Iowa Public Television


Iowa's Simple Pleasures (#403)

Dig for Iowa's state rock and mine for a little civil war history in southeast Iowa; take a bite of an award-winning burger in Dexter; test your nerves at an authentic haunted house; and relax at a historic Quad Cities hotel that received national attention.

Kaercher:  Let's go dig for Iowa's State Rock and Mine for a little Civil War history in Southeast Iowa.   Take bite of an award winning burger in Dexter.  Test your nerves at an authentic haunted house and relax at a historic Quad Cities hotel that has received national attention.  Join me Dan Kaercher as I travel the state to bring you these stories next on Iowa's Simple Pleasure.

 Funding for this program was provided by "Friends" the Iowa Public Television Foundation.  Generations of family and friends who feel passionate about the programs they watch on Iowa Public Television.

Iowa Tourism.  Iowa's tourism industry generates six billion dollars annually and supports more than sixty-two thousand jobs.  Information is available at to learn how you can support Iowa's economy while having a wonderful vacation in your own state.

 he Gilchrist Foundation founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist.  Furthering the philanthropic interest of the Gilchrist family in wildlife and conservation, medical care and social services, the arts in public broadcasting and disaster relief. 

 Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations.  Connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good.  For Iowa.  For ever.  Details at 

 Iowa's Simple Pleasures.

 If you are a rock hound or a Civil War buff Southeast Iowa is the place for adventure.  Plus there is a great stop for a sweet treat.  Keokuk is about as far southeast as you can go in Iowa.  It has a diverse range of outdoor activities and attractions.  Like most of the east coast of the state there are great views of the Mississippi River and a Main Street with local flavor.  Speaking of local flavor, Stan's Pastry Shop has been here since 1967.  Their specialty crème horns have traveled all around the globe. 

 Now Madonna, I understand the thing to get here is crème horns.  What makes them so special?

 Madonna:  Because they are good and everything from here comes scratch.

 Kaercher:  I understand your crème horns have a way of showing up in all sorts of places all over the country and the world.  Tell me about that.

 Madonna:  Yes, there was a gentleman that came in once and he took them to Egypt and then he brought his picture in, gave it to us, and we put it on the wall.  We have a wall over here that has all kinds of crème horns all over.  Wherever you go we will put your crème horn picture up if you send it back.

 Kaercher:  Ok, well I am going to put it to the test here.  I would like to try one. 

 Madonna:  All right.

 Kaercher:  So good both the crust and the filling.

 Kaercher:  Well, I would love to continue my conversation with Madonna and P.S. try more pastries; this was just a quick stop.  I am headed to a rock hunt.  The annual Geode Fest where - descend upon the tri-state Iowa, Illinois, Missouri area near Keokuk.  Keokuk geodes are world famous because of the variety which we have about 17 general different types. 

 Kaercher:  T.J. Ramsey of North Liberty is a geologist and co-founder of Geode Fest which started in 2004.

 Ramsey:  Right now we are standing on the geode beds.  This is called the Warsaw Shale.  There is alternating layers of geodes.  So what we are going to do is unearth one layer and then we are going to show you how - they go horizontally.  That's their beds they form in and then the different beds that are here.

 Kaercher:  Why is this area generally so great for geodes?

 Ramsey:  It used to be a shallow sea many thousands of years ago where shallow plants live that the geode forming process starts is when it became fossil plants. 

 Kaercher:  T.J. says the Keokuk Geodes are found within a fifty mile radius of Keokuk mostly on private property.  The site we're at with permission of the land owner is just across the border in Missouri.

 Ramsey:  Right there.  You're going to hit behind it. 

 Kaercher:  Right about there?

 Ramsey:  Yes. There you go good job.  That one feels pretty nice.  That is a nice light hollow one.  This is definitely a keeper.

 Kaercher:  Light weight indicates hollow which means there is a chance for a dazzling mineral display within.  The landowner here has had some gorgeous finds of his own over the years. 

