Before I worked at the Iowa Tourism Office, this is what I knew of Glenn Miller: one of my uncles was a big fan and I once performed a tap dance to “In the Mood.” After a trip to the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum in Clarinda, I’ve learned a lot more.
The museum complex, located south of the charming town square, includes both the museum itself and the actual home where Alton Glenn Miller (he and all his siblings opted to be known by their middle names) was born in 1904.
Large photos and informational displays in the museum tell the story of his life and career. Glenn developed his love of music early. He even skipped out on his high school graduation ceremony to play a gig! His early career took him from Colorado (where he briefly attended the University of Colorado) to Los Angeles (where he roomed with Benny Goodman) to New York.
After hiring musicians and arranging music for several other bands, Glenn started his own band in the late 1930s. The first band didn’t pan out, but he persevered and the second attempt fared much better. The band played the legendary Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York, in the summer of 1939 and their popularity grew. The Glenn Miller Orchestra was featured on weekly radio shows and even in a couple of movies.
At the peak of his civilian career in 1942, Glenn joined the war effort by persuading officials to put him in charge of a modernized Army band. The group went on to perform all over Europe. On December 15, 1944, Glenn boarded a plane near London, England, headed for a performance in Paris, France. The plane disappeared and has never been found.
Among the artifacts on display are an original bandstand (complete with the letters “G” and “M” on it) donated by a former band member, one of only four trombones authentically connected to Glenn, several of his albums (the museum has more not currently on display); and his Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy. The museum also has a gift shop and a small theater which shows a video about Glenn’s life.
Clarinda annually celebrates its famous former resident during the Glenn Miller Festival, held in June. The 2013 event runs June 13-16.
Iowa Tourism Office