A Trip to Dysart, Iowa – Travel Tips for a North Central Iowa Visit!

Dysart, Iowa – Home of “Dysart Illusions: Art in Public Places”

 

Recently, my family and I made a trip to my childhood home in Dysart, Iowa, a town located about twenty miles south of Waterloo and fifty miles to the west of Cedar Rapids. Dysart is a small town of about 1,200 people but unlike some of its counterparts; it’s an active place with a lot of civic pride. Their Facebook page shows several fun and interesting annual activities which other Iowans won’t want to miss including 4th of July, Old Iron Days and the Backroads Market, to name of few. Next year, they will celebrate 150 years and plans are underway to make this a special celebration.  I am a very fortunate person. My mother who is 94 years old, is still living on her own, in the same house I grew up in there and she was the reason we made the trip. People have a lot of a reasons to want to travel to the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. This article hopefully, will provide those travelers with some of the resources we found for their own trip to the area.

We drove to Iowa from our home in Michigan and speculated that we have made this trip at least 100 times over the years of our marriage. This time, there were five of us in our party; my husband and I, our son and his two boys aged 7 and 2. The trip crosses Illinois and Iowa on I-80 which has several very nice rest areas ideal for travelers wanting to avoid fast food restaurant stops and needing room for kids to move about a bit. Many offers small play areas as well as picnic tables as well as clean restrooms and vending machines.

My brother was also planning to be there; traveling from the West Coast. This meant more pre-planning than before. Seven people in a one-bathroom house is a few too many so first we needed to look at lodging options. The previous Thanksgiving our entire family made the trip and we stayed at a house in Cedar Falls we found on airbnb.com which was a very good experience. If you look on their website or VRBP.com, you will find several nice places available for small and large groups. We initially thought we would use one of the sites again but really wanted something closer to home if we could find it.

For our first night’s stay who chose The Cobblestone Inn & Suites in nearby Vinton. We were pleasantly surprised with our choice. This two-story hotel on Hi-Way 218 was easy to find and conveniently located. The rooms were clean and the staff able to accommodate our request for two rooms next to each other. A quick check-in and deposit of our belongings and were were off to Dysart for an evening visit with my mom and brother. We did not get to spend much time in Vinton but I would have loved to visited The Old Hospital Pub which is located directly across the street from the Inn at the former Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School where my Aunt Helen spent her childhood in the 1930s. If time had allowed, we would have returned to the Pizza Ranch where we have eaten in the past.  I love Vinton’s downtown and courthouse square and certainly would have taken that in had time allowed.

That evening, we made the fifteen mile trip to Dysart for a visit with family and dinner at the Harper’s Public House. These brave folks opened their restaurant about a year ago in the middle of a pandemic and appear to be doing well. We were able to find a table big enough to accommodate our now large group and by the time we left every table in the place was full. The menu had a lot of variety, and we were all able to get something we wanted. I personally had a gigantic tenderloin sandwich which is my go-to when in Iowa along with some very yummy onion rings! I’ve been following Harper House on Facebook since before they opened and see that they have a lot of special meals and special events throughout the year.

After a good night’s rest in Vinton, we awoke to a complementary breakfast at the hotel which is both a money saver and time saver, especially with small children. The Inn is located on the edge of a bean field where someone was nice enough to leave a tractor for my youngest grandson and I to explore which is always a hit for a two-year old. On the way to Dysart that morning we stopped at Rodgers Park, located just outside of Vinton, where the kids could get some exercise for their seemingly boundless energy. After touring the park, we spent some time on the playground before heading to Dysart again. If you were traveling to the area in a camper, this looked like a nice place to stay. The campground was quiet and situated nicely by the small lake.

Our planned activity for the day was swimming and the Dysart Family Aquatic Center did not disappoint. This is not the same pool we had growing up. With its gradual grade entry, it is perfectly designed for small children and older swimmers who like to make a slow entry into the water. Our two-year-old loved going down the frog slide and the seven-year-old found plenty to do including the big slide, the driving board and a dad who was invested in playing with his boys. The pool had swim toys available which is a bonus when you are from out of town. The pool is heated and unlike when we were kids, there are chairs and umbrellas where you can take a break from the sun if you wish and tables for snacking and gathering. If you go, please note that updates about pool hours are posted on the city’s Facebook page not the aquatic center’s page. The second day of our visit the pool was closed due to a lack of staff, and we were caught unaware.

