learn more about Iowa and really have those “aha” moments that “Yeah, we have a lot here, we have a lot to be proud of,” and that by using this app people will begin to care more about our historic sites. We already have a really active preservation community in Iowa, but hopefully with adding this layer of technology will add a new generation of preservationists.
Charity Nebbe: Are there any people—some of that the things that show up on the app, especially when you're looking at historic farms or barns and these are things that are in private hands—are there any people who’ve asked that they not have their site included on the app?
Jessica Rundlett: We have not run into that yet but if someone contacted us we certainly would remove the site at the owner's request, we do have a disclaimer within the app saying, “This is private property, please respect the owners”.
Charity Nebbe: In your research in putting this app together, what have been some of the surprises for you? I know you know a lot about Iowa history already.
Jessica Rundlett: I think that has been the biggest surprise: How much I didn't know about Iowa and how much we found. There are just some really phenomenal places we found in the state. And one of my favorites are the Chautauqua Pavilions. We found three remaining Chautauqua Pavilions, one down in Fremont County in Riverton, one in Red Oak in Montgomery County and one in Sac City. And the one in Red Oak and the one in Sac City, we knew about. That Riverton, one of my coworkers just found she was down in Southwest Iowa. And I just love these buildings because they're such a physical remembrance of the Chautauqua movement from when it was a major cultural influence here in the Midwest.
Charity Nebbe: And so they still remain or they’re just considered park structures now or what are they in present-day?
Jessica Rundlett: Most of them are just considered park structures right now. I don't know any that have an additional use, but I would love to find one.
Charity Nebbe: Now, I know that sort of the official launch for this app is coming up next week on Monday, but you've done a soft rollout during the summer and you introduced a lot of people to the app on Ragbrai, which seems there are couple... there's a great use for it because of course you are in parts of the state that you wouldn't necessarily be in. Of course I can imagine that cell phone coverage isn’t always great when you're on Ragbrai, but were you using the app yourself when you were on Ragbrai?
Jessica Rundlett: I went on a bit of a history nerd scavenger hunt on Ragbrai, we had a featured tour on the app of arts, history and culture locations close to the Ragbrai route that you could see without... without expending any extra pedaling on your bicycle. And I set out to take selfies at all of those places. And I used the app to help pinpoint their locations.
Charity Nebbe: So how many places did you visit? Do you know?
Jessica Rundlett: I think I visited between 30 and 40.
Charity Nebbe: Alright, so there were a lot of places along the way that you could see, and I know that the places really range from, “Oh look, there's a barn” or, “Hey, something interesting happened here” to, “Oh, here's a museum where you can actually go in and learn about history.” How do you encourage people to use the app to figure out how in-depth they can go?
Jessica Rundlett: Well we’d encourage people to use the app to learn more about places, to pique their curiosity, to actually go visit, and I like to think of it as people can use the app as armchair tourists and get excited to be out and about in Iowa.
Charity Nebbe: Now, there are a couple of hidden gems that you're particularly proud of that are on the app. One is a lodge in Okoboji at Gull Point. Can you tell me about that?
Jessica Rundlett: Yes, I love the lodge at Gull Point State Park. It's our largest state park lodge in the state and it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp., which was part of Pres. Roosevelt's public relief programs in the 1930s. Here in Iowa we had almost 100 CCC camps full of unmarried men, unmarried, unemployed men working to advance the cause of conservation. They built lodges, they built trails, and it said that they advanced the cause of conservation in our state, a hundred years just in the 10 years the CCC was in existence. And the lodge at Gull Point is the biggest lodge they’ve built; it's right on the shores of West Lake Okoboji. The DNR has recently rehabilitated it and it is... it is just a fantastic venue.
Charity Nebbe: And I can imagine it's a place that a lot of people go without knowing anything about its history.
Jessica Rundlett: Yeah, I think a lot of people bypass our state parks lodges, but all over the state they are really phenomenal—phenomenally constructed buildings that blend in with their natural landscape, and just our real gems.
Charity Nebbe: Now, you have another one that you want to talk about, the Visitor Center in Creston.
Jessica Rundlett: Yes, the Frank Phillips Visitor Center in Creston. It's an old gas station and now it's a Visitor Center, but it's one of the first Phillips 66 gas stations in Iowa, and I love the story behind it. Frank Phillips started life as a Southwest Iowa farm kid, he was an entrepreneur, bought all three barbershops in Creston and married the bank president's daughter.
