The Non-Canonical, Completely Incomplete List of Iowa References

This is an attempt to provide a list of references made in books, TV shows, movies and other incidents to Iowa and places in it. Most of these items are fictional, though some are factual or fact-based. For some films, the location is never mentioned, but by default is where the movie was filmed. This doesn't include films shot in Iowa but meant to be somewhere else (the most obvious example being Twister). This list is by no means complete or all-inclusive, merely a listing of references I know about.

Authors Marty Knepper and John Lawrence have compiled a comprehensive list of Iowa people, places, or settings in film.

* indicates a fictional location

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac: Sal switches rides here.

The Onion, July 18, 2008: "Rain Told To Go Away In 1986 Returns"

The Music Man: Mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn"
"The West Wing" episode "King Corn" (2005): Mentioned as a stop on presidential hopeful Matt Santos' caucus-day agenda.

"The West Wing" episode "King Corn" (2005): Mentioned as a stop on presidential hopeful Matt Santos' caucus-day agenda (a photo-op with Albert the Bull).

Song "Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Cafe": "Well, I popped the clutch, gave the tranny a spin / Took the Beebeetown ramp and slid on in / To the Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café"

Black Hawk County
Country (1984): Setting and shooting location of film.

Cedar Falls
Sleeping with the Enemy (1991): Julia Roberts' character hides in Cedar Falls to escape an abusive husband and gets involved with professor at "a local college." The book the movie was based on was written by a Cedar Falls native.

Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids (2011): Title and setting of the film, which was mostly filmed in Ann Arbor after Iowa film tax credit fiasco. Insurance salesman gets trip to the "big city" and various R-rated hijinks ensue.
The Final Season (2009): The "some events and locations have been changed" part of the "based on a true story." In the movie, Norway plays the 1990 and 1991 state tournament games in Cedar Rapids instead of Marshalltown. (At least the Hy-Vee logo was historically accurate.)
Titanic (1997): "[Rose] marries this guy named Calvert, they move to Cedar Rapids and she punches out a couple of kids. Now Calvert's dead and from what I hear, Cedar Rapids is dead!" This would make Old Rose an "official" Iowan. (Historical note: Cedar Rapids natives Walter and Mahala Douglas were First Class passengers on the Titanic. The couple had moved to Minneapolis shortly before the voyage. He died in the sinking; she survived.)
The Onion, October 3, 2001: "Security Beefed Up At Cedar Rapids Public Library"
"The West Wing" episode "The Two Bartlets" (2002): President Bartlet flies into the Eastern Iowa Airport.
"The West Wing" episode "King Corn" (2005): Episode begins at a Holiday Inn in Cedar Rapids.
The Crazies (2010): KCRG and Bruce Aune make an appearance in the end credits scene, logo and all (see Ogden Marsh).

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven: Gavin Brown, "a kid in Centerville, Iowa," spots a comet that will eventually crash into Earth and end civilization as 1977 knows it.
"The West Wing" episode "King Corn": Mentioned as a stop on presidential hopeful Bob Russell's caucus-day agenda.

Clear Lake
The Music Man: Mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn"

The Straight Story (1999): Alvin Straight's lawn mower breaks down as he comes down a large hill into town, stranding him here for a few days.

In the Marvel comic book universe, birthplace/first home of Jack Monroe, later superhero Nomad. Town was full of Nazi sympathizers. (But only in the comics books. I might be a teensy bit sensitive after discovering this.)

Council Bluffs
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac: Sal arrives here at dawn, riding an Omaha-bound bus he hopped on in Stuart.
"The West Wing" episode "King Corn" (2005): Presidential hopefuls Bob Russell (D-CO), Matt Santos (D-CA), and Arnold Vinick (R-CA) speak to a (the?) corn growers association about their support (or in Vinick's case, opposition) to ethanol subsidies.

Dalesbrook/Penn County*
Flowertown, by S.G. Redling: Town quarantined by the government after the spill of an "experimental and highly dangerous pesticide along the interstate" contaminated a creek and reservoir. Now it's 7½ square miles shut off from the outside world.

The Music Man: Mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn"
Song "I've Been Everywhere": "...Fond du Lac, Davenport, Idaho..."
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac: Sal enters the state here. "...over the bridge to Davenport, same kind of town, all smelling of sawdust in the warm Midwest sun."