 

After a day of swimming, we moved on to our lodging for the next three nights at  Hickory Hills Park where we had rented a cabin. Located just a few miles out of town, this was one of the best decisions we made during the whole trip. The cabins are simple but quite nice. With two separate bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and large bathroom it was more than adequate for our needs. There was a large porch with a picnic table and a view of the lake. The cabins do not come with linens which is a little bit of a challenge if you are coming from out of town. The cabins also do not have any dishes although pans and utensils for cooking were available along with a stove and refrigerator. Because we were traveling by car, we were able to bring everything we needed. While staying at the park we took advantage of the playgrounds and fishing off the dock. They continue to have the buffalo and elk enclosure for viewing the animals. My mom who does not travel outside of Dysart’s city limits much anymore enjoyed coming out to the lake and watching the waterfowl. We had access to a firepit and were able to have a nice fire.

If you go, you should be aware that the park has more than one type of cabin and not all of them have the same set up so make sure you review the website carefully before choosing your spot. They also offer all types of camping sites. The price is extremely reasonable at just $100 per night. The cabins are not designed to hold events but there is a lodge building for rent if you wanted to have some type of reunion. Cell service was a little spotty for us and streaming anything on a phone or other devise was out of the question. The cabin had a TV with limited stations and a DVD player. If you are traveling with kids, bringing some DVDs with you would be a great idea. We were able to purchase some inexpensive ones at the new Dollar General in town. There is Wi-Fi available by the bathhouse in the campground and our son who works remotely spent a couple of mornings parked by the building so he could get some work done. Lastly, we were traveling during the week and so were lucky enough to find quite a few options. Weekend travelers might need to plan further in advance to secure a cabin. The cabin we rented was both air conditioned and heated and available year-round. The ladies in the cabin next to us looked like they were having a crafting party which looked like a lot of fun.

As mentioned, the Dysart pool was closed our second day so we drove the nine miles west to the Traer pool which was also very enjoyable. We were also informed there is a nice pool available in LaPorte City which is close to the campground. The two pools are very similar in terms of what is offered with an important difference being that the Traer pool is not heated which I noticed right away but seemed lost on the kids. Entrance fees at both were very reasonable at $3.00-$4.00 per person. Both pools were beautifully maintained and enviable resources for these small towns to possess.

That evening, my brother went to the Traer Pizza Palace and delivered dinner for the rest of us at the campground. We have had this pizza before and found it was very good, especially the supreme.

On Thursday, our group split up in the morning with the guys going to the Traer Golf & Country Club for eighteen holes. My brother, who golfs every time he goes to the area likes this golf course as well as the ones in Reinbeck and Dysart. Meanwhile, the kids and I spent the morning at the Norma Anders Public Library. This library is very impressive and rivals any of the branch libraries we have in our area of nearly a half-million people. The boys were busy for two hours with the many problem-solving games and building materials here. My oldest grandson used the computer station for a bit, and I enjoyed the comfortable chairs and much appreciated air-conditioning.

Normally, we would have had an outdoor lunch at KE Black with it’s daily specials but it was a hot day and the youngest among us looked like he could use a nap. So, we stopped by Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ for the ingredients for a home-cooked supper and another tenderloin for lunch (when in Rome…).  Bobby’s is also fairly new in town, and we hear their BBQ is quite good. We are looking forward to trying that on our next trip! After the guys returned from their golf outing my son took the boys to the pool again while mom and I had a chance to visit and catch up.