Charity Nebbe: Wow, I think that was a good plan from him because he, his brother, and his father-in-law started the anchor oil and gas company in Oklahoma and struck oil.
Jessica Rundlett: They consolidated all their holdings into Phillips Petroleum Company and he was a billionaire. He lived out the rest of his life away from Southwest Iowa but maintained connections to the community. And in 1996, that Phillip 66 gas station on Highway 34 in Creston was restored, complete with period gasoline pumps and its Phillips original colors of orange and green. And that's when I just loved that story because it's the story behind the place and that's really what we’re trying to get to with the app.
Charity Nebbe: Now, when I was playing around with the app and looking just around my neighborhood, I was using the cemeteries filter because I live out in the country and there are lots of small rural cemeteries that actually aren't on the app yet. So, if you know something in your neighborhood or in your part of the state that's not on the app, what do you do? How do you get in touch?
Jessica Rundlett: You can submit a place or submit photos of a place that is already on the app through the Iowa culture app, or you can navigate to www.iowacultureapp.com and submit places that way.
Charity Nebbe: Alright. And how much more work do you feel there is to be done on this app? There's already so much work that's gone into, but clearly it’s still growing.
Jessica Rundlett: Yeah, it's growing. We’re really excited to have Iowa culture as a dynamic way to share Iowa and just always keep adding and changing, it’s with all the arts, history and culture we've got in this state. I think I can confidently say that we will never be able to say that “The Iowa Culture App is totally done and complete.”
Charity Nebbe: Alright, and we are going to be talking about History Camp coming to Iowa in November, in just a moment. And you are going to be presenting on the Iowa Culture app at History Camp, right Jess?
Jessica Rundlett: Yes, we’ll have a presentation about the Iowa culture app and probably play a little bit of Iowa culture app trivia. So start studying.
Charity Nebbe: Download now and start studying. Alright, Jess Rundlett, thank you so much for being here today.
Jessica Rundlett: Thank you.
Charity Nebbe: Jess Rundlett is the special projects and outreach coordinator for the Iowa State Historical Museum. She was very involved in developing the new Iowa Culture App, and of course you can look for that on whatever mobile device you have and learn more about the state of Iowa. Coming up in just a moment we’re going to get a preview of History Camp, which is coming to Iowa in November.
This is Talk of Iowa from Iowa Public Radio.
→ Charity Nebbe: It's Talk of Iowa from Iowa Public Radio, I'm Charity Nebbe.
It's been called a “Comic con for history nerds.” We’re talking about History Camp, which is a fairly new idea and it's coming to the Iowa State history Museum in Des Moines on November 14th. People can already register, you can find out more about it on our Facebook page, we put up a link.
It’s a one-day event and it's a great opportunity for history lovers of all ages to gather and learn about Iowa history. People can also submit to present at Iowa History Camp. And with me right now is Leo Landis. He’s the state curator of the Iowa State Historical Museum and a big reason that History Camp is coming to Iowa. Hi, Leo!
Leo Landis: Hello, Charity.
Charity Nebbe: Thank you so much for being here today.
Leo Landis: My pleasure.
Charity Nebbe: Now, History Camp is a pretty new idea, the first one was held just in 2014 in Cambridge, then there was one in Boston, so this is something that—that originated on the East Coast. It's not very old. How did you find out about this?
Leo Landis: Lee Wright, who's an alumnus of Drake University and a Des Moines native, had launched—Lee has aother career, but he loves and is passionate about history. So he has a TheHistoryList.org website and he wanted a way to share and promote history seeing how other—other fields of study were being emphasized both in a public sphere but also in a elementary, and middle school, and high school sphere.
He wanted to make history raise its importance and so decided to host History Camp in Cambridge, as you said in 2014, and also do one in 2015. But as a Drake alumnus, Danny Akright, who is really one of the... is the founder, along with Lee, of History Camp Iowa, and Hope Grebner from Drake, started talking and they brought me in as well, and wanted to get the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs in. But it is a separate entity started by Lee, and then grabbed on to by Danny and Hope, and also Megan Bendixen and Dan Rasmussen.
Charity Nebbe: Now, you of course are a historian and I'm sure that there are many historical gatherings and conferences, places where historians get to share information with each other all the time. But that's not really the idea behind History Camp—this is a good place to celebrate and learn about history, but it's not just for people with degrees like yours, right?
