Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Eldon, Iowa

When I entered the Carnegie Library in Leon I was greeted by the librarian, who handed me a sturdy cloth bag with the library's name on it and the slogan, "Branching to the future, Rooted in the past."  He said, "We're celebrating going electronic today and we're giving out these bags to the first fifty people to enter the library.  Help yourself to the home-made cookies and lemonade over there and take a pen too."

"My goodness.  You've actually still been using a card catalogue up until now?"

"We have.  And if you'd like it, you're welcome to participate in our silent auction."

"Do you have any books on RAGBRAI," I asked.

"I don't think so, but I'll check."

While he did, I gave a quick glance to the 796.6 section.  There wasn't a single cycling book, nor were there any on RAGBRAI filed elsewhere.  I was becoming accustomed to such news.  I had recently heard the author of "Rumble Yell," a first-person account of riding across Iowa with thousands of others, interviewed on the Outspoken Cyclist podcast.  I was hoping to read a chapter in each Iowa library I stopped at.  I had yet to read even a page of this 2013 book.

Even though Iowa is celebrated for and somewhat defined by this huge cycling event that dates to 1973, I had yet to meet anyone who had actually ridden it. This is the second year in a row I've ridden across Iowa on my return to Chicago from Telluride and the second year where I hadn't met a RAGBRAI veteran.  It seems as if a good percentage of the 15,000 who join in on the ride every year are non-Iowans even though it was originated by a couple of Iowa journalists to celebrate their state.  I have no recollection from when I rode RAGBRAI thirty years ago how many locals were on the ride, only that we were treated very well by all the locals.

That hasn't changed.  Iowans have been significantly more friendly than those in Nebraska and most other states I have bicycled through.  I was pretty much ignored in Nebraska, but here in Iowa people are regularly approaching me for a word or two.  During my next break after Leon, as I sat eating a burrito at a service station, an older guy wanted to share some of his bicycling exploits with me, including riding in RAGBRAI in its second year.  At last, I finally met someone who had ridden RAGBRAI.  He enjoyed it, but never rode it again, preferring other bicycle adventures, including a ride to Alaska with a friend.  With typical Midwest non-chalance he commented, "I'm not bragging, but I was a little stronger on the hills than he was.  I found that if I let him lead the way, he'd ride harder than if I went ahead."

I wasn't able to scan the book shelves of the Mount Ayr Carnegie, as it only had week-day afternoon hours and I was there in the morning.  I would have liked to have seen if its interior had any extra touches similar to the tile mosaic of Public Library on its exterior.  It gazed upon the county courthouse in the town center from a corner plot of land that hadn't allowed for any additions.

I couldn't gain entry to the Corydon Carnegie either, though it didn't matter much, as it no longer served as a library. It was right next to the high school and had been appropriated by it after being replaced by a new library several blocks away.  Like Leon's library, it had Carnegie chiseled into its front facade.

As I stood gazing at it, a guy with a bandana on his head told me I ought to check out the mural in the post office across the street. "Its famous," he said. "It was one of those New Deal paintings."  It was painted in 1942 by Marian Gilmore, a student of Norman Rockwell.  It was entitled "Volunteer Fire Department." She had earlier won a nation-wide competition for a mural in another small town in Iowa.

Further down the road as I entered Bloomfield I came upon a series of homes brandishing "Trump for President" signs with the slogan "Make America Great Again," the first politicking, other than the many anti-abortion billboards, of these travels.  One Trump supporter was also flying the Confederate flag.

The Bloomfield Carnegie was adorned with an intricate ramp.  Few Carnegies are handicap-accessible as they generally have a symbolic set of steps that one must climb as if mounting one's self to higher realms.  The librarian told me that if I returned next year there would be an addition, its first significant alteration other than the ramp. The library did have National Historic status, so had to comply with certain regulations to make the addition.

The librarian in Eldon said she had been trying to raise funds for years to enlarge her one-room library but hadn't succeeded.  Her library had "Free" engraved in its facade, adding extra emphasis that I was going back in time when I entered this century old library.  "Carnegie Library" was  chiseled in the corner stone and his portrait hung above the book shelves.  The bathroom was down a steep staircase accessed from the librarian's alcove behind the majesterial circulation desk. I was the only patron during its final forty-five minutes up to closing time at 5:30.

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