I've picked up a lot of facts about Iowa communities in my time at the Iowa Tourism Office, but a recent trip to Spencer showed me there’s always more to learn.
The Clay County Heritage Center’s current temporary exhibit, “Celebrate Clay County Baseball,” showcases the rich history of baseball in the community. The exhibit spans more than a century and includes artifacts and memorabilia from state championship high school teams, Junior League teams and the 1940s Spencer Cardinals semi-professional team.
What I found most intriguing (well, besides the “7th inning stretch” area that includes retro chairs and a TV that shows some vintage baseball footage) was the display on Babe Ruth’s visit to Spencer in June 1948. Yes, that Babe Ruth.
I had never heard the Babe Ruth visited Iowa, much less that it was his last public appearance before his death just two months later.
In advance of his visit, a whole “Babe Ruth Day Organization” committee was formed to coordinate all the logistics. Babe enjoyed a double-header, rode in a parade, gave a public address and autographed baseballs (two of which are on display).
The baseball exhibit opened on April 1 and runs through October 31. Special activities are planned over the Fourth of July weekend, including an appearance by Hall of Famer Rod Carew.
There are two permanent exhibits worth exploring as well. One centers on the “Great Spencer Fire” of June 1931 that destroyed most of the downtown after a dropped sparkler ignited a stock of fireworks. Luckily, there were no fatalities. The town quickly rebuilt, some businesses reopened in September, resulting in one of the largest collection of art deco buildings.
The other exhibit takes people through the history of Clay County. Artifacts include mammoth bones found in the county, items from pioneer days, the key to Spencer’s first schoolhouse and a church altar.