Des Moines
S.M. Stirling's "Emberverse" series of novels: Iowa becomes "one of the largest and wealthiest nations in North America" after all electronic equipment and firearms are rendered inoperative by an unknown event. Des Moines is a thriving outpost of what passes for civilization. (Various and multiple references throughout the series, it appears.) From The Sunrise Lands (2007): "Iowa's the biggest place going out east; the land's good, and they carried a lot of people through the dying time, there are going on two million there now."
Jo Dee Messina song "Heads Carolina, Tails California": "I've got people in Boston, ain't your daddy still in Des Moines / We can pack up tomorrow, tonight let's flip a coin"
The Onion (Our Dumb Century), September 20, 1990: "Iowa Family Blasted for Lack of Diversity"
The Truman Show (1998): "[Truman's] dentist was from Pensacola; his father was from Des Moines."
Up in the Air (2009): Corporate firing machine Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) goes to Des Moines, fires a few people, and moves on. (His company can afford the higher prices required to fly in and out of DSM.)
The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997): Bill Murray's character works at a Blockbuster Video in Des Moines.
Omaha (The Movie) (1995): "Roving gangs of kickboxers from Des Moines, Iowa. They've been making their way along the interstate for years. It was just a matter of time before they crossed the river. But we're ready for them."
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac: A couple of paragraphs here; Sal spends the night in a "cheap hotel room." Key quote: "So I rushed past the pretty girls, and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines."
The Stand, by Stephen King: Downtown is on fire as civilization comes to an end.
Ubik, by Philip K. Dick: Significant portion of book takes place here, according to Ken Jennings.
The Music Man: Mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn"
"Kim Possible" episode "Naked Genius": Highly classified underground defense lab outside Des Moines. (Kim, upon being told of the site: "How's Iowa grab you?")
"South Park" episode "Prehistoric Ice Man": A man frozen in ice and thawed two years later is sent to Des Moines because it's "two years behind" everywhere else.
"The West Wing" episode "The Last Hurrah": City is going to get a foot of snow.
Titanic (1997): Deleted scene during loading of Collapsible D, man handing a note to Rose: "Miss, if you're saved would you please get this to my wife in Des Moines, Iowa. She just celebrated her 50th birthday and I, uh, you're not going to believe that of course, you're going to think she's 35, everybody does..." (Fictional. The only Des Moines passenger was a student. But that would have made two Iowa references in the movie.)

The Des Moines Register
"The West Wing" episode "King Corn" (2005): Presidential candidate Arnold Vinick reads the paper.
Final Impact, by John Birmingham: Passing reference to the Des Moines Register and Tribune.

Up in the Air (2009): Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) reaches his 10 millionth mile on American Airlines while flying over Dubuque. (On a flight from Chicago to Omaha!)
The Music Man: Mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn"

Setting (and, coincidentally enough, filming location) for Field of Dreams (1989). Never mentioned by name, but the general store has a map of Dubuque County and during the school board meeting in the gym, area schools are on banners in the background.

Eagle Rock*
Cold Turkey (1971): A tobacco company offers the town $25 million to stop smoking for 30 days. Town is based on Greenfield, where the film was shot.

Setting for What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, by Peter Hedges. Population 1091.

Hometown of DC Comics' Barry Allen, aka the Flash. (Iowa doesn't have a Fallville, but does have a Springville.)

Setting for book of the same name by Marilynne Robinson. (But the main character's last name is Ames!)

Head over Heels (2001): Though the movie is set in New York City, the protagonist is from Iowa. In fact, the words "Grinnell, Iowa" are the first two in the movie, as she does a quick summary of her life in a voiceover.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer": Hometown of Riley Finn (according to Wikipedia).

Interstate 80
Medium-difficulty level "Iowa" in arcade game Cruis'n USA. Watch out for deer.
The Stand, by Stephen King (extended version): Trashcan Man bicycles across the state east to west on I-80.
Song "Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Cafe": "Well, Interstate 80, we was cuttin' the fog / Just me an' old Sloan (Old Sloan's my dog)"

Iowa City
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): "Valedictorian in Iowa City" targeted by HYDRA.
Song "Iowa City" by Eleni Mandell: "Girls, the boys don't cheat in Iowa City / Iowa City nothing to do..."
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac: Sal switches rides here.
"The West Wing" episode "King Corn" (2005): Presidential hopefuls drop in for the coffee-bean caucus at Hamburg Inn No. 2.
"The West Wing" episode "The Two Bartlets" (2002): Reporter from the fictional Iowa City Standard asks Bartlet a question.

Iowa State Fair
State Fair (book, 1933 movie, 1945 movie): Setting is Iowa State Fairgrounds.
"The Simpsons" episode "Behind the Laughter": Mockumentary says the family "broke up" during a performance at the Iowa State Fair.

Iowa State University
The Onion, December 6, 2000: "Black Guy Photoshopped In." Fictional take on actual incident at the University of Wisconsin.
Back to the Future II
(1989): "Oklahoma ripped Iowa State 52-nothing." Actual game played Nov. 12, 1955.
Moo, by Jane Smiley: "Moo U" is based on Iowa State

Jones County
"Manhattan" TV series: Army Pvt. Cole Dunleavy, from here, gets nickname "Iowa" (and is played by an Iowan).