That evening, we treated ourselves to dinner at the Dysart Drive In (sign says Dysart Drive In, Facebook says Dysart Drive Inn) which has been a staple in the community for as long as I can remember. The drive-in is under new management this year but it does not seem like much has changed. The menu was what you would expect from a drive in and although many friends swear by the pizza burger we went with the burgers, hot dogs and fries plus ice cream, of course, all of which was good. My mom had suggested we get our food and take it to the city park and as is so often true, mom was right. We should have done that. The available seating area at the drive in was not ideal for our group, and we would recommend the park option to other visitors. The city park offers so much more in terms of playground, shade trees and tables and they have a new art installation which I am sorry we missed. This is their third illusion artwork called Magic Cylinder Koi Pond. Check the others out here.

 

 

Our trip to Iowa concluded the following day with a stop at the Field of Dreams which was quite special for us. Last time we were there our son was the same age as his son is now. They were busy getting ready for the upcoming game between the Reds and the Cubs on August 11, 2022. There are big upgrades and expansions planned for the movie site. It’s a wonderfully nostalgic place to visit.

We had a wonderful time in Dysart and hope to return soon. We did not get a chance to do everything we would have liked to have done. Here’s some things from our bucket list that other travelers might enjoy!

Local Museums and Historical Societies including the Dysart Historical Center. Most small communities (and large) have groups of dedicated volunteers keeping the history of their place alive. This one is exceptionally nice particularly if you ever lived here. It’s a great trip down memory lane to places and people you have likely forgotten. Housed in three separate buildings, make sure you plan on spending some time here taking it all in!

 

 

Hansen’s Dairy Farm Tour located near Hudson. Agri-tourism location where kids can feed and milk the cows and families can sample their ice cream and cheeses.

 

 

 

 

Lost Island Waterpark located south of Waterloo which looked like it would be great fun when the kids are a little older.

 

 

 

 

Matchstick Marvels in Gladbrook. An amazing place full of structures you will not believe are made from matchsticks. Although it sounds a little hokey, it’s really very impressive and you will be glad you went.

 

 

 

 

Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. My Michigan family does not understand Maid-rites but it’s one of those things “if you know, you know”. It’s the nearest place to get an authentic Maid-rite sandwich. For those of you unable to travel to Iowa, did you know you can get these shipped to your house????? Check this out! https://www.maidrite.com/send-a-maid-rite

 

 

 

 

Hurts Donut in Cedar Falls. My son and his girlfriend stopped there when we were there in November and claim “it’s the best donut ever”.

 

 

 

 

Cedar Falls Brown Bottle an old favorite from back in the day. This, along with Nino’s Steakhouse which is no longer open were the go-to places for date night when I lived in the area. We drove by last November and I longed to go back in for their famous lasagna.

July 4, 1914 – Glorious Day Ends in Tragedy

July 4, 1914 – Glorious Day Ends in Tragedy

Depot

Dysart Train Depot

It is after 11 p.m. and the platform of the Dysart train station is crowded with people and packages all waiting for the #420 Rock Island train which will take them east. Most are headed to the town of Vinton. With a population of about 3,300 people, Vinton is three times larger than Dysart. No Fourth of July celebration was offered there, so Vinton residents came here earlier today to enjoy the excitement of Dysart’s celebration. That train was late too.

Most are not disappointed with their decision. They have had a fun and exciting day full of interesting sights and sounds and smells. They have been entertained by Vaudeville acts performed live and for free. They have played games of chance, and some hold a souvenir of their victory. Their beloved baseball team, the Vinton Cinders with the popular Lynch and Miller brothers have emerged victorious from the two games they played today. Some of the young people met someone at the dance who they are now thinking about and hoping they will see again.

It has been a glorious day-long break from the work that normally consumes their lives but now they are growing tired and maybe a little antsy. There are no benches at the train depot, and everyone waits outside in the night air. They jockey for space where they can. No one wants to be the last to board. Standing in a moving train for fifteen miles seems like a bit too much after the day they have had.

Earl Emery

Among those standing on the platform are two young men from the Vinton area, Earl Emery, and his friend Lafe Miller. Earl is just seventeen, but he has seen a lot of life already. Three years ago, he stole $75.00 from his father and left alone on a train for Alliance, Nebraska, where his mother is buried. Apprehended, he was sent to the reform school for boys in Iowa and has been recently released. He now lives near his dad who got him a job at the S. Robinson Company where he worked in the manure spreader department. Within the past few weeks, he traded that position for one as farm hand. After a rocky adolescence, he appears to be headed in the right direction. His friend, Lafe, is originally from Indiana but came to the Vinton area two years ago to work as a farm hand on the Oxtel Bostrom Farm.

