Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first appeared Aug. 28 2004.
WORTHINGTON - I listened to a boy who was talking too fast. (You have to speak a little slowly, emphasizing words, if you hope for me to keep up with you.) The boy was telling me about Washington, D.C. He had just returned from a trip with his family. He saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the new FDR Memorial, the Kennedy gravesite.
“Glad to be home?” I asked him.
“Well” he said, “I wish I we had presidents around here.” He was caught up in awe for America’s presidents, for their words and deeds, for the stories of their lives.
I suspect one Sunday afternoon before school begins, the father and mother will take my friend to Kingsley, Iowa. We talked about that. Kingsley is in Plymouth County, north and east of Sioux City. The drive is less than two hours.
Kingsley is where President Herbert Hoover spent a summer of his boyhood and where he returned later as an orphan to live briefly with his grandmother. Kingsley is a wonderful visit for anyone who enjoys American history, presidential history, local history.
One thing rewarding about a visit to Kingsley is that nothing is even remotely commercialized. There are no signs, no plaques. Some people along the streets will be surprised if you explain you are looking for things related to President Hoover. Many in Kingsley barely know their town’s Hoover connection - they may be walking along a sidewalk where a U.S. president walked in his boyhood, but they don’t know this.
The first feature to be sought at Kingsley is the house at the corner of West Third St. and Barre. This was Grandma’s house, a house where the boy-to-be-president slept and ate. The house is notably small with tall windows in the style of America’s Civil War era.
It is helpful to put Herbert Hoover in the context of Worthington.
Worthington’s history traces to 1872. Hoover was born two years later, in 1874. The Hoover family set out by train from West Branch for Kingsley in July 1882, when Bert was eight. Actually, their destination was Quorn. Quorn was one mile from the Kingsley townsite; the town was moved and the name was changed when the railroad came. The Hoovers went to visit Bert’s mother’s family, their Minthorn kin. ... Grandma was Mary Minthorn.
In 1944, on his 70th birthday, President Hoover wrote, “What I remember most about Kingsley were the prairie chickens and the sod houses - I suppose they are gone now.” They were gone, of course. The era in our history that Hoover shared was the time of the homesteads, the grasshopper plagues and the prairie fires, houses made of sod and, often, water taken from creeks.
The most poignant moment on a Kingsley visit will be a stop at the abandoned cemetery on the site of old Quorn. There is a stone in that cemetery not much larger than a fence post. The stone will inform that here are the graves of Martha Marshall, Hattie Marshall, John Marshall. Martha died at the age of six on April 6, 1882. Hattie died four days later. Within 48 hours, John was dead. Three children in six days.
This was the family of Merlin and Ellen Marshall - Ellen was a sister of Herbert Hoover’s mother, the dead children were Bert’s cousins, who he knew well. It was this family tragedy, probably the ravages of typhoid fever, that brought the Hoovers to Kingsley (Quorn) that July.
The one most vivid memory President Hoover had of northwest Iowa came from time he spent on the homestead farm of his uncle Pennington Minthorn, his mother’s brother.
Uncle Penn, 26 years old and a hero in his family, was breaking sod. On an impulse, Penn lifted his 8-year-old nephew onto the back of his lead horse.
Bert Hoover, a farm boy for the first time, sat solemnly, tilting now slightly left and now slightly right, as the great horse strained in the harness and its shoulders rose and fell. Ahead, from this vantage point that even his uncle could not share, Bert saw the horizon, the tall grass lifting and falling in the breeze, larks and occasional hawks, flitting butterflies.
It was an hour Herbert Hoover never forgot. He said it was one of the great privileges of his life.