In general conversation, the phrase "I'm going out to Iowa" is usually met with, "why?" or "what's in Iowa?" Both are reasonable questions and for those who have yet to ford the mighty Mississippi, they are questions without an immediate answer.
So what is there to do or see in Iowa? The short answer is, there's plenty. After all, Iowa is the home state of John Wayne and the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. It is where the disembodied voice offered "if you build it, they will come." The Amana Colonies offer an old world feel with the new world joys of wine tasting. It's home to the World's Largest Truck Stop. The Maharishi, who famously introduced the Beatles to transcendental meditation, founded a university and city among the wide cornfields.
The thing about Iowa is that it's unassuming. One of Iowa's beloved sons, Herbert Hoover, was the same. He had an unassuming, yet common, start to life. The son of Quakers parents, he was born in a small two-room cabin in West Branch, Iowa. After losing both his parents by the age of nine, he eventually left Iowa to live with relatives in Oregon. He studied geology at Stanford University and traveled the world managing mines. These certainly to not sound like the beginnings of an American president, at least none of the more recent presidents.
Today, West Branch is a quiet city not far from the hustle and bustle of Iowa City. As soon as you get off the highway, you are in the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. The best place to start is the Presidential Library and Museum. Here you will learn all you ever wanted about Hoover, and I guarantee you will leave thinking "wow, I had no idea." After all, it would be easy to assume that a blacksmith's son from Iowa would have limited world experience but that is where the story of Hoover surprises you. The Hoovers lived in the Outback of Australia and China, during the Boxer Rebellion, and visited many other nations while in the mining industry. At the onset of World War I, he organized an evacuation of American citizens from Europe and obtained over 2 million tons of food for victims of war in Belgium, Germany and Russia. It was his humanitarian work that eventfully brought him into public office. Woodrow Wilson appointed him at the head of the U.S. Food Administration. Warren G. Harding appointed him Secretary of Commerce. The museum details Hoover's unlikely path to the White House and the uneasy road when he finally arrived. Due in large part to the Great Depression, Hoover left office with a tarnished reputation.
As informational as the museum and library are there is something special about being able to walk through the buildings that Hoover and his family occupied all those years ago. Standing in the main room of the cabin, you can peer into the other room where the family slept. You can walk through the Quaker meeting house where Hoover's mother spent so much of her time at worship and a blacksmith shop similar to the one where Hoover's father toiled away. Prairie grass grows along the crest of the hill where Herbert and his wife, Lou, are buried. An eagle, which sits atop the flagpole, points back to the cabin where Hoover's journey began.
Thank you to all my Iowa tour guides who are always more than happy to find new and interesting places to take me.
For more information: http://www.nps.gov/heho/index.htm, http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/herberthoover, http://hoover.archives.gov/ and as always, questions and comments are welcome at email@example.com