A canceled wedding led me to Iowa at the end of November and to make sure the trip wasn’t a waste, I beamed down to Riverside to see Star Trek history.
I took a solo (Star) trek to Riverside, IA over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to see a friend who was set to have a wedding. This was scheduled before the pandemic took shape. Obviously, the wedding was canceled, but as I already paid for the travel and lodging, I figured since I was taking the trip by myself, that to waste the large chunk of money would be ill-advised. So I started looking for touristy things to do outside, and wouldn’t you know that Iowa is home to not one, but two unique pieces of media?
The first is the actual field from the film Field of Dreams, which still stands to this day and even has a neat little souvenir shop. Even though it’s about two hours away, it was still a neat little experience, as it remains one of, if not my favorite, baseball movies of all time. It’s after all given me the line I repeat all the time, “What are you grinning at, you ghost?”
South of the Field of Dreams is the birthplace of James. T Kirk in Riverside, IA. This isn’t just a single monument like you may have seen, it’s actually a collection of several key points of interest around the small town. This was a place I just had to
explore for myself and what better time to do it than on my first trip to Iowa, at a time when no one would be around. So after doing my dutiful obligation to get myself tested, and purchasing an extra surplus of masks, just in case I lost a few, I drove nearly nine hours to Davenport, IA to begin my own personal trek.
I spent the first day at my hotel, ordering food for delivery, and settling up for the night. With little to do, I charged my camera, got directions, and did some work before nodding off, hoping to get an early enough jump on my day to hit both the Birthplace of Kirk, as well as the Field of Dreams. The total drive time would be about five-six hours depending on stops and such.
To get to Riverside, you’re going to be going through mostly rural freeways, which are actually less freeways and more just streets in the middle of nowhere with speed limits of around 60 miles an hour. After dodging and weaving through the long streets, with the occasional run-in with a small, several-block-long town, you’ll eventually hit Riverside. Most of the attractions come from the downtown part of the area. If you’re from a major city, the idea of “downtown” is a vastly different thing for you.
You’d be used to big bustling streets, with high buildings, and lots of traffic. In Riverside, the entirety of downtown is two blocks wide and less than a quarter-mile long. That’s not to say there isn’t something to do in the area, because there actually is and it’s all Star Trek themed.
The first stop for me was the Star Trek museum, which was open free to anyone, as long as you had a mask on. There was no one else in there but a kindly older lady who ran the museum. She gave me a brief history of the museum and encouraged me to look around at my leisure, while also pointing out that an adjoining second museum, about the town itself, was just next door and also free to explore.
The Star Trek museum isn’t huge, only one large room contains everything, but the things it contains are pieces of the show’s history, as well as signed autographs, celebrity photos with cast members, a makeshift captains’ chair for photo opts, numerous pieces of Star Trek memorabilia and even some real-life stuff from Star Trek donated to the museum. In less stressful and plague-filled times, it’s also home to a fanfest.
While the museum is free to enter, there are plenty of unique goodies there for purchase as well. From shirts that say “Live Fast Die Red” to numerous Starfleet and Star Trek patches, to things like collectible stamps that are out of circulation. Most of the merchandise found at this museum is also only sold at that museum, as some of the people of the town are the ones who make it. The stamps for instance came from the Riverside, IA post office, and a lot of the shirts and patches were created by one man in the town. So if you’re a collector this is a must-see stop for anyone looking to get interesting and unique pieces of Star Trek memorabilia. I myself spent more money here than in any other one location during my trip. If you’re afraid that this is all the town has to offer, you’d be
wrong. You get a complimentary guide-sheet to help you tour the area.
There are eight key locations on the sheet, including the Delta shield built entirely out of bikes and other metals, numerous banners of the original cast, and characters down the main street (Highway 22) of the city. Street signs featuring the classic Enterprise-A silhouette. Not to mention not one, but two monuments that feature a tribute to James Kirk.
The first is a statue of Kirk, which is just about the same height as the real William Shatner. Having worked many years in private security, handling meet and greets and such, I’ve stood next to Shatner, and he is by no means a tall man. The statue may not be exactly his height, but it isn’t that far off. Besides the statue, there is an actual monument, though you’ll have to take a little hike down the street (or drive) to get to it. Along the way, you’ll pass a crosswalk that has the Delta symbol inside of it, while also noticing the formerly mentioned banners that adorn the street poles. Down the way some, you’ll see Murphy’s Pub and Grille. While I stopped at all the unique attractions this town had to offer, this was one I purposely avoided. With COVID-19 still raging at the time, the fewer stops I made inside the better. The bar and grille have your typical options according to their digital menu, which claims cheesesteaks, Reubens, patty melts, and even lasagna.
I’ll just have to return to Riverside sometime in the next few years to really get a taste of the town. You’ll also notice as you walk by Murphy’s that their sign has the USS Enterprise-A on it.
Just beyond that, behind a small yellow building, is the James T. Kirk monument. It’s a moderately sized plaque, that has a bench facing it. It’s a modest experience but still one worth checking out.
All in all, if you’re taking a trip out to Riverside anytime soon to see the sights that it has to offer, best to wait until there’s a fanfest going on. Otherwise, that’s a long trip for not a lot. That said, if you planned a trip like me, that took advantage of other locations in the area as well, it’s an absolute must-add to anyone’s itinerary who’s going to see eastern Iowa. There are several casinos in the area, of course, the Field of Dreams field is only a couple of hours north, and the famed Bridges of Madison County are just a few hours west. That’s just a few more places you could hit, not to mention just 20 minutes north is the home of Iowa football with the Iowa Hawkeyes. If the season’s going on, you might try your luck getting tickets. Assuming when you go the whole Covid-19 situation has been mostly resolved.
All in all, I loved my time in Riverside. If you’re an Iowa native or are relatively close to southern-Iowa, it’s a must-see for any Trek fan. Otherwise, be sure to plan a more encompassing and expansive trip to Iowa, and make it a must-see during your travels. It really is a beautiful place for such an iconic piece of Star Trek history to reside. Be sure to travel safe, spend some money to help the local economy, and be respectful and you’ll find yourself having one heck of a trip.
Whether you’re coming or going, remember to live long and prosper.