Tuesday will mark the Iowa caucuses, the first voting that counts in the presidential race. During this quadrennial ritual, politicians conduct "retail politics," whether or not the people buy it. Here are 10 facts that can withstand the upcoming withering campaign:
1 The Ringling Brothers circus nearly expired in northeast Iowa in the 1880s. Bedraggled by bad weather and bad luck, the fledgling circus lurched through thick mud to Cascade at imminent risk of collapse. But Cascade's mayor, doubtless aware that the death of a circus wouldn't help Cascade's image, turned out huge crowds. The Ringlings were so appreciative of Cascade's generosity that they decreed free admission for Cascade residents — forever. Nearly 130 years later the circus, now owned by Virginia-based Feld Entertainment, stands proudly by the brothers' promise.
2 The University of Iowa Writers' Workshop boasts that it was the first creative writing degree program in the United States. Among its students: Stuart Dybek ("The Coast of Chicago"), John Irving ("The World According to Garp") and Flannery O'Connor ("Wise Blood"). The acerbic O'Connor once said: "Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think universities stifle writers. I think they don't stifle enough of them."
3 The most famous thing about Riverside, Iowa, hasn't even happened yet. According to the "Star Trek" saga, the captain of the starship Enterprise was born in an unspecified Iowa town on March 22, 2228. Seeing that reference, Riverside postal worker Steve Miller persuaded town officials to call the town the "future birthplace of Capt. James T. Kirk," and "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry reportedly went along with it. Today, the town's slogan is "Where the trek begins," and an annual Trekkie festival is held there.
4 One of the most dramatic U.S. air disasters occurred in Sioux City in 1989 when a Chicago-bound jetliner suffered catastrophic engine failure and crash-landed, killing 111. Heroic crew efforts saved 185 others. Iowa also was the scene of crashes fatal to boxer Rocky Marciano (1969, near Newton), members of the Iowa State women's cross-country team (1985, in Des Moines), and South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson (1993, near Dubuque). But none was as famous as the tragedy on Feb. 3, 1959, "The Day the Music Died." Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson, were lost in an air accident near Clear Lake.
5 Iowa wasn't 15 years old as the Civil War approached, and would never host a battle. Yet Iowa contributed a higher percentage of its men to war than did any other state, North or South: Of the 116,000 Iowa men subject to military duty, 75,000 fought for the Union, according to the Iowa Official Register, a state government factbook.
6. Iowa's caucuses haven't always been so important. It wasn't until South Dakota's George McGovern and his campaign manager, Gary Hart, realized how, under new party protocols, the state's 1972 vote could launch his long-shot presidential bid that they rose to prominence. The campaign recruited many Iowans and convinced national political reporters to cover the caucuses. McGovern stole the show and headlines from front-runner Edmund Muskie. He won the nomination but lost to Richard Nixon in November. In 1976, an obscure Georgian named Jimmy Carter repeated the feat by shocking the Democratic field, but he went on to win it all.
7 Which of these show business figures was not born in Cedar Rapids: Ashton Kutcher ("Two and a Half Men"), Elijah Wood ("Lord of the Rings"), Ron Livingston ("Office Space") and Fran Allison ("Kukla, Fran and Ollie")? The answer: Allison, who attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids but was born in La Porte City.
8 Drive from Dyersville to the "Field of Dreams" baseball diamond, and you'll traverse the same undulating farm-to-market roads that bring hundreds of vehicles to the site in the 1989 movie's final, twilight scene. How did filmmakers choreograph the movements of all those cars on crowded two-lane roads so they could shoot the scene from the sky? A radio station in Dubuque, 25 miles east, surrendered its airwaves for the evening: All the drivers tuned to WDBQ-AM for precision commands on when the enormous entourage should come forward toward the ballfield, or cautiously retreat in reverse gear.
9 A remarkable Iowan died last June: Norma "Duffy" Lyon, who fascinated Iowa State Fair visitors with her life-size butter sculptures of cows, Elvis Presley, Dwight Eisenhower and even Jesus Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper.
10 Iowans demand efficient government. Exhibit A is the Squirrel Cage Jail, which served Council Bluffs from 1885 until 1969 and is now a museum. The jail, a three-story Lazy Susan and the only one of its size ever built, allowed one jailer to control more than 60 inmates in pie-shaped cells that revolved at the turn of a hand crank. An 1881 patent noted that the design would provide "maximum security with minimum jailer attention." An inmate could exit his cell only when the jailer ratcheted it to the sole doorway on that level.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer, whose parents were born in Iowa, is the newspaper's weekend editor. John McCormick, deputy editorial page editor and Manchester, Iowa, native, contributed to this report.
Sources: "Conversations with Flannery O'Connor" edited by Rosemary M. Magee; "The Iowa Precinct Caucuses: The Making of a Media Event" by Hugh Winebrenner; "Ashton Kutcher" by Marc Shapiro; "Amazing Iowa" by Janice Beck Stock; Encyclopedia Britannica; The Des Moines Register; Quad City Times; Newsweek; WDBQ-AM; Feld Entertainment; Historical Society of Pottawattamie County; iowahawkeyes.net; imdb.com; Tribune archives and news services.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times