The Mississippi Valley Fair – 1920’s Scott County Builds Their Dream Venue

                The old dirt track was barely recognizable. To someone who had been there in its heyday several years before, there were still some things that might have looked familiar, but probably not much. New buildings were going up, and old buildings being torn down. What was once an aging eyesore on the western edge of Davenport, Iowa, was being transfigured into what would be one of the biggest annual events in eastern Iowa – the Mississippi Valley Fair.

Built to Be Bigger

                The Mississippi Valley Fair, like most great things, started as an idea.

It was the early years of the 20th century, and county fairs were great sources of entertainment. City folk and their rural cousins alike would flock to a large fairground in their county and play games, show off their livestock, and enter friendly competitions. In the days before television, the county fair was a tremendous source of live entertainment.

                But there were some in Scott County that dreamed bigger. They weren’t satisfied with the county fairs. Davenport and Bettendorf, the two largest cities in the county, were experiencing rapid growth and prosperity. Industry was thriving, and while some were merely comfortable, there were others in the area that grew rich through various businesses. Life was good. It was time to show the world just how good.

                In 1919, a group of individuals gathered together to pioneer a new entertainment venture. They imagined a regional fair that would be second in size and prestige only to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

                Assembling at the Blackhawk Hotel in Davenport, they elected officers and formally made the Mississippi Valley Fair Association. There were twelve officers, headed by Matthew H. Calderwood, a banker and former farmer from Eldridge, Iowa.

Grand Designs

                These were ambitious men, and they wasted no time. They began to seek out suitable real estate for their proposed fair. In late 1919, they found their site – a former mile-long horse racing track west of Davenport. It hadn’t been used for several years, but it came with more than enough land to build their dream.

                They bought the land and began to accept bids on the work. Eventually, the construction contract went to Walsh Construction, a locally-based firm that handled jobs all over the country. Working for them was Arthur Ebeling, one of the most iconic architects of the Quad Cities area. By that time, he had designed several homes along the Davenport bluffs, including the Kahl Home, both the William and Joseph Bettendorf mansions, and the Carmelite Monastery. He was experienced, ambitious, and capable. He designed all the buildings on the site.

                A landscape architect, L.W. Ramsey, was hired to design the fairgrounds themselves. The Association board members, for their part, had visited some of the largest fairgrounds in the Midwest to see for themselves what aspects they liked and which ones they didn’t. With their input, Ebeling and Ramsey began to design the initial layout of the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds.


Building the Dream

 A livestock pavilion and six stock barns were needed, as well as a Woman’s Building. This building would house everything to do with the domestic sphere, including handmade arts and crafts, as well as various cooking competitions.

                The horse track would be shortened to provide room for other structures on the fairgrounds. The track would then be levelled and graded for the races. Barns would be built specifically to house the horses themselves.  

                The center piece of all this was the grandstand. Originally designed to seat 6000 people, the building’s roof slanted upwards to allow people an unobstructed view of airplane shows. With a normal roof, a seated viewer wouldn’t be able to watch the show if the person in front of them stood up. With the slanted roof that Ebeling designed, the seated person could still watch unimpeded.

                A special power line was run to the new fairgrounds to provide electricity. The idea was that when night fell, the lights would be turned on and the festivities would continue into the evening hours virtually unimpeded.

                Because it was outside of the city, transportation was a consideration for the Association almost from the beginning. First, they struck a deal with the Rock Island Railroad to procure passenger cars that would bring people from downtown Davenport all the way out to the fairgrounds. Several automobiles were also appropriated for shuttling fairgoers to and from the fair.

                To help accommodate the flood of foot traffic and cars, the city of Davenport made plans to have the dirt road leading to the fairgrounds regraded and oiled, to provide for a smoother, less dusty drive.

                While the Mississippi Valley Fair Association booked acts for entertainment and sorted through funding and logistical issues, Walsh Construction was hard at work. From the beginning, they were fighting an uphill battle.

                They had signed on to take a rundown horse racing track and turn it into the premiere fairground attraction of eastern Iowa in just a few months. In 1920, they didn’t have the benefit of large-scale mechanized machinery or power tools. What they did have was horsepower, manpower, and a will to succeed.

