Mason City has long celebrated its native son, Meredith Willson, creator/composer of the Broadway and film hit The Music Man. The visitors’ center and museum dedicated to Willson and his works, Music Man Square, provides a delightful and welcoming introduction to both the man and the town, particularly during the holiday season. “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” is a month-long event running through the weekend after Christmas, that sees the cultural center decked out in holiday finery. The event’s name comes from the well-known song Willson composed for the less well-known musical Here’s Love, which was based on the film Miracle on 34th Street. The 1912 streetscape--modeled after the movie sets of River City--is draped in garlands, wreaths, and lights, with festive themed trees scattered near storefronts. Animated window displays show Santa’s elves hard at work and Santa himself is on hand for photos.
But don’t stop there! Look a little closer in the store windows and you’ll see historic photos of Mason City’s places and citizens. You’ll get a glimpse at what shops and businesses in the town were like 100 years ago. Stop into the ice cream parlor for a sweet treat and enjoy it at a parlor table on the sidewalk, sheltered from the cold outside. The River City High School front opens to a large meeting room designed to look like the high school gym from the film. It’s available to rent and frequently hosts wedding receptions and reunions. Don’t forget to stop by Mrs. Paroo’s gift shop for a souvenir.
The museum contains an impressive array of artifacts from Willson’s life and career, as it traces his influences and accomplishments, as well as the development of the popular music of the early 20th century. From the piano he composed on, to showcases of unique and unusual instruments, to playable snippets of Willson’s songs, to a usable recording booth, music lovers will have a heyday. There’s a small theater showing four short early films with Willson compositions, and a separate viewing area featuring a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of The Music Man, hosted by one of its stars, Shirley Jones. The temporary display space currently features mementos, photos, and newspapers covering the 1962 premiere of the film, which was held in Mason City and coincided with the annual North Iowa Band Festival that year. You can even become part of a life-sized movie poster and snap a picture. Also available to tour is Willson’s boyhood home, located behind Music Man Square, on the opposite side of the block. And feel free to chat with the volunteers on hand--they have warm smiles and a wealth of information to share!
Music Man Square hours: Tuesday-Sunday 1:00-5:00, closed Mondays and holidays
Admission: $6 for adults, $3 for students 7-18, age 6 and under free
For more info on booking and group tours, visit the Music Man Square website.
Photo credit: Suzanne Armstrong 2014