The Iowa Historian, April-May 2013


State Historical Building, Des Moines
April 29: National History Day in Iowa Senior and Youth Divisions.
May 6: National History Day in Iowa Junior Division
May 15: Historical Resource Development Grant application deadline. See related story.


Centennial Building, Iowa City
April 24: “Iowa’s ‘Grecian Urns’: The Posing of Women Behind The Music Man,” 12-1 p.m., free. A History for Lunch discussion about Delsarte performance between the late 1880s and 1920 in Iowa, and its impression upon Meredith Willson’s story, “The Music Man.”
May 16: “History for Lunch: Iowa’s Opera Houses & Movie Theaters,” 12-1 p.m., free.


“Profiles of Valor: Iowa’s Medal of Honor Recipients of the Civil War,” available for purchase in the Reading Room of the State Historical Library, 600 E. Locust; and the Centennial Building, 402 Iowa Ave., Iowa City. $29.95/softcover; $49.95/hardbound. Written by Iowa Senator Dennis Black, “Profiles of Valor” is a must have for any Civil War enthusiast collection. With 480 pages illustrated with more than photographs of Iowa’s recipients, medals and other Civil War related scenes, “Profiles of Valor” includes detailed biographical information of the recipients as well as a history of events before, during and after the Civil War in Iowa. Call (515) 281-6200 (Des Moines) or (319) 335-3916 (Iowa City) to order or for more information. Shipping is available for an additional fee.
Museum’s Young Writers’ Workshop Applications Due April 30
Students in grades 9-12 and teachers are invited to explore the craft of writing historical fiction and non-fiction during a special writers’ workshop with acclaimed author Candace Fleming this summer.

“Beyond the Pages: Young Writers’ Workshop” will be offered 9 a.m.-4 p.m. July 22-26, 2013, at the State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines. Applications are available at and must be postmarked by April 30, 2013. Contact Millie Frese at or (515) 281-6860 for more information.

Two full tuition scholarships and 10 partial scholarships will be awarded to students based upon writing samples, statement of purpose and teacher recommendations submitted with application materials. Teachers may use the workshop for licensure renewal and/or Drake University graduate credit. Workshop fees are $275 for students and $125 for teachers.

Led by Fleming, the workshop explores the craft of while mining State Historical Museum collections and historic sites for ideas.

Fleming is the versatile and acclaimed author of more than 20 books for children, including the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award-winning biography, The Lincolns; the bestselling picture book, Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!; and Boxes for Katje. Amelia Lost received starred reviews and Best Book of the Year accolades from School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Horn Book Magazine.

The Delsarte Movement and Its Influence on Meredith Willson
The State Historical Society of Iowa’s History for Lunch lecture series continues next week in Iowa City with a discussion about the Delsarte Movement (1880-1920) and the “Grecian Urns” it inspired for Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.

University of Iowa Professor Marian Wilson Kimber will discuss “Grecian Urns: The Posing Women Behind The Music Man” at noon on Wednesday, April 24, 2013, at the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Centennial Building, 402 Iowa Avenue in Iowa City. The presentation is free and open to the public. Seating is limited. Call 319-335-3911 for more information.

Between the late 1880s and 1920, Delsarte performances took place in more than 50 Iowa communities, characterized by women pursuing artistry, beauty and fitness by posing as Grecian statuary and pantomiming popular songs. The performances inspired Meredith Willson to have Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn and ladies of River City pose as “Grecian Urns” in the popular Broadway musical The Music Man.

As part of her presentation, Kimber will describe Iowa’s Delsarte performances and show rare photos from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Kimber is an Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Iowa. She has a book in progress, Feminine Entertainments: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word, about the ways American women performers and composers combined speech and music in the late 19th century through the mid-20th century. She has also published widely on the lives and music of composers Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Watch “History for Lunch” Online
If you don’t live in Iowa City or are unable to attend one of the fabulous “History for Lunch” programs at the Centennial Building, you can view them online anytime from the comfort of your own home.

Each program is recorded by City Channel 4 in Iowa City and is re-run on television as well as posted online. Visit and click on “program schedules” at the top. Then click on “city channel 4” at top left. Finally, under “Search by Category,” click on “Music, arts & culture.” You’ll see among the listings “History for Lunch” topics, which you can click on to get the entire schedule of when they will be shown as well as a link to watch it online.
White’s Words Guide Learning at Historical Museum

We use them every day.
There are millions of them.
They are extremely valuable—but completely free.

Actress Pippa White engaged young audiences at the State Historical Museum this week in “The Extraordinary Ordinary,” a look at the history, mystery and power of (did you guess the answer to the riddle?) words. Her performances, as part of Museum Education programming April 16, 18 and 19, guided students through the science, geography, and evolution of language using a mix of storytelling and audience participation.