The headlight of the railroad locomotive appears to the west and the crowd starts collecting their things in anticipation of going home. What happens when the train reaches the platform will be disputed, misreported, and sensationalized to sell newspapers in the days ahead. But the result will be the same. In a few short minutes, Earl Emery will be dead, and Lafe Miller will be maimed for the remainder of his life.

The Aftermath

The local paper, The Dysart Reporter, was a weekly publication, so they were not able to report the incident until five days later. However, starting on July 6 several other papers around the state picked up the story and started to report their versions of what happened. One of the first papers to break the story was the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette which immediately sensationalized the tragedy. On July 6, 1914, their headline read:

Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette

 

That same day, the Des Moines Register in a brief article reported that eleven deaths were reported across the state on the 4th. It reads “Sunday’s toll of deaths from accidental causes was sixteen, eleven being the result of automobile accidents, four were drowned and one Iowan being killed by a train when shoved off the station platform in Dysart, Iowa. The Waterloo Courier also placed the blame an unruly and selfish crowd. The Evening Times Republican out of Marshalltown proposed the cause of the accident was Earl and Lafe’s position on the platform not the crowd.

Evening Times Republican

In truth, Lafe Miller did not lose a leg. On July 7th the boy’s hometown paper, the Vinton Eagle proposed yet another explanation of what happened on the platform that night. Because most of the people were from Vinton, it might be assumed this version is more accurate as the editor likely interviewed witnesses who experienced what happened. Speaking of Earl, they wrote:

 

Vinton Eagle

They reported Lafe’s injuries in more graphic detail but also noted that a woman had most of her clothes torn off by the suction of the train. This detail is not repeated in any other paper that could be found.

Vinton Eagle

 

The Cedar Rapids Republican’s coverage combines the hypothesis that because of the crowded conditions, Earl was standing too close to the train when it entered the station and was struck by some protruding part. It does also note that “he was hurled many feet into the air alighting beside the platform.”

The local paper, the Dysart Reporter, carried the story on July 9, 1914. Their tone is less sensational and more factual. In their version, Earl and Lafe were killed and injured by a train, not by the people waiting for the train.

Dysart Reporter

 

In whatever way the accident occurred, one can only imagine the horror and shock the boy’s fellow passengers and friends experienced that night. Surprisingly, the extensive reporting that followed in all the papers has a lack of eyewitness accounts. The Reporter went on to speculate the details as follows:

Dysart Reporter

Crowd Accused of Murder

The Waterloo Courier on July 9 took everything up a notch by accusing the crowd of murder in the death of young Earl.

Waterloo Courier

 

The story continued to be reported across the state for a few days after July 9 on which date the Vinton Review published this account which seems like the most likely explanation. It combines the notion that the crowd was pushing and that the boys were too close to the tracks. It also reiterates that although hundreds of people were present, very little could be seen on that dark night when outdoor lighting was just starting to be installed in towns across Iowa.

Vinton Review

 

The Traer Star Clipper concluded their coverage in this way:

Traer Star Clipper

Later in the month, the editor of the Keokuk Daily Gate used the Courier’s indictment of murder as the basis for an editorial on the selfishness of man and unruly crowds.

All the papers were able to agree that Earl lived for a brief few seconds after being hit but the train because witnesses heard his rattled breathing. They were also able to agree that Lafe was horribly injured and in need of medical attention. We know that one of the towns’ doctors, F.W. Gessner, was called to attend to his injuries because he would later testify to the same. In the hopes of saving his foot, Lafe was loaded on to that same train and taken to Cedar Rapids’ St. Luke’s Hospital. He was hospitalized for several weeks but the foot was saved.

These events happened on a Saturday. Earl’s body was taken to the Kranbuehl undertaker’s parlor. The following Monday, his father arrived in town and took Earl’s body to Vinton. A funeral service was held at the Presbyterian Church, and he was interred somewhere near Vinton although where is not clear.

