'American Gothic' House Makes Tiny Eldon, Iowa a Global Draw

Among sparsely traveled Iowa highways, roads lined with tall corn and sprinkled with colorful wildflowers, lies the tiny town of Eldon.

Like most small Iowa towns, Eldon is exploding with personality, but even more so since it is home to
the American Gothic House Center.

The iconic house Grant Wood painted in his classic "American Gothic," which represents the unsinkable spirit of determined Middle Americans in 1930, still stands. Besides being incredibly significant to people interested in art and architecture, the house probably is best known for providing the ultimate photo opportunity.

"American Gothic" has been lampooned hundreds of times. Famous couples throughout modern American history have appeared in the likeness of the American Gothic portrait, from Bill and Hillary Clinton, to Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in the theme song for the 1960s television hit "Green Acres" (at 1:00) to Ru Paul and Elton John in a "Don't Go Breakin' my Heart" music video (at 2:14).

Be prepared for the ultimate photo opportunity
Be sure to come prepared for your photo. Consider substituting the tools of your trade for the pitchfork and overalls, for example. I found a fedora at Goodwill for $4.88 and tucked a "Press" card in the band. Instead of a pitchfork, I carried the Associated Press stylebook, considered the bible of journalists. If you want a classic photo, the center provides replicas of the clothing worn in the original painting in all sizes.

I chose to bring a journalist's tools for his American Gothic shot -- a fedora (complete with press card) and Associated Press Stylebook.

If you forget your camera or if the battery goes dead on the long trip, museum staff will take a picture for you with their camera. Prints are only $2.

As for dead cell phones, they thought of that too. There is a charging station in the museum for every type of phone imaginable.

Museum, interpretive center added nine years ago
Constructed in 1881 and added on to in the 1920s, the 1,000-square-foot house fell into disrepair for many years. The state historical society acquired it in 1991 and nine years ago built a museum and interpretive center.

The entire operation is run by Holly Berg, who personally greets each visitor as they walk through the museum's doors. There is no charge to visit the museum and house. The beautiful grounds are loaded with gardens containing the same beautiful wildflowers that adorn Iowa's highways.

Berg said about 17,000 visitors per year come to visit the house, representing all 50 states and countries from all around the globe. People often go to great lengths to visit the house, which is kind of off the beaten track. The nearest airports to Eldon, Iowa are regional airports, including Quad-City International Airport (MLI) in Moline, Ill. to the west (134 miles) and Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) in Cedar Rapids to the north (112 miles). Those airports are served by major hubs such as Chicago, Detroit, Denver and Minneapolis.

Eldon also made famous by 'Roseanne,' Rock Island Lines
So what else is Eldon famous for? Well, how about Tom and Roseanne Arnold? Remember them?
Comedienne Roseanne Barr briefly was married to Arnold, her co-star on the former television sensation "Roseanne (1988-1997)." Arnold was born in Ottumwa, Iowa, which is just 16 miles from Eldon. For a couple of years in the early 1990s, Tom and Roseanne owned a restaurant in Eldon, called Roseanne & Tom's Big Food Diner, or BFD for short (sigh). The restaurant is no longer in business.

The couple while married also owned and lived part-time in a fenced compound on a 1,700-acre farm in Eldon, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Besides American Gothic House, Eldon is known for a couple of other things that rate a little higher on the American culture scale than Roseanne. It is home to Rock Island Park and Depot which hosts a locomotive and caboose from the former Rock Island Lines, which was made famous in a song by Johnny Cash. Yours truly happens to live (and was born in) Rock Island, Ill., the railroad's namesake, and could not resist taking a selfie in front of the railroad car.

As a native of Rock Island, Ill., I could not resist taking a selfie in front of the Rock Island Lines locomotive at Eldon Rock Island Park and Depot.

There also is a restored opera house in Eldon, McHaffery Opera House. No doubt it has housed some better singers than Roseanne, famously booed for an awful rendition of Star Spangled Banner before a San Diego Padres game in 1990.


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David Heitz has been a journalist for three decades and has scoured every inch of the Quad-Cities. He says he knows too much so he mostly writes about health these days, but still enjoys pointing out what's right about the Quad-Cities.