 Alvis:  And I took it home and crack it.  And I have been offered 250 dollars for it. 

 Kaercher:  I am sure many of us today hope for just as great of find.  But no matter what folks drop in their buckets all appear to be having a rocking good time.

 Boehm:  I read an article about this place about four years ago describing what was found in the Keokuk area and it was really interesting.  So, I have always wanted to come here.  Finally made plans and did it.

 Borman:  I liked rocks when I was a kid and when I started having kids that fueled my desire to have rocks -

 Kid:  Because you get to dig in dirt and I like getting dirty.

 Kaercher:  Once people at this particular site fill their buckets.

 Unknown:  What do we weigh?

 Unknown:  That is 27 pounds right there.

 Kaercher:  They're weighed and they pay the land owner on a per pound basis and then it is back to the main gathering spot in Hamilton, Illinois to see what gems we really collected.  Oh, oh, oh.  Look at that.  Now what do you call?

 Unknown:  This is the quartz and this is the calcite that was growing on it.  This is a secondary mineral.

 Woman:  Oh, look at there.  Very nice. 

 Hillyer:  I am going to put it downstairs in my basement.  I have shelves of like my rocks that I have collected over the years and I am going to put it on my rock shelf.

 Heltsley:  They might be 300 pounds.  And it was underneath the water and I felt it and I went ah, it is round.

 Kaercher:  Few geode hunters get this big of catch.  But I heard no complaints form anyone about their finds.  Digging for geodes is fun but if that is not your cup of tea Keokuk is also the place to dig for a little Civil War History.  The town has the only designated national cemetery in Iowa.  And one interesting tidbit is that soldiers from both the North and the South are buried here.

 George:  Keokuk is actually in a very convenient location to travel up and down the Mississippi River.  They would have the barges bring the soldiers up and down.  There were five hospitals here where the injured soldiers would be brought here to heal their wounds and some of them of course didn’t make it.

 Kaercher: I understand that you can tell from the headstones who is on what side.   

 George:  You can.  What is the distinction?

 George:  Right and there is several right in here but you will see that the headstone comes to a point at the top.

 Kaercher: Of which one?

 George:  Of the Confederate Soldiers.

 Kaercher: Oh Confederate.

 George:  Rumor had it so the Union Soldiers wouldn't sit on them.  But I don't know how you verify that.

 Kaercher: When Civil War buffs come here what do they want to see and experience at the national cemetery in Keokuk. 

 George:  You know generally they have a connection with something whether it be an ancestor or something that they study in school but they always have some sort of connection maybe with a unit.  We have the eight Confederate Soldiers that are here.  It is always neat to visit those.  Thomas Lurch right here behind me was our very first burial.  We also have a Medal of Honor recipient here that is buried over on the other side.  We have one of Roosevelt's Rough Riders is buried here.  We have the first woman that was buried as a soldier west of the Mississippi.  A nurse, Sarah Thompson was her name.

 Kaercher: This national cemetery offers a solemn serene stroll through a chapter in American History none of us should ever forget.  There are lots of eateries to get a good burger but for a great burger one that has earned the title best of we traveled to Dexter in Dallas County.  White poles, dark chocolates and big burgers.  They are all part of a community that has been called the original one horse town. 

 Kaercher: You know over the years I heard my father-in-law, the late Bob Wilcox, mention so many times stopping in the 1930s on his way from Council Bluffs and Des Moines at Drew's Chocolates in Dexter.  For close to 90s years since 1927 these scrumptious sweets have been concocted in the same location using original recipes and equipment.  Each treat is lovingly and individually fork dipped in chocolate.  The result is a reputation for delicious and gorgeous candy.  Drew's chocolates is just one of the many well worth your time stops along what is known as the White Pole Road, an important part of Iowa's History, running right through Dexter and marked by symbolic white poles.  In the early 1900s Iowa's roads were getting a bad rap as some of the worst in the Midwest.  Mud and snow often made them impassible.  The solution a 380 mile river to river route built out of existing dirt roads.  The White Pole Road was a predecessor to the U.S. Highway System and allowed travelers a shorter straighter pathway across Iowa. 