Leo Landis: It's an on conference, it is part of the unconference movement, as you said, is for history nerds. So, we would love to have high school students submit proposals, or undergraduates, or grad students, or people like David Condon, who works at Living History Farms, who is one of the presenters. I know you’re going to talk to a couple of other folks today, but anybody who cares about Iowa history or US history or any topic can submit a proposal. So, it is... it's designed for anybody who loves history.
Charity Nebbe: And really, a wide variety of ages as well. You think kids can get something out of this, too?
Leo Landis: You know, I would think your daughter, if she wanted to learn about some history topics and have a good time because it's people who are passionate about history and I think you'll see that in all of our voices as you talk to people today and meet the folks involved with History Camp. That we know how to talk to different audiences and it really can be fun for anyone.
Charity Nebbe: Well, she's already sold. She says she wants to go, so we don't have to convince her. But, tell me what you envisioned that day to be like? I know that you're not the only one involved in planning this, but if I sign up for History Camp and I come to Des Moines on November 14th, what's the day going to be like?
Leo Landis: Right, well we’ll have registration of course beforehand, as you mentioned, and you can do that through historycamp.org, and there's the Iowa 2015 tab on the left side. So you want to register and take care of that and then when you come to Des Moines on the morning on the 14th, we’ll have registration in the historical building. And then as an unconference you get to pick and choose. We aren’t planning right now on having a keynote. There will be a welcome and might ask folks just to say your first name and where you're from and why you’re there and so that way everybody at least gets a chance to participate in one big group and then the sessions will start, and there will be concurrent sessions. We’re hoping for somewhere between 30 and 40 sessions total and that way there'll be a broad variety. So if you see a session that interests you, you can start there, and it's like, “Oh that wasn't going the direction I thought”, you can pick and choose and nobody will take offense and you might pick another session.
Charity Nebbe: Well, when I was looking at the slides from History Camp Boston, and I noticed there were a few people in period dress from various periods because this doesn't really focus on one period in history, it's whatever part of history you want to really focus on. So there is a little cosplay, if we’re going to go ahead with the comparison to Comic-Con, right?
Leo Landis: I thought of that term too, Charity. So, if there's someone who, you know, likes to reenact the period of history and wants to submit a proposal that is, you know, 14th-century Africa, we would love to have you. Or any topic that relates to history that you're passionate about, and you want to speak about. You can do it in under 30 minutes. We would love to have you submit a proposal.
Charity Nebbe: Alright. And how do you decide who to accept? I mean somebody submits a proposal, how do you vet that person?
Leo Landis: As an unconference, we’re trying not to be too heavy-handed. So, if you're passionate and you demonstrate a real interest in the level of expertise, we’ll put you on the program.
Charity Nebbe: And have you decided what you're wearing?
Leo Landis: I’ve got some good 19th-century stuff, and I don’t have my own baseball uniform because I do some historic baseball work but I've got some... some 1850s farm clothes, that if I just dress up I could do that.
Charity Nebbe: Alright. Well, Leo stay with us. I’m talking to Leo Landis who, of course, is a frequent guest on the program. He's the state curator of the Iowa historical Museum and we’re talking about History Camp, which is coming to the Iowa State Historical Museum on November 14th. You can find out more about that, follow the link on our Facebook page. You can also go to historycamp.org and there you can find out about History Camp coming up in Iowa but also about the History Camps that have taken place already. And this is only going be the third History Camp itself. And Leo, why, I mean I understand that the originators have some Iowa connections, but Boston does seem like one of those historical nexuses, why Iowa?
Leo Landis: That's part of the whole initiative that Jessica was talking about with the cultural app. We recognize—now speaking, as an Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs person— that we’re about the history of the whole state in promoting history. And that's where the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Historical Society felt like this was a great fit for us and even if it's not an Iowa history topic we know we’re going to get those, but to promote people's interest in doing great and engaging history is what History Camp is about and what Lee, and Danny, and Hope and all of us are about and it fit right in with what the Department of Cultural Affairs is trying to do with our emphasis on 99 counties and an appreciation for Iowa arts, history, and culture.
Charity Nebbe: Alright, and I am going to talk to a couple of people who are going to be presenting at History Camp. But can you give me an idea, so far, what kind of topics you're hearing about?
Leo Landis: Sure. We hope and we’ve got some tentative commitments that aren’t listed on the History Camp page yet, but I’ll just talk about the breath to cross the site. Some folks from Southwest Iowa down in Adams County talking about the Icarian Utopian movement down in Corning, and that will be on the program. Hoping to talk about the Mormon handcart and the trails across the Southern part of the state from some public historians.
