CLINTON — “For some reason, I’ve always liked Iowa’s history,” author Linda Betsinger McCann said Monday. Her parents took the family on trips throughout the Midwest, and McCann always enjoyed Iowa, she said.
The author will discuss her books in Clinton County this month at the Wheatland and DeWitt public libraries.
McCann didn’t grow up in Shell Rock, but after she moved there, she discovered that her family descended from the town’s founder, George Washington Adair, she said.
Shell Rock’s sesquicentennial in 2005 led McCann and other Shell Rock residents to form a historical society. McCann is still its president.
“I didn’t know Shell Rock’s history,” said McCann, so she began researching it.
McCann talked to people about Shell Rock’s history, and many of them mentioned towns that no longer exist. McCann’s curious mind asked, “Where did they go?”
McCann wrote about eight of the extinct towns in “Lost Butler County Towns in 2010,” which was published in 2011.
One “Lost” book led to another. “I’ve done seven counties,” said McCann, all in northeast Iowa along the Cedar River, because that’s in her neighborhood.
“Then I began stumbling across other stuff I didn’t know,” McCann said.
The Iowan magazine was her next publisher. “They were excited when I had interest and could do books that were several counties or statewide interest,” McCann said.
One day McCann asked her young granddaughters what they knew about prohibition. Prohibition of what? they wondered.
McCann explained the 18th amendment to the United States constitution which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. Prohibition was ratified by the states on January 16, 1919 and officially went into effect on January 17, 1920, with the passage of the Volstead Act. The 21st Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933, ending Prohibition.
McCann will discuss her book about prohibition in Iowa at the DeWitt Community Library, 915 Fifth Ave. in DeWitt, Monday, Oct. 18 at 4 p.m.
McCann’s discussion of prohibition brings mixed interest, she said. People tell her, I can’t believe Iowa had prohibition, she said. They know Chicago prohibited alcohol but not that the state of Iowa did.
“That’s the first thing that surprises me,” McCann said.
The second is the interest in mobsters. Though McCann’s research led her to the story of a gunfight between a deputy and a Chicago gin runner about three miles north of Waverly, her book, “Prohibition in Eastern Iowa,” is not about mobsters.
“This book is about why the Iowa farmer knowingly broke the law and used his corn to make alcohol,” McCann said.
“I talked with the children of bootleggers,” McCann said. They had mixed feelings about their family’s crimes. One quit school in second grade to help the family break the law. “They had to eat,” McCann said.
A man northwest of Mason City wishes his family had never violated prohibition. Farmers were losing their land because they couldn’t keep up on payments, so this man’s family bought up the farms.
Decades later, descendants of those farmers accuse the man of stealing their family farms, McCann said. “He wishes his father had never done it.” It was a drastic measure that still has side effects, she said.
“The Civilian Conservation Corps of Northeast Iowa” was another book that came out of a conversation with McCann’s grandchildren, she said.
McCann and her family were at Backbone State Forest south of Strawberry Point. Her grandchildren took a hike and came back with a photo of something. They asked McCann what it was, but she didn’t know.
The photo showed the drain and plumbing for a shower house, McCann said. They asked a ranger if the remains of the structure were a CCC project.
The ranger said it was, and he was surprised no one had found it sooner.
CCC built Backbone State Forest for the most part, said McCann. Her grandchildren didn’t know about it. “It’s something they should know,” she said.
“Most of us know the state parks and that sort of thing, but here in Iowa 75 percent of the work done by the CCC actually dealt with soil erosion, flood prevention,” McCann said.
“All this work on state parks is only 25% of the work they did,” McCann said. “And again, we don’t know this stuff.”
McCann spoke with 15 men who worked for the CCC. “I was very lucky,” she said.
“The Civilian Conservation Corps in Northeast Iowa” was published by The Iowan Books in 2016, and “Civilian Conservation Corps in Southeast Iowa was published by Tandem Publishing Group in 2018.
McCann plans two other books about the CCC to cover the northwest and southwest.
McCann will talk about the CCC at Curtis Memorial Library in Wheatland Monday, Oct. 18 at 11 a.m.
“Now I’m finishing up polio in Iowa,” McCann said. She hopes to have it published in 2022.
This fall, if the printer can get the paper for the book, “Rosie the Riveter in Iowa” will hit shelves, McCann said.
McCann will have copies of all her books at the Wheatland and DeWitt libraries Oct. 18.
“I would say anyone from middle school and up would… learn something from what I have to say.”