Even though state and federally funded highways exist now, those old white poles can still be spotted roadside.  They continue to lead to interesting destinations such as this historic market just outside Dexter.  In July of 1933, Blanche and Buck Barrow were involved in a shoot out at Dexfield Park.  An abandoned amusement area that once existed here.  Buck was killed while Blanche was captured.  This picture show Blanche being pulled away from her dying husband.  Their infamous companions Bonnie and Clyde however escaped.  I have just scraped the surface of sites to see along Iowa's White Pole Road.  Hit the road yourself and let this route lead you to adventures in small town Iowa.  My main stop in Dexter is at the Rusty Duck to sample the winner of the Iowa's Best Burger Award.  Over 200 restaurants vied for the honor but Brad Waldron's Rusty Duck established in 2004 took the prize for one impressive looking burger. 

 Waldron:  The particular burger that one it this year was the bacon cheeseburger.  We grind our own meat.  We use top sirloin ribeye trimmings for my steaks and we grind it ourselves, patty it.  There is really nothing that we do any different.  It is just that you know it is the same burger I have been serving for years.  After we make the cheeseburger we put about 10/12 pieces of bacon on it and it is stacked pretty good.  You know it is definitely a dinner. If you can't eat it you can definitely take it home and eat it the next day.

 Kaercher: 10 to 12 pieces of bacon?  I mean wouldn't two be enough?

 Waldron: No, two wouldn't be enough.

 Kaercher: This small town eatery has a nice warm atmosphere and packs in customers that are regulars and some who just stop in to try the award winning burger.  In fact when the Rusty Duck first won the award, burger fans packed the place.  We were selling probably, oh gee about six or seven hundred pounds of ground beef a week and it was just - it was crazy.  I mean, I have never sold so many burgers in my life. I waited in eager anticipation for the arrival of my award winning bacon cheese burger.  Now wait a minute - how am I suppose to bite into something that big?

 Waitress:  Smash it.

 Kaercher: Smash it?  Ok.  Thanks for the tip.  Ok, so here is what I was told to do.  Oh my goodness, the juices are just tumbling out of there.  Oh dear.  For as much praise as Brad has received for his burger the Rusty Duck menu is actually quite extensive including an award winning tenderloin and lots of other dishes.  The customers here order a variety of menu choices. 

 Customer:  There is nothing on the menu that we have tried that we really haven't liked. 

 Kaercher: And I think it is pretty safe to say that no one walks out the door hungry.

 Waldron:  We have pretty good sized portions on everything.  Like our hamburgers are 14 ounce, pork tenderloin is 10/12 ounces.  We go through quite a few to-go boxes. 

 Kaercher: I know my meal left little room for anything else which seems to be a common customer feeling. 

 Customer:  We have never tried dessert.

 Customer:  There's definitely never room for dessert. 

 Waldron:  We don't serve a dessert because we tried that in the past because when they are finished, you know they're pretty full. 

 Kaercher: To-go boxes stream out the door at a healthy pace.  Carry-outs are common here at the Rusty Duck.  If you are hungry and looking for an outstanding big burger or another delicious selection stop in Dexter.  The original one horse town with more than one unique attraction.  If you like eerie experiences, you don't have to wait for October and Halloween.  Just visit a certain house in the Southwest Iowa town of Villisca.  Anybody home?

 Houser:  Yeah.  Come on in. 

 Kaercher: Hello. 

 Houser:  Hi how are you doing?

 Kaercher: Dan Kaercher.

 Houser:  John Houser.  Nice to meet you.

 Kaercher: I'm here for the tour today.

 Houser:  Ok. 

 Kaercher: So this is the front parlor.

 Houser:  Yes. This would have been their main living area.  Probably singing songs at the piano, church hymns, things like that.

 Kaercher: The furnishings that you see here were they the Moore's?