But also then, Jerome Thompson, our state curator who has recently retired is going share great story about Edgar Harlan, who was a historian and a curator in the early 20th century who really built the connection with the Meskwaki Tribe that's the part of our states’ culture that is really great. And then we’ve got people like David Conon who have talked about Iowans who served in the Confederacy, Megan Stout Sibbel, who is with Salisbury House talking about that great site. So, it'll be a broad range of programs.
Charity Nebbe: Well, I want to bring up Pamela Riney-Kehrberg into the conversation now. She's a history professor at Iowa State University. Hello, Pamela!
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Hello, Charity.
Charity Nebbe: Thank you so much for being here today.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Well, you are very welcome.
Charity Nebbe: And you are going to be delivering a presentation at History Camp on the childhood, Midwestern Farm Childhood, particularly during the 1870s through the 1920s. When did you first hear about History Camp?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Well, Leo got a hold of me six weeks ago or so, and said, “Pam, would you like to do this?” And I thought, Okay I will go ahead and do this.
Charity Nebbe: Just tell me about your first impressions. I don't know, as a history nerd myself, when I first heard about it I got pretty excited, so I'd love to hear your response.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for people who are passionate about history to talk about the things that interest them and to try and build the excitement around, particularly Iowa history.
Charity Nebbe: And Leo, I know with the early.. the first two History Camps, there actually weren't professors or historians—official historians—who were presenting. And you went to Pam to ask her to present. Is that a different approach from the other History Camps?
Leo Landis: I think Lee would've put those folks on the program in Boston, or Cambridge and Boston. One of the things I’d like to pride myself on as public historian, is that I recognized that academic historians, like Pam who is really a public historian too, but can reach out to broader audiences in the stories that they tell. Sometimes people get intimidated by people like Dr. Riney-Kehrberg when we hear her called that, and that she's a real friendly person and has some engaging things to tell you about our past as Americans. And so I really wanted to get some of those academic historians involved.
Charity Nebbe: Well, Pamela, I can imagine that in your line of work you're talking to a lot of academics a lot of time and of course your students, and this seems like kind of an exciting opportunity to really bring your research to the public.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: I've been interested in bringing what I do to the public all along. I appear on the radio, I've been on TV, you know. I just love the idea of getting everybody interested. One of the best experiences I've had as a historian was going to my son's grade school and talking about this very topic with first graders.
Charity Nebbe: And was this a no-brainer for you. Was this exactly the topic that you wanted to talk about?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Yes, I am really excited about the history of childhood, and it's something that people often don't think of as having a history. And having the opportunity to talk with people about children, in fact, having a history. Often, it's a new thing for them and makes them think completely differently about what is history.
Charity Nebbe: And we do have this approach to childhood in this day and age, where we work very hard to protect childhood, and we have a lot of expectations for what kids need to be doing during childhood. And that was not the case during the time period that you're talking about.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Right, absolutely not. What I love about childhood in the late 19th to early 20th centuries is that it so much defies all of what we believe childhood should be. We, for our children, to put school first and play a very close second and we often don't think of work as being part of a child's life. And that is exactly opposite of what happened in the period in the late 19th and early 20th century, when work was the most important thing and school and play came far distant in terms the priorities that families have for their children.
Charity Nebbe: So school was an afterthought and play even further down the list, I can imagine.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Yes, yes.
Charity Nebbe: So you have gone through and found a lot of people who’ve shared their memories. Do you have some of those memories with us, with you today, that you could share with us?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Yes I do. I've got some information gathered from memoirs of Iowans, some diary information, and also a letter that a young girl once wrote about her experiences playing.
Charity Nebbe: Can you just briefly share maybe a little bit from that letter for us?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Okay, this is from a girl whose name was Olive Everts and at age 10 she lived in Discord, Iowa, and she wrote, “We are having vacation now in our school. My little sister and I enjoy ourselves very much. Sometimes we go to the grove and hear the little birds sing and watch the little fish swim in the creek and the squirrels as they play around. And sometimes we go down to the hayfield and watch the men put up hay, which we think is nice fun. And then again mom makes a stay in the house and whipe dishes, and do chores, which we think is not quite so funny. Every night I take a ride if I’d like it. It seems that we enjoy ourselves more than the little children that live in town”.
Charity Nebbe: When you have a first-hand account like that and you share it with children from today, what kind of reactions do you get?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: They’re often very surprised at how much time youngsters spent outdoors and how independent they were, because I always explain to people that play was an independent activity often completely unsupervised by parents. And that astonishes people when I talk about the degree of independence that kids had, not just in their play, but also in their work. They were expected to know what needed to be done and to do it.
