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That’s where the tall corn grows

Country Roads

November 19, 2012
Arvid Huisman ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Since my nerdish youth I have been fascinated with my home state which, for many Americans, is one of the flat-as-a-pancake fly-over states.

I guess you can fly-over Iowa if you wish, but anyone who has ridden RAGBRAI can tell you Iowa is not flat.

I traveled our rolling state from the Mississippi to the Missouri and from Missouri to Minnesota for six years and developed an even greater affection for what the Native Americans called the "Beautiful Land." Accordingly, I always enjoy learning more about our state.

So how much do you know about Iowa? Here are some facts you may not know or may not care to know.

Iowa covers 56,276 square miles, making it the 26th largest of the 50 states. The state is approximately 310 miles wide and about 200 miles deep.

Here's where the quiz begins: what would be the distance, by the most practical public highway route, from Iowa's southeastern-most county seat to the northwestern-most county seat?

Google Maps indicates that the shortest reasonable route Keokuk to Rock Rapids via Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Fort Dodge, Algona and Spencer is 432 miles. Unless you have a large bladder and a small appetite, you better plan for a trip of more than eight hours.

By the way, it's just as far Keokuk to Rock Rapids as it is from Des Moines to Green Bay, Wisc.

This brings to mind the next question: which Iowa county has two county seats? That would be Lee County, home of Keokuk from which the above trip would begin. Lee is the only county in Iowa with two county seats Keokuk and Fort Madison.

Meredith Wilson used the phrase "Iowa stubborn" in The Music Man and that's why Lee County has two county seats. Fort Madison was the original county seat but there were so many disagreements over that selection Keokuk was also made a county seat in 1847. Iowa Stubborn.

Speaking of Meredith Wilson, which Broadway composer encouraged him to write a musical about his home town of Mason City?

It was Frank Loesser, the creator of Guys and Dolls. As early as 1949 Loesser told Wilson he should write a musical about his boyhood home. The Music Man became a hit on Broadway in 1957 and a popular motion picture in 1962. I have watched the movie several times.

Speaking of music, can you sing the lyrics to Iowa's State Song? I can't carry a tune so I can't sing the words to any song, but I can speak them: "You asked what land I love the best, Iowa, tis Iowa. The fairest State of all the west, Iowa, O! Iowa. From yonder Mississippi's stream To where Missouri's waters gleam. O! Fair it is as poet's dream, Iowa, in Iowa."

That's the first of four verses sung to the tune of "O Tannenbaum." Song of Iowa was recognized as the official state song on March 20, 1911.

Puzzled? Did you think our state song was the Iowa Corn Song? That's the song that goes: "We're from I-O-way, I-O-way. State of all the land; Joy on ev-'ry hand. We're from I-O-way, I-O-way. That's where the tall corn grows."

The secretary of the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce back in 1912 wrote the Iowa Corn Song for a Shriner's Convention in Los Angeles. I'd venture to say more folks are familiar with the Iowa Corn Song than the official state song.

When talking about Iowa corn we can't forget our farmers. During the 1980s each Iowa farmer produced enough food to feed about 80 people. How many people does an Iowa farmer feed today?

If you guessed anything but 155 you're wrong. As someone who really enjoys supper, I tip my hat to our farmers.

With winter right around the corner I have one last question about Iowa: what is the lowest temperature ever recorded in our state? If you guessed 47 degrees below zero you're right. That happened in Washta in northwest Iowa on January 12, 1912, and again in February 3, 1996, in northeast Iowa's Elkader.

The highest temp in Iowa history, by the way, was 118 degrees in Keokuk on July 20, 1934. That's what Lee County gets for having two county seats.



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