 Houser:  These are all mostly period pieces.  Placed pretty much exactly where they were according to the coroner report.  For instance where the piano sits, that is where the piano sat.  They said there were two bird nests on top of it.  So it has been pretty painstakingly recreated. 

 Kaercher: So John, this blue room is where the two little girls who just happened to be spending the night were murdered?

 Houser:  Yes.  This was Sarah Moore's sewing room, Katherine, her daughter's spare bedroom.  This is where Ida and Lena Stillinger were found.  Of course the mirrors were all covered.  Upstairs is where the six members of the Moore family and most likely where the killer hid.

 Kaercher: Can we go up and take a look now?

 Houser:  Absolutely.  Let's go.

 Kaercher: Wow.  Now what happened in this room?

 Houser:  Again with this room the mirrors were covered.  The oil lamp was placed at the edge of the bed, top removed.  This is where Jamie and Sarah were found.  And actually right at the foot of the steps there was a big pool of blood and that almost indicated that the killer had stood there for quite some time almost basking in what he had done.

 Kaercher: Now let's see the room the children were in.

 Houser:  This is the children's room where Herman, Boyd, and Katherine were all found.  This by far would have been the worst room to come to for the scene.  The ceiling was pretty much chopped up with the axe. He was chopping into the ceiling and all over the place. 

 Kaercher: What was the age range of these children?

 Houser:  Between nine and eleven.  I think this guy came here, found the house randomly, seen the axe outside and thought here is my weapon of choice.  Came, hid in the attic, waited for them to come home, fall asleep, came out and got the parents of these four kids, downstairs Ida and Lena, and gone. 

 Linn:  It is a human story.  It is not something that is made-up.  It is not a ghost story.  It was human beings that were murdered in there.  You can't dwell on something like that and get on with your every day life. 

 Kaercher: Have you ever had any eerie experiences?  Paranormal experiences yourself in the house?

 Linn:  I was in the house one night with a paranormal team.  When they came they set up a monitor inn the kitchen.  So, I decided I was going to go back in the blue room and see if anything would happen to me.  And I was standing there and I was talking to them and I told them who I was and I told them who my mother was and it just all of the sudden, I just got this really, really cold spot on my arm.  And somebody who had been watching out in the kitchen on the monitor said it looked just like a bright light had come and lit on my arm.  And I got goose flushed; my hair stood up on end, I think probably that was a pretty impressive thing that happened to me. 

 Houser:  That's kind of what really drew me to the house was the paranormal end.  I would come in with my digital recorder, just set quietly, if a dog barked or somebody walked outside, I would mark it.  I have caught doors opening/shutting.  I have heard footsteps.  I have seen people get scratched.  I have seen objects move.  I have caught shadow figures in the house when nobody is in the house.  I mean you name it this house produces and within the paranormal community it is revered as one of the top most notorious haunted houses in America.  You can't even imagine what happened in this room a hundred years ago.  The scene that these were real people and it was a brutal crime.  A guy came in with an axe with one thing on his mind to just destroy this whole family.  From that moment on this house would never be a home again.  So Dan, you are staying the night tonight, right?

 Kaercher: After seeing the tour, I think I would rather spend the night at a motel but thank you John.  It was a great tour.  I appreciate it. 

 Houser:  Anytime come back and we will be waiting for you.

 Kaercher: I hope so.  In the fall of 2011 The New York Times named this hotel one of its 150 weekend destinations.  It is the restored Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport. 

 Employee:  There you go Mr. Kaercher. 

 Kaercher: Thank you. 

 Employee:  You are welcome.  Have a great stay. 

 Kaercher:  Oh wow.  Look at that stained glass.

 Heim:  You know a lot of people do.  They look up when they come in and they notice the skylight because that was original that was covered for decades.  So that has all been redone. 

 Kaercher: The Hotel Blackhawk opened in 1915 and by the mid to late 90s had seen better days.  But thanks to more than 35 million dollar two year renovation by a St. Louis company, the hotel has been restored to its glory days. 