Charity Nebbe: Well, I can imagine that a lot of kids, well the play was not only not supervised, but they probably try to stay out of sight of their parents so they didn't get assigned more work.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: That's right. If they could see you and they could hear you, then more of than likely they would have worked for you to do cause there was always more to be done.
Charity Nebbe: So, as you’re gathering things together, I know you've done so much work on this and shared it with many different audiences over the years. What are you thinking about? You only have half an hour at History Camp. How are you putting that presentation together?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Well, I’ll be talking about work, and school, and play, and really forgrounding what children themselves had to say about those experiences. Because they wrote wonderful things and they.. people remembered wonderful things about their experiences when they were young. And so I’m going to let the people tell their own stories.
Charity Nebbe: And have you been talking to people already about the fact that you're going to be at History Camp? Are you getting reactions from other people?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Well I've been mentioning it, particularly telling our students that this is going to be happening and they sort of shake their heads and gave me a funny look like “What is History Camp?” so I think we need to get the word out that this is going to be happening, and that it's open for everybody.
Charity Nebbe: And Leo, what kind of responses have you been getting? Obviously you're telling a lot of people about History Camp, that’s part of your business. How are people reacting?
Leo Landis: All of us who have shared the message, at least in central Iowa and across the state, are getting really great reactions. And as I've talked about it with people in the Iowa Museum Association and other callings that I have across the state, I think there's a real excitement and that the two of us, you know, would like to keep growing History Camp and having it happen again in Central Iowa perhaps, but also taking at the other locations across the state at some point.
Charity Nebbe: Well, and you reached out to Pamela, to get her to be a presenter at History Camp. Are you doing a lot of recruiting?
Leo Landis: I am, but all of us on the team are, but I’ve.. the group of us hope is also, you know, professional historian or an archivist with the Harkin Institute at Drake. So she's got good connections, too. But I'm the oldest of the gang, so my.. my connections run a little broader.
Charity Nebbe: If you haven't already gotten a call you probably... you should be expecting one from Leo or from one of the other members of the team in the near future. I know that registration is already open and it is early in this process as your just still recruiting people, and people are getting in touch with you who want to present. What kind of response you getting as far as registration goes?
Leo Landis: It's really been a good start. We’ve really planned to market hard beginning in early September, once the program is finalized and at least the broader beginning program we’re up around 25 speakers or so, and can really tell folks here's, besides Pam and Justin, who you’ll be talking to or some of the other speakers that we've recruited. Here's what it's looking like, here's what you should come, and we think we’ll have a good start.
Charity Nebbe: I'm talking with Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, she is a professor of history at Iowa State University. Leo Landis is also here, he is a curator at the Iowa State Historical Museum. Were talking about History Camp which is coming to Iowa, November 14th at the Iowa State Historical Museum and you can find out more on our Facebook page, we’ve put up a link. You can also join the conversation, 866-780-9100. This is “Talk of Iowa.”
Charity Nebbe: It's “Talk of Iowa” from Iowa Public Radio, I'm Charity Nebbe. This hour, we’re getting a preview of History Camp which is coming to Iowa, November 14th. The one-day event, an opportunity for history lovers of all ages to get together and learn from each other. Some people will be submitting presentations, some people will just go to learn. It's coming to Des Moines on November 14th at the Iowa State Historical Museum. With me this hour is Leo Landis, he’s state curator for the Iowa State Historical Museum. And Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, a history professor at Iowa State University. And I want to bring another presenter into the conversation as well. Justin Alice is not a professional historian. He's a tax specialist with Iowa Workforce Development. He’s also a history buff from Des Moines. Hello, Justin!
Justin Alice: Good morning!
Charity Nebbe: Thank you so much for being here today!
Justin Alice: Thanks for having me.
Charity Nebbe: Tell me how you heard about History Camp.
Justin Alice: Well, I’m a Drake Alumni, I guess a three time Drake Alumni, and when Drake started to kinda help sponsor this I was asked relatively early on if I would be willing to come in and present, and “What would know what you like me to present on?” “Come up with something fun.” So that's hopefully what I've accomplished.
Charity Nebbe: Alright .And give me an idea of what kinds of things that you are interested in.