                One hundred and twenty-five men under the supervision of Harry Rand, superintendent of Walsh Construction, set to work as soon as the winter frost had thawed sufficiently to allow work. They quickly began erecting the new buildings, setting the landscape, and making sure all the utilities were hooked up and running.

                On July 29, 1920, the directors of the Mississippi Valley Fair Association, along with anyone else in charge of any number of the myriad projects happening on the fairgrounds, met for a progress meeting. All of those in attendance were amazingly optimistic and enthusiastic about the fair, which was set to open in a few weeks.

                Many of the buildings were done, with the utilities hooked up. There was tremendous interest in the fair, and people were excited to come and see it. Entertainment had been booked, prize money for competitors procured, and parking and transportation provided for. The fair was ready to begin.

Opening Day

                On August 16, 1920, the very first Mississippi Valley Fair opened. The turnout was even better than expected.

                Thousands of people came to see the fair, not only from eastern Iowa but also western Illinois. There were so many livestock competitors for hogs, cattle, and sheep that giant tents were erected to accommodate the overflow from the stock barns.

                Women’s associations made sure that female attendees had restrooms to use. They also oversaw several different kinds of cooking, baking, and craft competitions specifically for women. Guest speakers were brought in to give lectures on several different subjects.

                Special activities and competitions were there specifically for children. Food vendors provided special treats like ice cream to fairgoers. Several clothing companies, including local dealers Petersen, Hagge, and Von Maur were on site, selling the latest fashion trends.


                Race horses competed along the new track, coming in from both Iowa and Illinois. Musical acts gave attendees something to listen to and dance along with. And in the skies, Lt. Ormer Locklear delighted audiences in the grandstand by climbing from one airplane to another in midair.

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Communities United

                There had been skeptics. There had been those who said that the Mississippi Valley Fair Association and Walsh Construction wouldn’t be able to build the new grounds, and the fledgling fair would fall on its face like a newborn calf.

                But it hadn’t.

                The fair was a roaring success. Thousands attended, and it truly was a spectacle to rival the Iowa State Fair. It had a little something for everyone, and if you walked away without being entertained, then you must have walked around the fair with your eyes covered and with wax in your ears.

                But, despite the success of the fair, the Association remained humble. M.H. Calderwood, the president of the Association, said simply that the project had brought everyone together, and together they had made it come to life. Instead of one group pulling more than the others, the cities, county, builders, societies, and associations had made the fair happen as a community.

                On Tuesday, August 1, 2017, the 98th Mississippi Valley Fair opened. The dream that so many had all those years ago is still bringing together the Scott County community to make it happen all over again.







Lack of Respect: Souvenir Hunters in an Unmarked Cemetery

                I have not been shy or quiet in my opinions about cemetery desecration. I have spoken about it, and I have written about it. Cemeteries are monuments to those who have gone before. They are places that honor the people on whose shoulders we stand, who built the towns and cities that we have taken care of since their passing.

                They are places of contemplation and remembrance. Even more importantly, they should be places that command respect from those of us who walk on the grass amongst the stones. I had not thought that I’d be speaking on the subject again so soon, but I read something in the paper today that compels me to speak up once again.

                I subscribe to a local newspaper called the North Scott Press that serves rural Scott County, Iowa, where I live. Today, they reported that two men with metal detectors and shovels were seen in Franklin Park, right in the middle of the city of Eldridge, Iowa. They’re scanning around, seeing what they can find, and someone calls the police. The police come out and talk to the men. As soon as the cops leave, so do the guys with the detectors. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the two men are digging up a cemetery.

Cemetery Story


                To understand, we have to step back in the Way Back Machine to the 19th century. Eldridge is a small, primarily agriculture driven community. Some residents back then were of the Presbyterian faith, and they determined to build their own church right in town so that they didn’t have to travel far.

                Rural travel in the middle of the 19th century was a sketchy affair at times. You travelled in a buggy or on horseback for the most part, exposed to the elements. Even if you were fortunate enough to travel in a covered conveyance like a stagecoach, the poor driver was still exposed to the elements. And in Iowa, you get every kind of element – rain, snow, sleet, and hail. You also had wind, heat, and cold to deal with.

