Walking through Villisca's mobile History Tour
Written by Roxanna Sieber, Villisca Economic Development Director
Courtesy The Villisca Review
Villisca has a fascinating history, a blend of history and mystery. We have a story to tell. Our story expresses some of the endearing qualities that makes living in Villisca forever an adventure. In many ways Villisca is typical of many of the small rural communities that dot the Iowa landscape. While we have many similarities, like our name, there is only one Villisca. We have a story to tell. Chuck Offenberger, a renowned columnist for the Des Moines Register in the 1990s, once described Villisca as "A nice little town where something awful once happened." Carolyn Gage, former publisher of the Villisca Review, wrote in 2000, "While it is not pleasant for Villisca to be remembered as the site of these murders, it is foolish to ignore what happened. History, no matter how painful, should never be rewritten." So, we tell the story. While the events of that night in 1912 impacted life in Villisca even to this day, there is more to Villisca's history and we share some of that on the pages of a new addition to our Villisca website - m.villisca.com - where we have uploaded a Self-guided Villisca History Tour.
Nearly two years ago, I set out with what I thought would be the simple task of creating a website for mobile devices so that visitors to Villisca could have a self-guided history tour on their smart phones. Little did I know what was going to be involved in getting the project done. The site is now up and running. There is still a lot of tweaking of the design of the site to be done. And I feel confident that as people explore this History Tour of Villisca, there will be tweaking that needs to be done with the narratives and more pieces of history to be added. (One thing still to be added are maps for each page.)
Our story is reflected in the unsolved 1912 axe murders, in patriotism illustrated by those who have stepped forward time and time again to answer the call of their country to serve in the military, which was memorialized in a Pulitzer Prize winning photo, to everyday people distinguishing themselves with academic, business and cultural accomplishments. Historically, Villisca provides an environment in which people flourish. It is a community of people with diverse interests and backgrounds; a community of individualists. As Liz Murray noted in Homeless Harvard, "History - It is each of us - it is all of us.
The "tour" is presented in two ways: 1. There is the complete tour which starts at the square and then visits a number of places in town; 2. There are also pages which focus on specific areas of interest - the 1912 Unsolved Axe Murders, the Pulitzer Prize winning photo "The Homecoming", Villisca's Military History, the place of Railroading in our history, Villisca's Cemetery and Villisca's Faith Community. Did you know that at one time the Catholics held Mass in a "Chapel Car" on a railroad siding? That Villisca once had an airport? That there was a summer resort with cabins?
The self-guided Villisca History Tour is also available at www.villisca.com for those, like me, who do not have a smart phone or one of the pads or tablets. It can be found at: http://www.villisca.com/HistoryTour.html
Welcome to Villisca--past and present! Enjoy your tour!
There are many to thank in getting this project off the ground. Thanks go to the many people who provided information that was used in the narrative. I am not going to try to name them all for fear of leaving out someone. Particular thanks does go to Susie and Tom Enarson who provided information, photos of old postcards, help in sorting out conflicting pieces of historical data and to identify locations. Thanks also goes to Delbert Schroeder who helped with the information about the Company F Memorial Park and the memorials in the park. The Villisca Chamber of Commerce and the City of Villisca, in their funding of the Villisca Economic Development Initiative, made this project possible. Farmers Mutual Telephone Company is funding the monthly ISP costs for both villisca.com and m.villisca.com. CIPCO, through the VMPP, provided some funding to help in the initial stages of the site development. And I need to give a shout out to my two nephews in Florida--Hal and Phil Paxton. Phil gave me the initial idea for a mobile site. And Hal has been a checker, looking at the site once it was loaded up on the Internet, critiquing the design aspecs and suggesting changes. He has made some additional suggestions that will be implemented as time allows.