Starting in September, a few different lawsuits were filed against the Rock Island Railroad and the engineer, George Godden. George McElroy, administrator for Earl’s estate and Earl’s father both filed suits which were settled in December for a total of $1,250.00. J.W.Agers who was listed as guardian for Lafe also filed a suit asking for $7,500. A settlement may have been reached but that information is lost to time.

Lizzie Emery 1877-1908

 

Earl Martin Emery was born in Clinton, Iowa, on Valentine’s Day in 1896 to George and Lizzie Emery. His mother, Lizzie Marie Clark Emery died, at the age of 31 on January 13, 1908, when Earl was just twelve years old. After her death, his father, George, moved the family to the Vinton area. He was remarried in 1909 and apparently divorced the following year which is the year that Earl took off for Nebraska.  He was married a third time to Myrtle Mae Fisher. George died in 1952 and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Vinton.

William Lafe Miller was originally from Bristow, Indiana, and had been working in Vinton over the summer along with his two brothers. Lafe became a mechanic and either owned or worked at shops in Garrison, Dysart and Clutier. In 1928, he and Olin Smith purchased a garage business from John Helm in Dysart. He became the sole owner of that business in 1930. He and his family (wife Marie Peterson Miller) lived on the main street. During the 1930s he drove cars out to California and sometimes advertised that he would take riders with him. By 1940, he and his family moved to the Phoenix, Arizona, area although he returned to Iowa several times over the years. He was living in Arizona in 1950 when the census taker came but his location after that is unknown at this time. Lafe appears to have either been unlucky or lucky sort of guy depending on your perspective. In 1916 he was involved in an auto accident and in 1922 he was injured when a battery exploded in his eyes.

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July 4, 1914 – Small Town Holds a Great Celebration

July 4, 1914, Small Town Holds a Great Celebration

Celebration

At 4 a.m. the sound of a light artillery brigade reverberated through this small and peaceful, but not entirely silent town. The canning factory on the northern edge of town and the adjoining cement factory produce a steady amount of noise, sometimes late into the night. Occasionally, one of the newly purchased automobiles is heard rumbling by long past the time when decent folks are asleep or it's rambunctious driver breaks the silence with the horn. But generally, 4. a.m. is a quiet, restful time reserved for dairymen and the train station manager. This Independence Day, however, the organizers of the day's event have determined that a cannon blast at 4:00 a.m. is the best way to begin a celebration of the nation's 138th birthday. There are eleven surviving civil war veterans living in town today, July 4, 1914, and for them being awoken by live artillery likely produces a different reaction than other residents, but no one considers that. These folks are three years away from the great war and all that it will teach the world about the long-term trauma of war.

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones in Time

A glorious day full of promise and excitement awaits the people here. To say they are enthusiastic would be a complete understatement. Just one week ago 150 resident boosters spent an entire day traveling in 29 cars to many towns in the area promoting their event. Flyers have been handed out, welcoming invitations have been extended and large advertisements have been placed in local papers. Although they have hosted big celebrations in the past, this year is different. This year, July 4th is also the kick-off of their first week-long Chautauqua. A giant multi-colored tent is set up in the park in anticipation.

There are only 1000 people living here and yet they are expecting thousands of celebrants to arrive in the next few hours. The world they live in is experiencing tremendous change and they seem ready to embrace it. Their guests will arrive by horse and buggy, trains, and automobiles. Some will walk into town from their homes in the country. They will come with picnic baskets full of food and blankets to sit upon. There are two passenger trains scheduled to arrive from the east today at 9:45 a.m. and 1:21 p.m. and two from the west which will not arrive until 4:45 p.m. and 10:52 p.m. Many people arrived yesterday and found lodging where they could. There are no hotel rooms available and all through the community homes are full of out-of-town guests. The town has invited people to bring their hammocks and tents and feel free to camp overnight in the city park for the night or all week long if they wish to attend the Chautauqua. Tents are available for rent. They have promised there will be plenty of food and beverages available for sale. A special water pump station has been added to the park.

