Small town Iowa frozen in time

By Karl Terry: Guest columnist

It wasn’t hard to find the house, but when we got there the Duke wasn’t home.

I’m talking about none other than star of the silver screen John Wayne and my recent search for the home where he was born in Winterset, Iowa, which occurred somewhat by accident.

Iowa is not loaded with tourist hot spots to say the least and on a road trip to see my wife’s family we really weren’t planning on seeing too many sights. Mainly we were content just seeing the countryside.

I was driving and my mother was in the front passenger seat and my wife was stretched out in the back sleeping about the time we hit the Iowa state line going out. That’s when a woman in a Cadillac pulled a stupid move by veering sharply into my lane. I applied the brakes firmly to avoid turning the Cadillac trunk emblem into a hood ornament on the vehicle I was driving. My beloved immediately rolled into the floorboard of the rear seat.

Awake, she soon requested a bathroom stop. The next exit was marked Winterset, Iowa, “Birthplace of John Wayne.” I thought this was a cool thing since learning a little more about my movie actor hero thrilled me.

We first found a bathroom, then began following signs to John Wayne’s birthplace, about 13 miles off the interstate. It turned out to be pretty easy to find.

As we drove down a narrow tree-lined street it became obvious the little home with the inviting front porch and the American flags lining the curb was the one. The sign in the front yard confirmed it. It was a classic small-town midwestern structure, a white clapboard with beautiful flowerbeds lining the sidewalk crossing the manicured lawn.

As I approached the front porch I heard someone moving about inside and soon a spry little lady dressed in red appeared on the porch. She said she was closing and began to collect the little flags. I told her I would be more than happy with a picture of myself by the sign.

Before we headed back to the interstate we drove around the little town a bit and I was struck by how perfectly it was frozen in time. The downtown, complete with a wonderful courthouse with spire and clocks on all four sides, was immaculate. The downtown businesses around the town square would have looked perfectly natural with Model-A Fords parked out front.

Winterset, you may remember, is also famous as the setting for the movie “The Bridges of Madison County” starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. That might explain why the downtown looked like a movie set.

We toured past a couple of the old covered bridges that had been restored for the movie and made our way back through the cornfields, silos and barns. Back to a different century.