Based in Nebraska, White describes her One’s Company Productions as “part theatre, part storytelling, part history.” More than 600 first- through fourth-graders from cities including Carroll, Lamoni, Boone, Ankeny, Norwalk, and Milo were intrigued by the theatrical journey through the landscape of language that spanned the story of Boudica’s ca. AD 60 stand against the Roman Empire through Shakespeare’s infusion of words into English vocabulary during the Renaissance

“I liked how her stories created mystery,” said a student from Kuemper Catholic School in Carroll. “I never knew what was coming next!” Workshops featuring storytelling, story quilts, theater games, “reading” photographs, and the stories of Museum objects completed the experience for visitors.

Annals Marks 150th Anniversary
By Marvin Bergman, Annals editor

The Annals of Iowa, the State Historical Society of Iowa’s quarterly history journal, was established in 1863, just 150 years ago. Sometimes current readers of the journal are skeptical that articles focusing on, say, the 1970s or 1980s are really “history.” But think of this: When the Annals of Iowa was founded, the state was just 17 years old! Even Iowa’s earliest white settlement, which was a common subject in the Annals in its formative years, went back only another dozen or so years. And yet, as the first editor wrote in introducing the first issue, “Will any one say that [Iowa’s] authentic Annals are too soon begun?”

The Annals of Iowa was established in Iowa City by the State Historical Society of Iowa, which published it from 1863 through 1874 and again from 1882 through 1884. During those years its contents were primarily biographical sketches of prominent political and religious figures along with articles on general territorial and state history; the culture, leaders, and relics of the Indians of Iowa; the military history of the Civil War; the origin and meaning of place names in Iowa; and, especially, histories of individual counties, usually in serial form (the “History of Pottawattamie County,” by D. C. Bloomer, now better known as the husband of Amelia Bloomer, extended over 14 issues, while the history of Polk County had only one installment).

In 1893, after a hiatus of almost 10 years, the Annals of Iowa was revived in Des Moines by the Historical Department of Iowa under the editorship of the department’s curator and secretary, Charles Aldrich, who was to edit the journal for the next 15 years. Edgar Harlan took over the duties in 1908 and served until 1937, the longest tenure of any editor of the journal. The current editor, Marvin Bergman, is approaching Harlan’s length of service, having edited the journal since 1988.

For more than half of the 20th century (1903–1959), the Annals faced competition from the Iowa Journal of History and Politics, also published by the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City. And since 1920 its scholarly interpretations of Iowa history have been complemented by the State Historical Society’s popular history magazine, the Palimpsest (renamed Iowa Heritage Illustrated in 1996). But for all of the 20th century, much of the last half of the 19th century, and now into the 21st century, the Annals of Iowa has played a valuable role in preserving, interpreting, and disseminating the history of Iowa.

To receive the Annals of Iowa regularly as a benefit of membership, upgrade your membership to the Heritage Circle level. For the centennial of the Annals of Iowa, the State Historical Society of Iowa reprinted the four issues of the first volume, along with a 12-page introduction describing its origins and early years. Copies are still available for sale for $5; contact the publications office at (319) 335-3931.

Iowa’s State Parks are Rich with History
The onset of warmer weather inspires thoughts of summer and what’s a better activity in the summer than going to the park? It’s free, it’s outside and chances are, there’s one within 10 miles of where you live.

If you decide to visit an Iowa State Park, be sure to take note of the abundant history available at each one. From the time of the glaciers to the Depression of the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps provided jobs for park improvements, to modern amenities like air-conditioned facilities and wireless Internet, these state parks have much to offer today’s explorers. Here are a few to consider:

Backbone State Park was dedicated in 1920 as Iowa’s first state park and remains one of its most unique. Located near Strawberry Point, Backbone is named for the steep and narrow ridge of bedrock cut by a loop of the Maquoketa River and forming the highest point in northeast Iowa, the “Devil’s Backbone.” If you go, be sure to note the unique masonry work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and take a minute to visit the CCC Museum located there.

You can find the only highway tunnel in Iowa by visiting Pammel Park in Madison County. The tunnel was dug in 1858 by William Harmon and his sons as a small chute to carry water diverted from the Middle River to power a saw mill. It eventually became a grist mill, but was abandoned in 1904. In 1925, the tunnel was expanded in size to allow vehicle traffic. The tunnel has since been expanded and reinforced to accommodate modern vehicles. It was dedicated a state park in 1928.

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in southeast Iowa was dedicated in 1920, the second addition to the Iowa State Park system. Edgar Harlan, a Keosauqua resident who served as the second director and curator of the Historical Department of Iowa, initiated its development. This park has a particularly rich repository of plants and animals as well as rocks and features deposited by the sea of ice that once covered it. The west end of the park includes Native American burial mounds. It was also traversed by the Mormons during their trek to Utah in the mid-1800s. In the 1930s, like many state parks nationwide, it provided jobs during the Depression as part of the CCC. The park is named for John Fletcher Lacey (1841-1913), born in Oskaloosa, who was the first American congressman to become an avowed champion of wildlife.