The train coming from the east arrives late and pushes events back a bit but not to the determent of the day. Among those arriving on this train is Earl Emery, a 17-year-old boy. Earl has grown into quite the young man and repaired his relationship with his father. Just three years ago he impulsively stole $75 and bought a train ticket to Alliance, Nebraska, where he was apprehended and returned home. Now he is a employed as a farmhand and is looking forward to spending some of his hard earned cash and watching his hometown team play baseball.

Parade

People flood into the main street before 9 a.m. where the M.B.A. Band is already playing. They have come, the local paper states, "to publicly express their appreciation of the liberties the Declaration of Independence has brought to America and Americans". Forty automobiles line up, ready to start the parade at 9:15. There are cash prizes at stake for the best decorated car. This along with the pride of being among the first in the area to own an automobile has spurred the participants to go all out.

The town was created to accommodate the westward expansion of the railroad. Built in the middle of a prairie; there were no rivers or creeks to be consider, no hills and even significant elevations to contend with. As a result, the whole town is a grid with every street coming to a ninety degree angle with the next. There are no curves or bends in the road except through the park and even this is slight. The distance from the main street to the park is only four blocks, so running the parade directly from the corner of Wilson and Main to the City Park would leave little room for the large crowds to get a good look. Therefore, a route has been planned that includes several streets within the city's boundaries. On their last pass through the main street the attendees are encouraged to follow along to the park for the scheduled baseball game between the Vinton Cinders and the Hiteman teams.

Baseball Team

The crowd does not know it now, but they are witnessing the beginning of a life-long baseball career. A standout player for the Vinton Cinders, twenty-year-old Edmund John "Bing" Miller will enjoy a long career playing major league ball. He will be part of teams that win two World Series titles between 1921-1936 and then coach for another 17 years. But today, he is an ordinary guy playing minor league ball with his brother and friends in the central part of of Iowa.

Motion Pictures

Dysart Reporter

The day is hot with no sign of rain. The beverage vendors will do well. The park is crowded and will stay that way. A merry-go-round has been set up with the promise to run all day. The smell of freshly roasted nuts wafts from the peanut stand, filling the senses. Carnival games called baby and cane racks and striking machines allow an opportunity for men and women to try their luck and hopefully win a memento to take home. There is even a fortune teller set up who will most likely provide you a favorable look at your future. Those who wish to stroll back to the main street business district will find that Jessen and Clemen is offering three moving picture shows featuring nine reels playing all day starting at 10 o'clock.

Clown

Source: Bretzel Liquide

At one o'clock a large crowd gathers on the main street to enjoy the free street performances by Vaudevillian entertainers. The crowd is treated to the fascinations of the Smilette Brothers and Mora, a comedy triple bar act which combines acrobatic troupe stunts along with a clown. Murdos and Novelty Dogs follows with a group of seven acrobatic fox terriers performing amazing feats. Last is the Zeno and Zoa Comedy Act, a European contortionist group performing a hand balancing and foot juggling act. They are a marvel who have traveled extensively through the Americas and Europe.

Returning to the park, crowds gather to witness the Montana Kid who it has been advertised will ride the famous bucking broncho, Steamboat. The crowd will be disappointed when the horse refuses to buck after the first few jumps. It will be revealed later that the real Steamboat has been dead for several years, but the Montana Kid will continue to make the circuit as a cowboy, at least for a while longer.

At 2:30 the big Chautauqua tent will be thrown open and a large crowd will first hear six young men who perform under the name "The American Collegian Orchestra" play several different instruments and sing. This will be followed by a lecture from a Methodist minister named Dr. Frank E. Day who will travel throughout the Midwest giving lectures under such titles as 'Does the Hour Hand Move' and 'The Worn-Out Preacher: What is he Good For Anyway'. Eventually he will become a well-known minister in Indiana and one hundred years from now, people will still be reading his writings.