                The dirt roads that you plodded along were often bumpy and unpleasant to ride on (horses and buckboards generally didn’t come equipped with an air-ride feature). They could also be extremely muddy and almost impossible to get through. Deep snows could also make the roads impassable. Nasty Iowa thunderstorms exposed you to the odd tornado, but, even more likely and just as dangerous was a stray lightning bolt that could hit you. Suffice it to say, the closer to home you were, the more comfortable things would probably be.

So, in the 1860’s, the fine people of Eldridge erected the Eldridge Presbyterian Church.  A cemetery was made just beside it, and several parishioners were buried there. The church lasted for a while, but it never really did overly well. By the early 1900’s it was just an empty building. In 1918, a tornado came through the area and wiped out the building, as well, leaving only the graves.

Later, the decision was made to move the headstones elsewhere. However, the bodies were not moved. The city knew that they couldn’t build on the site with all those graves, so they turned the area into a park and left it alone. Over time and subsequent generations, the fact that there were graves there started to be forgotten.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Franklin Park

Recently, the knowledge resurfaced in the public eye. Older people remembered that there were, and told the city that. Younger people weren’t sure. So, to settle the argument, the city of Eldridge contacted a trained archaeologist with the University of Iowa. They came out and used a special technology called ground penetrating radar to see if there was anything there or not. Sure enough, they found evidence of several dozen graves there.

Almost from the moment the archaeologist arrived to do their radar soundings, this was big news. The local newspaper, the North Scott Press, covered the minor drama as it unfolded. Now that the existence of the graves has been proven beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt, the city of Eldridge is deciding what they will do with the site. They have the best intentions and are seeking to preserve the memory of the dead buried there.

And now we have those unscrupulous individuals showing up at the park, seeking only to take from the dead, not preserve them.

Let the Dead Rest

Honestly, I have no idea what they hoped to find. Perhaps they watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, read a book on alternative history, and decided that they were going to find the Ark of the Covenant buried out there in Franklin Park. But that’s probably not what they were hoping.

At best, what they were looking to do was find a few older artifacts, dig them up, and keep them as souvenirs.  In the worst case, they intended to sell off what they found for a minor profit. Either one is unacceptable. What is left in a cemetery is meant to be there to preserve the memory of those there, in either their accomplishments or who they were.

There are places all over the United States where it is perfectly acceptable to go looking for underground souvenirs, but not in a cemetery. Leave what is there for the dead. If you find something by happenstance, get in touch with authorities, hand it over to them, and hope that it will be repatriated to the cemetery at a future date.

One day, most of us will be interred in a one cemetery or another. Most of us will have a headstone or marker put up, either by ourselves or by our families. This is a remembrance, a letter to the living world that has already moved on after our death that we existed, that we mattered. Regardless of whether that stone is on top of our earthly remains or not, the purpose remains the same. Even if that stone is moved away, our memory remains etched in granite.

So if you find out one day that there is a cemetery somewhere, but no stones, please don’t go looking for souvenirs. Leave the dead to rest in peace. Have respect, and go dig elsewhere.


Ridolfi, Mark. “Scavengers found in Franklin Park.” North Scott Press, June 7, 2017.

Ridolfi, Mark. “More than 40 people buried in Eldridge park.” North Scott Press, May 31, 2017.

Early Churches of Rural Scott County Prior to 1900.” Scott County Historical Society.

John Bloom: The Regionalist and Me

   The mural was old. The colors were still vibrant through, the lines still clear and sharp. It was simple – a farmer in his field, harvesting corn while his dog runs nearby. It was painted in a stylized design that is deceptively primitive. If you’re only glancing at it, it seems to lack any real depth. But when you take just a few moments to really gaze at it, the whole scene comes to life. You can almost hear the excited barking of the dog and feel the hot Iowa sun beating down on you from above.

     The mural in question is inside the city hall building in DeWitt, Iowa. When it was originally painted, the building served as the town post office, and it’s here that I first laid eyes on it. Back then, the building, which was built in the late 1930’s, was much different.

     Erected in an era before plastics, the place was consisted of large glass windows, dark-stained wood, and intricate metal ornamentation. I always remember it being dark in there, despite all the light the windows let in. The mural was high up on the west wall of the lobby, and it always gave me something to look at while my grandparents or parents conducted their business at the post office window.

