The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 25, 2014

Picture showcases tower's fall

By Gary Herrity Special to the Herald
The Clinton Herald

---- — You may have heard that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Well, this picture certainly is. History-lovers can often go on talking about some old photographs for a half-hour or more, and this is a fine example. Let’s start with Sunday, July 27, 1947. A fierce wind storm toppled the KROS tower from high atop a famous downtown building.

KROS had been founded in 1941, and the studios and tower were housed in and on the Jacobsen Building, AKA the Lamb Block.

During a storm with “Tornadic Winds” (said the Clinton Herald headline), the tower fell into Third Street at 12:20 a.m., thankfully hurting no one, but it provided a gigantic conversation piece right in the center of a primary intersection. The station was off-air for the only time in KROS history.

Morgan Sexton was still the general manager, and Gil Andrew and Bob Johnson were engineers. According to KROS employee, Hank Dihlmann, they rigged a wire from the Jacobsen Building to the Van Allen Building and got the station back on the air in just a few hours. The range was limited but, still, the interruption was confined to a very short time and regular news, weather and other programing could be continued.

These were the days when Dihlmann could often be seen walking around downtown selling advertising. He actually covered the whole town, but he walked the Fifth Avenue South route and was known by everyone as the “voice of the River Kings.” Thousands of people who listened to him got to also see and know him.

He often stopped and talked to passers-by about sports and was well-loved by all. (Hank is still going strong and playing golf in his 90s).

On this date, a storm’s high winds had toppled the huge tower. It can be seen in the street and is the reason for the photograph, perhaps taken by Clinton Herald photographer Hank Wohlwend. This scene actually captures even more Clinton history. Across the street, one can see Volckman’s Furniture Store (before the building’s new façade was put on it) and the legendary Milo John’s Drug Store, which sold Rexall products.

Nowadays, Mike Kroemer has his insurance business in what was then Shull’s Men’s Store. It used to have an exit through the back, and many people parked behind the store and came through it on their way to other businesses. Often they stopped to try on a sport coat or other apparel. Mike is currently thinking about remodeling the front of the building and is looking for pictures and ideas.

Also, one can see Klinger’s Paint store and can imagine seeing Charlie Hicks entertaining customers royally. The downtown businessmen (and women) were well known by all, and it was very much a community neighborhood. Volckman’s Furniture was run by John and Ruth Stansberry and Martin Morris Clothiers can be seen at the far left end of the photo.

Mark Morris and his brother, Emil, were always there; as was Lambert Neil, the suave good-looking salesman with the well-trimmed mustache. Downstairs was Rod Fitch and his sporting equipment shop, and upstairs was the boy’s department — run by Delores Hagge, who always helped customers in such a bright and pleasant manner.

Look at the hustle and bustle on the street. Kids on their bicycles stopped to take in the scene. They appear to be older, because high school students didn’t usually own a car then and, therefore, rode bikes throughout their teens. As mentioned before, I can recall Chuck Vogt zooming around our corner on Ninth Avenue South and Sixth Street every day on his way to work at Marcucci’s.

Automobiles crowd the street on this warm summer day. You can see a modern Plymouth in the foreground and an old Model A Ford. The street is busy with people, as was always the case before television. People were usually out and about, walking through Clinton’s two parks on their way downtown.

That was the “happening place” to see everybody, and we knew them all. This day, the “disaster” of the toppled tower drew even bigger crowds. Studying the picture, you can almost feel the excitement of that event and its times. Note the boy nearest to the tower; you can almost read his mind as he reviews the chain of events and thinks what the crash was like…perhaps wishing he’d been there to see it fall.

After that, he may have gone into nearby Walgreen’s to get a dish of ice cream, scooped-out (or punched out) by a modern device that produced product in an elongated cube — which was never seen before or since.

These were times that one could really feel your young life pulsing while traversing the streets —everything seeming so vivid and exciting in our minds. “Oh, to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear,” as the narrator of “The Lone Ranger” used to intone as the program left the air.

n Sources — Mike Kroemer Insurance; archives of the Clinton Herald; Dave Vickers, KROS; Don Schneider

Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears only in the Herald on Fridays.