Dancers

Dysart is not the only community hosting a celebration today. There are also events in Waterloo and Urbana. These have drawn so many people that the editor of the Vinton newspaper reported their town looked like it had been abandoned at midday. As the heat continues to climb, a second ballgame is played in the late afternoon where a $100 purse is won by the Vinton team. Finally, as the day begins to cool down at 6:45 p.m. the street show is repeated. and at 7:45 p.m. the orchestra provides a grand concert in the tent. The day wraps up with a much-anticipated dance at the Opera House.

Train Depot

Dysart Train Depot

When everything is over it will be reported that an estimated 5,000 people spent that Fourth of July day in Dysart arriving in between 250 and 300 automobiles, meaning the majority must have come by train. As it starts to grow dim, tired but happy people start leaving town at various times. About 10:00 p.m. many people leave the well-lit Opera House heading for the depot so they can catch the last train heading east which is scheduled for 10:52 p.m. For most, they are a bit less animated than they were this morning however some of the young women are almost giddy from the excitement of the day and the dancing. There is a sense of happy exhaustion among them. Tired event organizers are breathing a satisfied sigh of contended relief that the day turned out so well. Their planning has not gone unappreciated. Some are already mulling over improvements for 1915. The clear night sky helps create a feeling that the day is wonderfully complete.

As the headlight of the railroad locomotive appears to the west, the crowd of approximately 500 people start collecting their things in anticipation of boarding the train. As it draws nearer, the whistle breaks the silence of the town just as it was broken this morning by the artillery fire. It is then, at approximately 11:20 p.m. that an unimaginable tragedy strikes which will spread a pallor over this magnificent celebration and send ripples across the state for many days to come.

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The Great Booster Parade – A Small Town Promotes Themselves

The Great Booster Parade – A Small Town Promotes Themselves

Booster Parade

Six months ago, I started a personal challenge to write and publish something every week for a year. Since that time, I have learned a lot about a great many things. I chose as my primary subject the place where I was raised; a small town in the central part of Iowa, called Dysart. Through reading countless newspaper articles and books and a trip to the local museum, I have had a chance to imagine what Dysart must have looked, felt and smelled like in those early days before there was electricity and modern plumbing and streets. I've grown in my appreciation for the fact that nothing truly worth having comes along by accident. It takes dreams that are followed by careful planning and hard work. In the case of a community, it takes the dogged dedication of a group of people who will themselves to make it work. I've learned that my teenage belief that nothing interesting ever happened in a small town like mine was a lie. I've remembered a lot of people who I had known and forgotten about, both living and dead. I've reconnected with folks I once knew and have enjoyed hearing other people's memories which are different than my own. Memories have filled my days and the pages I have written.

Nothing I have read about or written so far has created more longing within me to have a time machine than what happened in Dysart in the weeks before and after July 4, 1914. I wish I could have been a part of it all. In that short period of time this tiny town of 1,000 people accomplished amazing things, became the object of ridicule for people across the state, and emerged with the strength to continue to work together to build up their town. Dysart has long hosted one of the largest and finest July Fourth celebrations in the area. Today, as the people of Dysart work hard to once again offer a great opportunity for Fourth of July fun and fellowship, allow me to tell you about a packed few days of community spirit 108 years ago.

In the spring of 1914, the businessmen of Dysart formed a Commercial Club. These types of organizations were being formed throughout the country to promote the growth and development of towns and cities. The group that formed in Dysart grew quickly and within a few weeks their membership was up over 70. Not bad for a town of less than 1000. The group went straight to work funding and overseeing improvements which would bring both businesses and new residents to the area. Although the community had hosted July 4th events in the past, this one would be bigger. The celebration would coincide with a newly acquired week- long Chautauqua. In early June, the club members decided to take their message about the upcoming events on the road.

In the Dysart Reporter of June 18, 1914, the details of this road trip were announced, and an open invitation was extended to anyone wishing to participate. The date of the road trip was only one week later, on June 25. One week with no social media to help spread the word; just the newspaper and word of mouth.