Justin Alice: Well, my goal for the presentation.. I love local history and I think that's out of necessity how you would talk about Boston, how just exciting would be to step out your door in Boston, or trip over Politburo the North church, most things well. We’ve got some great stuff here locally, just like we’re talking with the Cultural App. A lot of great stuff here locally that a lot of people don't necessarily recognize. So I much come up with 20 things for the presentation other than 20 minutes of Des Moines that are sort of little-known.. there are some great things like the Salisbury House that are fairly well known. I'm more kind of trying to find things that aren't as well-known, that you know, the areas as we step over it and don't think about.
Charity Nebbe: Alright. And you're keeping it a very Des Moines centric.
Justin Alice: Correct.
Charity Nebbe: And 20 things, you have a half an hour to present. So, you're not planning to go super in-depth on any one of these things?
Justin Alice: Absolute. This is just gonna be a very pinpoint, you know, probably a picture if there is worth taking a picture of it, here's the address, and whether it’s worth stopping to see or not. One of my favorite ones, there’s a spot on the Underground Railroad just east of the old Babcock Miller building, which is known right now for being a gravel parking lot where people park when they ride the shuttle to the State Fair. Probably not that exciting to stop and see that, but it's worth noting.
Charity Nebbe: Alight and kind of exciting to know that you're that close to history, right?
Justin Alice: Correct.
Charity Nebbe: So, how are you going about picking these 20 things? What’s your process?
Justin Alice: Well, I’ve actually kinda just accumulated bits and pieces as I’ve read throughout, you know, throughout my existence. Kind of George Mills’s approach. He used to be a Des Moines Register reporter, where he would just kind of, you know, file away neat little things as he found them. And he had the forum of the Des Moines Register to share some of these stories, as well as some books. So, I think this is just an ideal forum to share some of these things and of course in doing so, undoubtedly, we’ll learn some things from other folks that have happened in the Des Moines area that just didn't get published very well.
Charity Nebbe: Were talking about History Camp right now on Iowa Public Radio and you're welcome to join our conversation at 866-780-9100. What are some of the topics that you would hope to learn more about if you went to History Camp? Are you interested in presenting and have questions? Give us a call, 866-780-9100. You can Tweet us @IPRtalk. You can also send email to email@example.com. And.. alright, we talked about that Underground Railroad stop. Can you give me another example of something that's making the list?
Justin Alice: Amilia Earheart makes the list. She moved here with her family right around 1907, actually lived a couple different locations roughly right in between where Leo and I live, we’re neighbors. She grew up in the Drake neighborhood, lived in four different locations, two of which are still in existence and are unrecognized currently, as in they are just residential houses that are in the Drake neighborhood. She saw her first airplane out the Iowa State fair. So that's sort of is worth noting ironically about the same time she saw her first airplane, feature World War 1 fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker was driving a race car at the Iowa State fair. So, Amilia Earheart makes the list.
Charity Nebbe: And I think probably a lot of people are really surprised to learn that she lived in Des Moines.
Justin Alice: Well, she was from Kansas originally, and her father was an attorney working for the Rock Island Railroad. And so they traveled around as result of that, and she was here certainly for some of her formative years. Became very much part of the Drake community, her parents were close friends with Drake professors and they actually had a magazine sharing group where different people would subscribe to different cultural magazines and when they were done they would all switch between families.
Charity Nebbe: And it was also kind of a difficult part of her life.
Justin Alice: Absolutely. They.. the family broke apart, and basically their family broke apart in 1914 and that’s when she moved out of Des Moines.
Charity Nebbe: Now, I just asked you a bunch of questions about this but we spent about three minutes talking about it. Is it gonna be hard to limit yourself on the various topics?
Justin Alice: Well ah.. yeah, we may have to take the auctioneer approach to the.. to the questions we’ll have to give the presentation.
Charity Nebbe: Alright, well give me another example that makes the list.
Justin Alice: Jack London, was here in.. the famous author from The Call of the Wild, was here in 1894. Actually, essentially homeless, traveling across the country in a protest over the economic conditions in 1894. A lot of people don't realize that the economic downturn then was probably more severe than the Great Depression, but just didn’t last as long. And so they were marching to Washington to raise awareness for the plight, and he kinda got stuck in Des Moines for a little while because they lacked funds, they lacked transportation, and so he spent some time and kept a very good diary of his troubles across Iowa.
Charity Nebbe: How fascinating. I haven't heard that one. How about one more?