Old Post Office DeWitt

     Looking at it made me feel connected to the agricultural roots of the town and surrounding county. It felt warm and comfortable, like your favorite chair. I loved that painting. I had no idea who had done it, and back then, I didn’t really care. I just liked the way it made me feel.

Rural Life on Canvas

     Many years later, I saw a painting in another building in DeWitt. This was an actual painting, not a mural, but it was done in the same, simplistic style. This one depicted a scene of church services coming to an end at the local Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s.

     For those who may not have had the pleasure of attending Sunday Mass, allow me to elaborate for a moment. When a Catholic Mass is over, the congregation quickly scatters to the four winds. There are a few who stay and chat here and there, but mostly everyone leaves. I’ve seen services at St. Joe’s go from having nearly two-hundred people in the sanctuary to having maybe ten to twenty in less than five minutes. When Mass is over, it’s over.

     That painting portrayed that. There was the crush of people leaving in an orderly fashion to go about the rest of their day, and the obligatory social butterflies who had stopped outside the doors to chat and gossip. Amongst all the activity, two young boys thread their way around the two old women like motorcycles around a road cone.

Church Morning

     You could see the Impressionist influence in the artist’s hand, with the characters only having the barest semblance of faces. But, like the mural, there was a real life to it. You could feel the energy of the moving crowd, and almost hear the different conversations being had on the way out of the church. It was a scene that I had witnessed countless times at the very same place. Soon after, I learned that the artist had, too.

     The two young boys in the picture were the artist himself, and his brother, racing to whatever boyhood entertainments they had waiting for them elsewhere. His name was John Bloom.

The Artist

John Bloom

     John Bloom was born in DeWitt, Iowa, in about 1906. He grew up in a rural atmosphere amongst rolling cornfields, rugged livestock, and hard-working farm families. It made an impression on his artistic young mind that would stand him in good stead later in his life.

     When he came of age, he began to take classes at St. Ambrose University, a Catholic-affiliated institution in nearby Davenport, Iowa. In 1926, still a very young man, Bloom began studying at the ultra-prestigious and respected Art Institute of Chicago. By 1930, he had graduated and was ready to step into the wider world.

     Bloom used inspiration from his surroundings, including places he had visited growing up and experiences that he had. One such painting, called Bloom’s Burial, shows a gray, almost dismal graveyard scene depicting a coffin about to be interred in the ground. Two nuns console each other in the background while a priest is by the coffin, conducting the service. Bloom based the painting on his own grandmother’s funeral.

     Bloom’s Burial was featured in the art show during the 1932 Iowa Art Salon, even winning a prize. More importantly, the painting drew the attention of one of Iowa’s most iconic artists, Grant Wood.

An American Icon

grant wood

     Grant Wood was another Iowa-born artist who had come to nationwide fame in 1930 for his painting American Gothic, which would very quickly become an iconic piece of American artistic lore. Inspired first by the impressionist painters and later the ultra-realism of the European masters, Wood used his art to capture the spirit of the rural Midwest that he had grown up in.

His star very much on the rise within the American art community, Wood continued to produce paintings in the style of American Gothic. In 1932, he helped to found the Stone City Colony and Art School in Stone City, Iowa, near Anamosa. About this time, Wood saw John Bloom’s painting, Bloom’s Burial, and invited the younger man to move to Stone City for the summer and attend his new school. Bloom readily accepted.

     Artists at the colony took classes and cultivated their individual artistic expressions. John took a job as a groundskeeper while living there in order to pay his tuition. During his stay there, he met a young sculptor named Isabel Scherer. They became almost instant friends and stayed in close contact for several years.

The Depression Years

     As an artist, Bloom continued to shine. All throughout the 1930’s, Bloom won several awards for painting and drawing throughout the state of Iowa, including a first place finish for a painting he submitted to the Iowa State Fair. He assisted his old friend Grant Wood in painting a series of several murals at Iowa State University, and in 1937 painted the mural in the DeWitt post office.

     In 1938, John and Isabel married. They moved into the Masonic Home in Davenport, Iowa, turning a large portion of their living space into artistic studios for themselves. Eventually, they would have three children. With a growing family, John went out and turned his career toward commercial art, all the while continuing to pursue his personal artistic interests and refine his already formidable skills at home.

