Publisher’s Perspective – Volume 4, Issue 3

Brooklyn and Keokuk also have John Wayne connection

It seems hard to believe that we have now published 21 issues of Iowa History Journal. The magazine had been a dream of mine for nearly a decade as I felt Iowa deserved and needed a magazine dedicated totally to the preservation of the state’s history, and to telling that history in a manner that is both educational and entertaining.

The response to the magazine has been terrific; in fact it has exceeded the expectations that my wife, Bev, and I harbored at the outset. Thanks to the tremendous support of Hy-Vee and Casey’s General Stores, the magazine is available throughout the state, as well as by subscriptions.

We have had many popular issues, with such Iowans on the cover as Herbert Hoover, Bob Feller, Nile Kinnick, Donna Reed, Johnny Carson and even the USS Iowa, featured in an updated article in this magazine.

One of the most popular magazines was the May-June 2010 issue that carried the first of a three-part series on John Wayne, who was born in Winterset. The issue had a beautiful oil painting of Wayne on the cover and has completely sold out, as have several others, and is no longer available.

I have enjoyed visiting the John Wayne Birthplace Home several times lately and getting to know its executive director, Brian Downes – a man who truly loves his job. Brian moved to Winterset several years ago from Chicago to take over the operation and is an indefatigable advocate for the man and the birthplace, and for the entire state of Iowa.

As you will see in the advertisement across from this page, the big annual birthday celebration at the John Wayne Birthplace is coming up. The special attraction will be the showing of “The Quiet Man”, which happens to be my favorite John Wayne movie. I am certainly looking forward to seeing it on the big screen (for the first time in 50 years) at the Iowa Theater in downtown Winterset during the celebration.

Reading about Wayne’s early years in Iowa, I knew that the family lived most of the time in Winterset and also spent a short spell in nearby Earlham. But I had no idea that John Wayne also lived in two other Iowa towns, as well.

Last August, we had a booth at the Iowa State Fair in the Ag Building and hundreds of people stopped by to see our exhibits, browse through back issues of the magazine and also look at some of the 23 books I have written.

And to share stories.

I was greatly surprised when a subscriber from Brooklyn told me that Wayne had lived in Brooklyn after the family left Winterset, prior to the Wayne family’s departure for California. He said the museum in Brooklyn has several items that belonged to young Marion Morrison (John’s name before he became a Hollywood star).

“Yes, he lived here … twice,” said Mary Jo Thompson, a board member of the Brooklyn Historical Society Museum. “Marion attended part of kindergarten and part of first grade here. We have his report card from one semester in first grade (he did okay, she said) and then a roll top desk that was in the pharmacy where his dad (Clyde) worked.”

She said that the house they rented still exists, and that a fire on the front porch during the time the Morrisons lived there left an indelible mark on the young boy who later became one of America’s all-time favorite movie stars. Responding to a request in the 1970s that Wayne come visit Brooklyn, John wrote that his busy schedule would not allow him to do so – but he said he vividly recalled the fire on the porch!

After a short period in Brooklyn, Clyde Morrison moved to Keokuk and took young Marion with him. The two of them lived above the pharmacy building, in a small apartment.

“It was just Marion and his father,” said Tanya Boltz, who works at the Keokuk Public Library. “Marion did attend some part of first grade here and we have some school records verifying that. But there is nothing on display that I know of. And the building they lived in just blew down a couple of months ago.”

Father and son didn’t stay more than a couple of months. They moved back to Brooklyn for another brief stay, and then the family (which included mother Mary and younger brother Robert) headed for California – and the rest is history.

John Wayne is an Iowa treasure, a source of great pride to the state. We hope to see you at the upcoming big event in Winterset and also at the Iowa History Journal booth at the Iowa State Fair in August.

(Mike Chapman is the publisher of Iowa History Journal. Born and raised in Waterloo, he retired from a 35-year newspaper career in 2002. He is the author of 21 books and is a public speaker. He and his wife, Bev, live in Newton.)