Justin Alice: The lost and probably for me, Herman Hollis, FBI agent extraordinaire, handpicked by J Edgar Hoover for what was considered to be the most dangerous work of the time which was going after America's public enemies. These included Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. Herman Hollis was part of the team that actually killed John Dillinger. He's sort of peripherally featured in the movie Public Enemies with Johnny Depp. Later on, Herman Hollis was in a gun battle with Baby Face Nelson in which both he, Nelson and another FBI agent were killed. Herman Hollis is buried in Des Moines, he was from Des Moines, he was 31 years old.
Charity Nebbe: I'm talking with Justin Alice, who is an amateur historian in Des Moines. He also has a day job, I guess you moonlight as a historian. Day job with Workforce Development. Pamela, you know so much about Iowa history, as you’re listening to Justin, does that give you ideas for things that you're hoping that other people will focus on? You'll be focusing on Midwestern farm childhood, but do you have some dream topics that you help other people will pick?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Oh boy, there's.. there's so many interesting things. As Justin was talking about Hollis, who was handpicked by J. Edgar Hoover to go after the big gangsters, I was also thinking about the Cow War that happened in Iowa in the early 1930s, where farmers who were resisting doing tuberculosis testing with their cattle, basically went to war with the local authorities and hung Iowa State veterinarians in effigy and that's always an interesting topic. There’s just all sorts of fun stuff.
Charity Nebbe: Well, you know, that story makes me think. And you know, talking to Jess Rundlett at the beginning of the hour about some of the little things on the Iowa Culture App, there all these very small stories about Iowa that are so fascinating, but they are not necessarily pivotal to telling the bigger story about Iowa. And Leo, I am curious, when you're trying to teach people about Iowa history, how do you balance.. you know looking at sort of the overarching picture and how Iowa fit in with the rest of the nation and some of the things that really shaped our state with some of the really fun stories like the Cow War.
Leo Landis: The Cow War is part of, you know, the broader context of Great Depression programming and what's happening with, on a local level it can be manifested, I’m using bigger words that I mean to, it can be seen in the Iowa lens and so even though it's a perhaps not a national story, it's how it played out here on our stage and it does translate to the national level. So whether it's Herman Hollis or Amelia Earhart who are only here for in Amelia’s case a short time, it does still shape their experience and lets you see what a childhood in an urban area might've shaped a young woman's experience to be as she matured. So that they really can shed light on the broader topic, maybe sometimes it’s a stretch, but usually it does fit the broader context.
Charity Nebbe: Here's a question from Bob in Cedar Rapids, he says, “Is there going to be anything about railroad history? I plan on going in November and I can't wait.”
Leo Landis: I don't think we've got anybody who's proposed that topic yet. So if Bob, wants to do a topic, he would be great. And if not, that’s something that we can put on the list and keep it.. is that certainly the team knows folks who know that topic and we can reach out to the railroad historians. There's.. there's some good ones in Iowa. So, if Bob wants to do it he should submit his own proposal or we’ll look to.
Charity Nebbe: Well, there is so many little niche areas like railroad history that people get, you know, it's the thing that they are excited about, that they are passionate about, and they are knowledgeable about--bringing people who have that little pocket of interest to gather at History Camp. I can imagine it will be very interesting to see where people gravitate because of you know some of us kind of get stuck in the little thing that we care about so much in and maybe aren't that interested in things outside of our specialty. Leo, do you have some thoughts on that?
Leo Landis: Just getting back on that railroad topic and there's the big stories like Grenville Dodge and the Union Pacific Railroad, which obviously has national implications. But then you have local stories like Martin Flynn who immigrates to Des Moines, he’s a laborer when he starts and then builds a livestock farm in Urbandale that is today the centerpiece of Living History Farm. So you’ve got a local story like that, who Martin Flynn really does play a national role, but you also then have.. I'm forgetting her name, her first name’s Hope from Iowa State and some of the research she did on professional women in small towns some of those were connected to the railroad industry and I'm trying to be discreet and delicate but I think people understand what I mean when I say professional women.
Charity Nebbe: Right, I think so too. So, one of the goals in bringing History Camp to Iowa, as you mentioned earlier, is that there has been less emphasis on social studies and the teaching of history in our public schools, which is something that I know you feel strongly about, Leo. And all three of you obviously became excited about history as you are growing up. Justin, I know this was something that was a big part of your childhood. Can you give us an idea about how you pursue that passion as a kid?
