They went 'Off the Beaten Path' to discover Ottumwa, Iowa

August 26, 1991|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Evening Sun Staff

Midwestern hospitality did not disappoint the group of Marylanders who chose to vacation "Off the Beaten Path" in southeastern Iowa recently.

The entourage of about 30 area residents led by Donald Shaffer, a professor of history and political science at Dundalk Community College, "could not believe the friendliness," says Shaffer. When the group arrived in Ottumwa, via Amtrak, it was met by a welcoming committee bearing gifts, a state flag and a letter from Iowa's governor, Terry Branstad.

The night before the tour group -- the only known tour from the East Coast to Ottumwa -- departed, its members were feted at a cookout, replete with Iowa cooking.

The group was also the subject of stories in The Des Moines

Register and the Ottumwa Courier and on Ottumwa's two television stations.

"Every day topped the other [days], my fondest expectations were met," says Shaffer, an Ottumwa native who has lived in this area for many years and has led countless international tours for the college. He was the creator, organizer and guide for the 12-day trip that included such tourist hot spots as West Branch, the birthplace of President Herbert Hoover; Eldon, where the farm house of Grant Wood's "American Gothic" still stands, and Bentonsport, which started life as a model community in the 1840s, but quickly died.

In Hannibal, Mo., the town immortalized by Mark Twain, the tourists were hurrying back from their tour to get out of the rain, when one of the trams they were riding in skidded and jackknifed. "We're calling it a Twain Wreck," said Shaffer.

That mishap and a wallet lost to a pickpocket in Chicago's Union Station were the only untoward events of the tour, he added.

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