Everyone was invited to bring an automobile if they had one and pack a lunch for a planned stop in a "grove where it will be pleasant to eat." Those not possessing a automobile of their own were encouraged to see C.L. Wareham at his store or Charles Vaubel or Lee Aldrich at the Dysart Reporter. Drivers were promised that the outing would not cost them anything as the occupants of the car would pay the running expense. Drivers were also told there would be mechanics in the group but that each driver should bring his own accessories. On a weekly basis, the owners of newly purchased cars had been listed in local papers and one must believe that many of these men were anxious to join the parade and show off their purchases. The local band was engaged to join the procession.

On the morning of Thursday, June 25, 1914, at 7:30 a.m. a total of 29 cars lined up on Main Street with the goal of "by the time Traer is properly awakened we will be there to distribute our advertising matter and the M.B.A. band will play a few pieces that will make them feel good the rest of the day." By the time the cars were assembled into a parade formation there was a total of about 150 men and women. The first car out of town was carrying the officers of the Commercial Club followed by the car carrying the M.B.A. band and then the participating drivers whose order had been selected by lots.

I can picture them now as they head west out of Dysart. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best, crammed into their open aired cars. The men are wearing hats but have allowed themselves the luxury of rolling up their sleeves in the hot June sun. Some of these men have purchased riding outfits specifically for motoring as was popular at the time. The young women are laughing and chattering. They are likely calling out to the cars ahead and behind of them. Everyone is excited to see how the day will go. Perhaps the band is already playing, or they are singing popular songs from that day. It has only been recently that private ownership of cars has been made possible and an extended road trip is probably a novelty to most. The newspaper articles report that they found mostly good roads but in 1914, that means dirt or gravel roads and with the small wheels the cars have the ride is bumpy.

Map

Map from 1917 showing local roads

The group made a number of stops in the following order: Traer to Clutier, where Mr. Jensen broke a spring and apparently had to quit the parade. Then on to Elberon and Keystone. At noon they stopped in a grove near Keystone and at the invitation of the owner occupied the yard for a picnic ground. Finally, friends who had been settled into different vehicles had a chance to get out and visit and have some fun together. From there they went to Van Horne and then Vinton. While in Vinton a storm blew up but it was over quickly. They then went to Garrison, La Porte and then back to Dysart. At each stop along the way it was said that the townspeople gave them a hearty welcome. The band played, flyers were distributed and visiting with the locals was initiated. Dave Wilson and John Christiansen gave speeches at each stop along the way. They "extended a cordial invitation to our sister cities to spend the Fourth with us and also to attend the Chautauqua which opens on that date."

 

The Vinton Eagle described the visit this way:

"Vinton was serenaded in royal style last Friday by the Dysart Boosters - men and women - 150 strong. They arrived in the middle of the afternoon in twenty-nine autos. They were accompanied by the local band which discoursed sweet music for fully half an hour. The 'tourists' mingled with the businessmen of the city and made their mission known. This was also made known in an eloquent address by John Christiansen....The mission of the Boosters was to advertise the fact that there is to be a great Fourth of July celebration at Dysart to which everybody is invited...Mr. Christiansen said they expect 3,000 people from Vinton during the week (of Chautauqua) so it is up to the Vinton people to justify Mr. Christiansen's expectations. There is no question, but a large crowd will go to Dysart on the Fourth to witness the game of ball between the Vinton Cinders and the Hiteman team."

I love this story. I can see myself in it and as I have said wish I could go back in time and live the day with them. It reminds me that when I lived in a small town, I experienced a sense of community that has not happened to me living in a city. It reminds me of happy days from my teenage years riding in cars and buses to music competitions, sports tournaments and school trips or just around town; singing and laughing with sweet friends. It also makes me remember how wonderful it is to drive around the Dysart countryside on dirt and paved roads and to soak up the colors and sounds of summer; to see the wide-open sky; and inhale the open-air smells. I wonder if other former Dysartites have the same feeling that I have always had, that you can leave the town, but the town does not leave you.

News articles state that two photographers were among the traveler and in the weeks after the 25th, postcards were advertised as for sale at Wareham's store. If anyone has any of these postcards, they would be willing to share, please contact me. I'd love to share them with my readers.

Stay tuned for next week's post when I will share with you the tremendous turnout this trip produced and the dramatic event that happened in Dysart on July 4, 1914.

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