 Heim:  Pretty much on the first and the second floor here in the lobby this has all been restored back.  This is a historical significance of the property.  For example the marble flooring here in the lobby is all original.  The arches have been restored.  The lighting, in particular, was actually replicated from original 19 circa photos.  We also have the Gold Room which is our main ballroom.  That room features over 5000 square feet of meeting space and that room went through a 3.8 million dollar restoration just to put that one back. 

 Kaercher: For smaller groups there are smaller rooms.  Each just as classy in its own way.  On the eleventh floor is Club Davenport with views of downtown and the Mississippi River.  In the hotel's lower level is a fun and quirky looking bowling alley and bar with food service?  There is also a first floor restaurant where the pork chop has become a signature dish. 

 Fredenburg:  The pork chop, you know has become a signature dish definitely since the president came and ate that as an entree.  They ordered three more up to the room for him and the secret service guys to enjoy all together.  And it is sweet barbeque demi-glace on there. 

 Kaercher: The White House actually requested the recipe for its menu.  The Hotel Blackhawk isn't a new find for The White House.  We were told six presidents have stayed here dating back to at least the 1930s.  Another bit of history lies adjacent to the bar in the lobby.  It is a restored piano that I am told was played by jazz musician and Davenport native Bix Beiderbecke. 

 Heim:  The piano actually was in the Hotel Blackhawk and it was a piano that was used by many celebrities and Bix himself that played on it.  A couple actually had it here in the Quad City area and they were getting ready to move.  So they gifted it to us in October. 

 Kaercher: Well, I have explored the hotel's history, its architecture, and its food.  I wonder what the rooms are like. 

 Heim:  This is one of ten extended stay rooms that we have here in the hotel.  These rooms are very, very unique.  They feature full kitchens with dishwashers, refrigerators, stoves, microwaves.  We also have stackable washer and dryers.  This is actually a two bedroom unit and then we have some that are one bedroom units too as well.  All of our guest bathrooms in all of our rooms have flat screen LCD TVs built into the guest bathroom mirrors.  So you are able to watch your sports, your soaps.  If you want to watch the news you can take a bath.  But this is one of the nice amenities features that we have here at the Hotel Blackhawk.  This is a premium room.  It is a premium king actually.  We call it premium because it is up on a higher floor.  It has got great river views of the downtown area.  This room features obviously flat screen LCDs TVs.  We have mini-bars in every guest room too as well.  It has two bathrobes.  It has got a nice little workout area off to the right.  Lights for your desk.  All of these rooms feature the chase lounges that you see here. 

 Kaercher: The rooms are very inviting.  But so is the third floor pool with access to an outdoor area.  I love all the modern amenities with this bit of Davenport history.  It is no wonder the Hotel Blackhawk has become a top Quad Cities destination in its own right.

 Heim:  We just want people to know that it is a beautiful place.  It is very friendly.  We just want them to come experience and just have a great feeling when they leave. 

 Kaercher: Want to learn more about what you just saw on Iowa's Simple Pleasures?  Visit our website at  Here you will discover more about the locations I visited and details on how you can create your own adventure. 

 Dan, welcome to the lodge.   

 Kaercher: Oh.

 Funding for this program was provided by "Friends" the Iowa Public Television Foundation.  Generations of families and friends who feel passionate about the programs they watch on Iowa Public Television. 

 Iowa Tourism.  You don't have to travel far to grow closer to family and friends.  From exploring the great outdoors to discovering a new cultural attraction, your Iowa adventure is just around the corner.  Information on planning your trip is available at 

 The Gilchrist Foundation founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist.  Furthering the philanthropic interest of the Gilchrist family in wildlife and conservation, medical care and social services, the arts in public broadcasting and disaster relief. 

 Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations.  Connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about. For good.  For Iowa.  For ever.  Details at     


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Tags: Davenport Dexter food geodes hamburgers Hotel Blackhawk Iowa IowasSimplePleasures Keokuk relaxation restaurants Rusty Duck Restaurant tourism travel Villisca Axe Murder


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