Justin Alice: My grandmother, actually, was kind of the legacy of a one-room school teacher. She taught in one room schoolhouse near Waukee in the 1930s and was very passionate about history. And when I was a young boy she lived near, and I probably was at her house more than I should have been. I don’t think she had any social life outside of watching her grandson. And she was very very good about taking me to meet people. So, if I was interested in the Normandy invasion she made sure she found somebody in the greater Adel area that, you know, have participated in Normandy. When I became interested in Bonnie and Clyde, she found someone from Dexter who was part of the shoot out that I got to sit down and you know as an eight-year old and have coffee with. So, I was very lucky to have parents and grandparents that were very accommodating in the, you know, that I needed someone who could drive so they drove me around the state to all the places that I wanted to see.
Charity Nebbe: Do you have some thoughts for parents about how to get the kids excited about history?
Justin Alice: Well for me, I moved into the Drake area last year with my kids. And and my oldest daughter had just got done reading a book about Amelia Earheart, so it's trying to make what they do read about in school, have that local connection. When there is a local connection things come alive a little bit more I think for the kids. So it's just, you know, looking around and seeing what do I have near me. You don't have to take the kids on a cross-country vacation to find things that are very exciting and tie into, you know, local history. We have a Vice-President that’s buried a couple miles from my house. That's fairly interesting. You know he grew up a couple miles the other side of my house. So, those type of things I think it's just, you know, we don’t have to stretch very far to find the interest in. And kids are fascinated with most anything if you present it in the right light.
Charity Nebbe: Well, and Pamela, you are talking earlier about presenting to kids at elementary schools. I can imagine particularly with your focus on childhood in Iowa, kids must get so fascinated because they can imagine themselves in the shoes of another child a hundred years ago.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: And I think that is so important, to build that kind of imagination. And what built the imagination in me was two different things, one was that when I was eight years old, for Christmas I got Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, and all of a sudden I was imagining myself in that 19th-century world. But then also I had a family that was full of storytellers, and the best part of Thanksgiving and Christmas was sitting at my grandmother's table and listening to her and her siblings talk about their childhoods, and imagining what it must've been like for them growing up on these little impoverished Kansas Farms, and getting into that world. And I think if kids can apply their imagination to what it must've been like a hundred years ago.. a hundred and 50 years ago, it's a wonderful opportunity to get them excited about history.
Charity Nebbe: Now, I talked earlier about the fact that there is a little bit of cosplay that goes on or costume play that goes on that the other History Camps that have taken place before, and I know all of you are interested in figures from Iowa history. Who would you most like to encounter? Leo, is there a particular figure from Iowa history that of course you don't get to meet the real deal, but who would you be looking for?
Leo Landis: Alexander Clark of Muscatine, no doubt. The individual who fought segregation in 1867 with his daughter Susan, helped raise the African-American corps of soldiers during the Civil War. But he's somebody I would love to meet, or Lewis and Clark.
Charity Nebbe: Alright. So, how about you Justin?
Justin Alice: Well, it's a tough one for me. Hoyt Sherman, I think interests me, probably the most again.. a person very local to where I live. But a man who was actually connected to just about everybody in the beginning of Des Moines's history. Hoyt Sherman and his brother, whose name I forget, that was also a Des Moines resident.
Leo Landis: LP. It’s LP.
Charity Nebbe: Okay, thank you. They both grew up in the area and I would've loved to have met any of the Shermans, or if their famous brother, William Tecumseh, came to visit, I would have probably picked his brain a little bit, too.
Charity Nebbe: You could probably pull off one of those costumes. So maybe start.. start planning now. Pamela, how about you?
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Well, Laura Ingalls Wilder spent one of her least known childhood intervals in Red Oak, Iowa, and it was a much different life than the one that's described in her books. But I was also thinking about, Billy Sunday, who was one of the biggest temperance advocates.. prohibition advocates in the early part of the 20th century, who was quite a colorful individual from Ames Iowa.
Charity Nebbe: Aright, so lots and lots of possibilities. Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, thank you so much for being here today.
Pamela Riney-Kehrberg: Well, thanks for having me.
Charity Nebbe: Pamela Riney-Kehrberg is a history professor at Iowa State University. Justin Alice, thank you.
Justin Alice: Thank you.
Charity Nebbe: Justin Alice is a tax specialist with Iowa Workforce Development and a history buff. Both of them will be presenting at History Camp coming up in November. And, Leo Landis, thank you.
Leo Landis: Thanks so much, Charity.
Charity Nebbe: Leo Landis is the curator of the Iowa State Historical Museum. History Camp is coming to Iowa, November 14th. You can find out more at historycamp.org or follow the link on our Facebook page at Iowa Public Radio. This is “Talk of Iowa” from Iowa Public Radio, I'm Charity Nebbe.