There are many more examples of historically rich features in Iowa’s state park system. Most offer camping and a variety of recreational opportunities. Visit for information on all that Iowa state parks have to offer.

Inventor’s Machines Give Soup to Nuts
Until F.A. Wittern cam along, people who bought cigarettes from vending machines in the 1940s used to find their change stuffed under the cellophane of the cigarette packet. It was Wittern who first found a way to make a vending machine give back correct change. He built the first one, by hand, in 1946.

Born Oct. 19, 1899, Francis Arthur Wittern grew up on his family farm in Cushing, Iowa. Pursuing an engineering education he quickly developed a penchant for designing mechanical devices. At the age of 16 he developed his first practical patent for an underwater magnet mine. In the 1920’s he worked as a private contract engineer for a number of companies designing everything from very popular gaming devices to household items, to agricultural safety devices before becoming interested in the coin machine industry. 

Wittern’s ventures into vending began in 1931, when the business was still in its infancy. Legend has it he invested his last $12.50 in used tools and founded his vending machine firm in a garage behind his home in east Des Moines.

In 1947, he changed his business name from “Hawkeye Novelty” to “Fawn Manufacturing,” reflecting his own initials plus the letter “n” from the last letter of Wittern. Manufactured products also changed and the production of cigarette dispensers marked the starting point for real growth in the years to follow. From cigarette vending machines, Fawn’s products expanded to popcorn vending machines, snack machines, hot and cold beverage vending machines, cold and frozen food, and others. To his credit he was granted more than 80 patents during the course of his life. 

Fawn Manufacturing’s parent company, The Wittern Group, is based in Clive and Wittern’s granddaughter, Heidi Chico, is the current president.

*Some information in this article was derived from a Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, January 14, 1981 article by Judy Daubenmier.

Tour Davenport’s Historic Church May 19
Doors of the churches of some of Davenport’s most historic congregations will be open to visitors, Sunday, May 19, 2013 during the Hilltop Campus Village Altar Crawl in Davenport.

Six churches in and around the boundaries of The Village will welcome visitors from 1-5 p.m. for the free, first-time event. Participating churches include: Bethel A.M.E., First Baptist, First Christian, First Presbyterian, St. John’s United Methodist, and Trinity Episcopal.

May is Preservation Month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. All of these churches are home to some of Davenport’s earliest communities of faith, tracing their roots to the city’s beginnings. Their first meetings were in homes and buildings located in early Davenport. As the city grew, the congregations moved to the hills above downtown. Most of the structures, built between 1867 and 1964, were designed by master architects from Davenport, Chicago and New York. Five of the six are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The May 19 event will allow the churches to showcase the architecture of their buildings, history of the churches and their congregations, as well as current community programs and services. Visitors may begin their tour at any participating church where guides will be on hand to welcome guests and direct them to points of interest.
A tour brochure with map and more information will be available at all locations or can be downloaded at the Hilltop Campus Village Web site beginning May 1.

Civil War Memorial Service May 25 in Johnson County
The public is invited to help dedicate a memorial to Civil War Corporal Jacob H. Detwiler and Private Christian Detwiler, Jr., Memorial Day Weekend, on the 150th anniversary of their service and ultimate sacrifice.  

The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. at the Thompson (Cherry) Cemetery located on Utah Avenue just south of Highway 6 near Iowa City. For more information, contact Jeff McDowell, (319) 351-6678 or

Corporal Jacob H. Detwiler served in company K, 22nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry while his brother, Private Christian Detwiler, served in company B. Both were wounded in action during an ill advised suicidal frontal assault of heavily fortified Ft. Beauregard, Vicksburg, Miss., on May 22, 1863. Christian died two days later; Jacob died May 28, after having his leg amputated. Jacob was 24 and lived in Iowa City. Christian was 20 at the time of his death.

According to a report from the 22nd Iowa adjutant concerning the attack, “…The enemy was on the alert and, as our colors rose above the crest of the hill, a thousand bayonets glistened in the sunlight above the parapet at Fort Beauregard.

“The strong work against which the main attack was directed covered about half an acre of ground, the walls being about fifteen feet high, surrounded by a ditch ten feet wide. A line of rifle pits connected it with others of the same kind, each of which was so arranged as to enfilade the approach to the other. A few officers and about fifty men, succeeded in reaching the ditch surrounding the fort, but, having no scaling ladders, they were unable to enter the works. Sergeant Joseph E. Griffith of the 22nd, with some fifteen or twenty men, succeeded—by raising one another up the wall—in gaining an entrance and capturing a number of prisoners, but the fire from the enemy’s rifle pits in rear of the fort, and the lack of reinforcements coming to their aid, rendered the place untenable.”

Only two men of the 22nd Iowa who entered the fort survived. This was the last frontal assault of Fort Beauregard ever attempted. Afterwards Vicksburg was defeated using long term siege tactics. Few of the men killed outright or who died shortly afterward of wounds are listed in Vicksburg National Cemetery. The others were likely buried in an unidentified mass grave.