The Straight Story (1999): Alvin Straight crosses into Wisconsin on his lawn mower here. (Note: He is filmed going from the Wisconsin side into Iowa.)

The Straight Story (1999): Hometown of Alvin Straight and starting point of his trip to Wisconsin on a lawn mower.

Song "Leland Iowa", sung by Kevin Costner's band Modern West. ("You can't spend a dime / In Leland, Iowa / 'Cause every store in town's run out of luck...")

Harvest of Fire (1996 TV movie): Movie about Amish community filmed in area. There are Amish living in the county.

The Music Man: Mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn"

Madison County
The Bridges of Madison County (book, movie): Obvious. Filming was also done in Iowa.

The Music Man: Mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn"
The Onion, April 20, 2015: "Iowa Restaurant Patron Can Remember Every Breakfast Ruined By Presidential Candidates"

Mason City
The Music Man: Basis for the town of River City. Also mentioned in song "Iowa Stubborn" - which means that Mason City and River City are separate towns.

Nation County*
Setting for Donald Harstad's novels. Based on Clayton County.

New Hampton
The Straight Story (1999): Alvin Straight has to deal with some semis at the old US 18/63 intersection.

New Harmony*
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand: "Then would you mind telling me what you're doing in the middle of a plain in Iowa - and what I'm doing here, for that matter?" The government builds a destructive sound ray that can cover "a circle with a periphery extending from the shore of the Mississippi, roughly from the bridge of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, to Des Moines and Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Austin, Minnesota, to Woodman, Wisconsin, to Rock Island, Illinois." The center of a circle with these cities inside it is centered near La Porte City.

The Final Season (2009): "Based on a true story" movie about Norway High School's baseball team's last season before school consolidation. Due to legal issues (i.e. they're the bad guys), the larger district and county is named "Madison" instead of Benton. Due to filming issues, the tournament games are shown as being played in Cedar Rapids instead of Marshalltown. The opposing team names are real, though. (Look, it's got a lot of anachronisms and some miscellaneous issues. But it's an Iowa movie!)

Lake Okobogee*
"The X-Files" episode "Conduit": Site of girl's (alien?) abduction. Obviously an allusion to Lake Okoboji, despite the misspelling and indication that it's near Sioux City.

Netflix's "House of Cards" season 3: Oelwein Cougars (they're actually the Huskies) among several references to Iowa as 2016 presidential campaign gets under way.

Ogden Marsh/Pierce County*
The Crazies (2010): Fictional stand-in for Lenox and Taylor County, where the horror movie was filmed. NOTE: Pierce is the earliest president not to have an actual Iowa county named for him. Sounds like it could be a good generic "fictional Iowa county" for other works.

"The West Wing" episode "King Corn" (2005): Mentioned as a stop on presidential hopeful Matt Santos' caucus-day agenda.

Song "I've Been Everywhere": "...Little Rock, Oskaloosa, Tennessee..."

"M*A*S*H": Hometown of Cpl. Radar O'Reilly
The Woman Who Loved Elvis (1993 TV movie): Setting for movie starring Roseanne Arnold (when she was married to Tom).

Saving Private Ryan (1998): Hometown of the Ryan family and Private James Francis Ryan.

Song "Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Cafe": "I took 'em to the drive-in the-a-ter over by Pisgah, to see True Grit"

River City*
Setting for The Music Man. Based on Mason City.

Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Alluded to in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986); "No, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space." Then that was referenced in Galaxy Quest (1999) where Tim Allen's character, based on Kirk/William Shatner, remarks the aliens have created food that tastes like "corn-fed Iowa beef."
Star Trek (2009): Scenes set in Iowa, further enshrining Riverside in the canon.
Fanboys (2009): A group of geeks trying to get an advanced screening of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace divert to Riverside, where they see the statue that doesn't look like James T. Kirk and fight some Trekkies.

Saint Nicholas*
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1997): Pop. 1274. The town "where it's Christmas all year round" and home of the "World's Largest Hay Bale" is setting for TV movie about a small town trying to land a doctor. (NOT the Jonathan Taylor Thomas movie. One of Jack Palance's last roles.)

Sioux City
Song "Sioux City Sue": The entire song. Also a 1946 movie starring Gene Autry.
Song "I've Been Everywhere": "...Kansas City, Sioux City, Cedar City..."
"The Late Show with David Letterman": "From the home office in Sioux City, Iowa..." - According to Wikipedia, this was a poke at KMEG, which for a time was not carrying the show.
"The X-Files" episode "Conduit": Mulder and Scully drive through Sioux City.

Spirit Lake
Song "I've Been Everywhere": "...Chicopee, Spirit Lake, Grand Lake..."

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac: "We stuck together and got a ride with a taciturn man to Stuart, Iowa, a town in which we were really stranded."

Shimmer (1993): Iowa Juvenile Home.

