Iowa Culture app needs our help

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As a lover of historical markers and roadside oddities, I gleefully downloaded the new Iowa Culture app, but quickly learned what was and wasn’t included.

The app itself is terrific and, at least for those of us with iPhones, it performs beautifully. Users can see a multitude of interesting sites around their current location, even placing those sites on a map and using GPS to route directly to a selection.

There are options to filter results by type, many with photos and brief descriptions. Navigating the Iowa Culture app is easy and intuitive for anyone tacitly familiar with such things.

No section of the state has been neglected. State officials boasted during official launch at the Iowa State Fair that more than 3,500 sites are a part of the database.

In fact, if you want to visit Iowa sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, museums, cemeteries or opera houses, you’ll definitely appreciate the app.

But if you are more like me and enjoy seeing some of Iowa’s unique and less-famed cultural spots, the database is lacking.

There is no mention, for example, of the massive tree sculpture built by 87-year-old sorghum farmer and inventor L.J. Maasdam near the small town of Sully. The structure, which stands more than 60 feet tall, is comprised of more than 200 steel wagon wheels.

His family will tell you that the sculpture, which they helped him complete, was the last act of a lifelong tinkerer.

This treelike sculpture made from more than 200 steel wagon wheels is located south of I-80, north of the town of Sully. It was created by Leonard J. Maasdam, an 87-year-old area sorghum farmer and inventor. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette) - Iowa Culture
This treelike sculpture made from more than 200 steel wagon wheels is located south of I-80, north of the town of Sully. It was created by Leonard J. Maasdam, an 87-year-old area sorghum farmer and inventor. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
This treelike sculpture made from more than 200 steel wagon wheels is located south of I-80, north of the town of Sully. It was created by Leonard J. Maasdam, an 87-year-old area sorghum farmer and inventor. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette) - Iowa Culture app
This treelike sculpture made from more than 200 steel wagon wheels is located south of I-80, north of the town of Sully. It was created by Leonard J. Maasdam, an 87-year-old area sorghum farmer and inventor. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Closer to Cedar Rapids, you’ll find no entry for Brandon’s extra-large frying pan. Built in 2004 to promote the town’s Cowboy Breakfast, the pan measures 14 feet, three inches when you include the handle. Place the kids inside and snap a photo.

Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan stands in the small community of Brandon. It was built in 2004 by locals out of donated scrap metal, a promotional tool for the community’s “Cowboy Breakfast” fundraiser. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette) -- Iowa Culture app
Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan stands in the small community of Brandon. It was built in 2004 by locals out of donated scrap metal, a promotional tool for the community’s “Cowboy Breakfast” fundraiser. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

If you want to see the Happy Chef statue reincarnated as an umpire in Ryan, don’t expect the app to help. But he shouldn’t feel too bad. The mysterious Old Stone Man, used for years as a meeting spot and method of communication by those west of Fayette, isn’t in the database either.

Neither is Iowa City’s infamous black angel or the nearby big wooden nickel. Looking for the former A&W figures near Tipton? You are on your own.

The black angel in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery stands eight-feet over the graves of the Feldevert family. Shrouded in folk lore, the angel is regularly visited by those willing to tempt fate. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette) - Iowa Culture
The black angel in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery stands eight-feet over the graves of the Feldevert family. Shrouded in folk lore, the angel is regularly visited by those willing to tempt fate. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Located alongside Dubuque Street in Johnson County this wooden Nickel has stood in protest of local government since 2006, when county supervisors raised speed limits in the area. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette) - Iowa Culture app
Located alongside Dubuque Street in Johnson County this wooden Nickel has stood in protest of local government since 2006, when county supervisors raised speed limits in the area. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Maybe, while you’re out searching, you’ll happen upon historic Sutliff Bridge, as the Iowa Culture app won’t direct you there, either.

To the state’s credit, there is a way for users to submit sites. Unlike the rest of the app, however, the process isn’t intuitive or automatic. The submission button is located only on the search screen and disappears if a term is within the search box.

The user must manually enter the information, including an address.

Not surprisingly, a quick phone call to Des Moines confirmed no new submissions had yet been received.

I do understand that certain things were going to be missed in this first installment, but it also seems that the Iowa Culture app was purposefully served on an exquisite platter, overflowing with the lowest hanging cultural fruit.

I have nothing against art museums, I just happen to think a great deal of Iowa’s charm and culture lives beyond such readily accessible information.

Maybe, if we all do our part, we can build a truly diverse and wonderful tourism and cultural tool from the beautiful bones we’ve been given.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on September 6, 2015.