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john wayne’s birthplace

Airstream road trip, Winterset, Iowa, birthplace of John Wayne


As I can’t resist a “world’s largest” or “home of” roadside attraction, I swerved off the highway in Iowa and followed signs to Winterset—birthplace of John Wayne (American). There I encountered bustle and excitement: bunting around the courthouse, a cavalry encampment, a Rotary-sponsored fun run, a band assembling in the town square, and everywhere, flags flying.


“What’s going on?” I asked a local Rotarian. “Memorial weekend?” He blinked at me. “It’s John Wayne’s BIRTHDAY,” he said.


Oh. Sorry! Didn’t know. This will result in a loss of precious RSS subscribers but I regard John Wayne (né Marion Morrison) as the most overrated actor in film history. But, his status as an icon (and American) cannot be denied.


Twenty minute tours are conducted year round at the treasured white house that was his childhood home; inside are Rooster Cogburn’s eye patch, the cavalry hat worn in Rio Lobo, and old photos and letters from Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and other (once) household names.


The tour commences at the home next door, now a gift shop vending all things John Wayne (and a few mementos commemorating the nearby Bridges of Madison County and their vomitrocious movie).


John Wayne’s birthday party! Quelle chance. For once I’m roadtripping through towns at the right moment—ordinarily I pass banners announcing the local festival that just was or will be in a week. I even hit Indianapolis on the 100th anniversary of the running of the Indy 500 (though I couldn’t approach the raceway due to highway closures…don’t get me started on how little I loved Indiana). 


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