University of Iowa
Back to the Future II (1989): "Ohio State beat Iowa 20 to 10." Actual game played Nov. 12, 1955.
The Program (1993): The ESU Timberwolves play the Hawkeyes.
The Onion (Our Dumb Century), September 20, 1990: "Iowa Family Blasted for Lack of Diversity" (note: Article implies university is "nearby" in relation to Des Moines)
"Coach" episode "The Patriot Bowl": The Hawkeyes beat the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles in the 1992 Patriot Bowl.
"Quantum Leap" episode "The Leap Home": If Sam can change history so that his high school's basketball teams wins the first game of his senior year in 1969, his coach will eventually go to the University of Iowa and then the NBA. Iowa would be looking for a coach in 1974.
 "Saved by the Bell" episode "Wrestling with the Future": Slater offered wrestling scholarship at Iowa.
"The West Wing" episode "The Two Bartlets" (2002): President Bartlet speaks at the university. BUT THEN a later episode fictionalizes the university...
"The West Wing" episode "20 Hours in America Part II" (2002): Two pipe bombs explode at "Kennison State University" where the Hawkeyes were hosting a swim meet with "Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. They're all Big Ten schools." Then later on the press secretary says she's getting information from "Cedar Rapids police and fire." In short, this is a convoluted entry, and Aaron Sorkin's fictionalization is bad.
HBO TV series "Girls" season 4: Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) attends Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Van Horne
"Bionic Woman" (2007): Birthplace of Jamie Sommers. (Although "hometown" would probably be more accurate. Given that she was born in the early 1980s, her birthplace would likely be Vinton or Cedar Rapids. But the series was cancelled immediately, so it doesn't matter.)

Song "I've Been Everywhere": "...Baraboo, Waterloo, Kalamazoo..." - There are lots of Waterloos in the United States, but Iowa's is by far the largest.

Hometown of Marvel Comics superhero Hawkeye (according to Wikipedia).

West Bend
The Straight Story (1999): Alvin Straight takes his lawn mower past the Grotto of the Redemption.

Muppetteer Frank Oz says Miss Piggy is from Iowa. No, really!
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury: "Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of the state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year."
National Treasure (2004): A character describes how secure the Declaration of Independence is. "It's surrounded by guards... video monitors... and little families from Iowa... and little kids on their eighth-grade field trips."
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." episode "The Writing on the Wall" (2014): "Art teacher from Iowa" actually not an art teacher from Iowa, or at least didn't become one until after her memory as a SHIELD agent was rewritten.
"Marvel's Agent Carter" episode "Time and Tide" (2015): Dorothy "Dottie" Underwood is from Iowa. Except she's not.
"Futurama" episode "The Lesser of Two Evils" (2000): The Iowa Bagel Co. shows up in the background of one scene at Past-O-Rama.
"Futurama" episode "Decision 3012" (2012): "As the Iowa caucus approaches, the state's hippest citizens turned out for an old-fashioned flash mob" - in a cornfield, of course. (But that means that it's not in January anymore!)
Dave (1993): Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) plays himself in a cameo appearance.
The Scourge of God, by S.M. Stirling: Part of the book takes place in the state. See Des Moines entry.
According to NBC's Dick Cline, "an anonymous telephone company engineer somewhere in Iowa" threw the switch that terminated NBC's broadcast of the New York Jets-Oakland Raiders NFL matchup in 1968. Today, this is known as "the Heidi game."
A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley: Setting of the novel.
Murder at 1600 (1997): Secret Service agent Nina Chance says she's from Iowa.
A Foreign Affair (1948): Congresswoman Phoebe Frost is from Iowa. (Sixty-five years later, Iowa has yet to actually elect a woman to Congress.)
"The Pajama Game": Setting is a pajama factory in Iowa.
I'll be Home for Christmas (1998): Cross-country trip includes a visit to a place suspiciously like (but not) the Amana Colonies.
"Lost": Kate Austen is from Iowa.
"Boston Legal" episode "Indecent Proposals" (2008), a lawyer's rant about the 2008 election process, referring to the caucuses: "Big deal that in Iowa, the Democrats don't get to cast secret ballots."
"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." episode "The Iowa-Scuba Affair" (1964): Secret Air Force base in Iowa. Protagonist gets to know Iowa farm girl Jill Denison.
"Sabrina the Teenage Witch" episode "She's Baaaack" (2000): "Where's Harvey? I've looked everywhere. Even Iowa."
X-Men First Class (2011): The USS Iowa makes a VERY historically inaccurate appearance in the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, it sounds like about all the guns and ammunition seen in that part of the movie weren't there/didn't exist at the time.
Song "Turn the Page": "On a long and lonesome highway / East of Omaha / You can listen to the engine / Moanin' out his one note song"

Page last updated 2/28/15

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