Shooting Stars

Over the next several years, Isabel’s fame began to soar. Amongst other things, including hosting a local children’s television program, Isabel was able to turn her private sculpturing into an extremely lucrative business. Through it all, John looked on with pride and cheered her on.

     During the 1980’s, a local business owner encouraged Bloom to put some of his private work on display. In 1984, an exhibit of his work was held in Davenport, Iowa. People once again took notice of the old artist, and there was an instant demand for his work. For the next several years, Bloom painted murals in Davenport and Iowa City, won art competitions, and held exhibitions of his work.

Old John Bloom

     John passed away in late May 2002, at the age of 96. His beloved Isabel, his wife of over sixty years, had died the previous year. The couple left behind an extensive body of artistic work in various mediums.

Dark Days

     Earlier this year, my own wife fell gravely ill with a life-threatening bacterial infection. Our family doctor diagnosed her in the morning, and we were sent directly to the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City, Iowa, about an hour away from us. She was fine that entire time, just feeling a little under the weather. By the time the doctors were looking at her, her condition had worsened and she was taken in for emergency surgery. We later found out that she had very nearly died.

     As it was, they removed a large portion of infected tissue from her hip, which necessitated her to stay at the hospital for almost two weeks. I had taken emergency vacation from my work, and spent the majority of my time in Iowa City, visiting her.

    Within the first few days, she was moved to the eighth floor of the hospital, to the burn and wound recovery unit. While she was recovering well, some complications arose. These were dealt with swiftly and professionally by the doctors and nurses, but it was still an extremely stressful time.

     One day, while I was walking around the floor, I noticed some familiar looking artwork hanging in the hall. University of Iowa Hospitals put a lot of artwork throughout its meandering corridors, including drawings, paintings, and even sculpture. Many times I would just give things a quick, scanning glance and continue along my way. But these were different.

     As I approached, I kept wondering why they seemed so familiar to me.

     They were farm scenes, of life in rural Clinton County where I had lived for twenty years. While I studied them, I found my mind and spirit filled with a profound sense of a place in an idealized rural America where life was simple. There was no sickness or death there. The livestock was healthy, the crops were growing well, and the weather was always fair.


     And when I read the information plate beside them I found, to my pleasant surprise, that they were done by none other than John Bloom. Alone and far from home, I had found an old friend.

     When John Bloom completed those various pieces, I doubt very much that he was thinking of bringing comfort to a big Scotch-Irish guy on the ragged edge. But he probably did contemplate conveying those images of his life in rural America to the public. Bloom wanted to share the feel of the farm field and the sadness of a burial.

     And I’m glad he did. He took me back to a place where I could drop my worries and cares and re-center myself. Just like the farmers in his paintings, he reached out a neighborly hand and helped me out. So John, wherever you are, thanks for helping this local out when he was a little down.


Hell at Sea: A Davenport Connection to Maritime Tragedy

                Davenport, Iowa has a lot of iconic landmarks, both historic and otherwise. There are many in the downtown area, where the city has, for several years, been making a tremendous effort in beautifying the area. Largely, they have been successful. The area is now home to several upscale restaurants, businesses, art venues, and museums.

                Nestled among them is a beautiful stone fountain. It stands across the street from the Figge Art Museum, and a very short walk away from the Davenport Skybridge. Its official name is the Dillon Fountain, named after a prominent Davenport citizen from yesteryear by the name of John Forrest Dillon. Dillon had always loved Davenport, and when he died, he left around $21,000 to the city. Some of those funds were used to construct the fountain in his memory.

                Thousands of people pass by the fountain every year, some of them knowing the story and some of them not. But what many people don’t know is that Dillon constructed another monument in Davenport, one that was much more personal to him. To understand that story, you have to know the story of the man himself.

Frontier Lawyer to District Judge

John Dillon

                John Dillon was born in New York at the end of 1831. A few years later they decided to make the move to Davenport, Iowa in 1838. At that time, Davenport was still a small town, and Iowa was still very much on the frontier of the country. The atmosphere that young John grew up in was more akin to a pioneer town rather than the venerable city that Davenport would one day become.

                When he was in his late teens, John decided to study the practice of medicine. He started training under the watchful eye of E.S. Barrows, one of the earliest and most accomplished doctors in the region. John also began to attend medical school. By the time he was twenty-one, he had reached his goal of becoming a doctor. The only problem was is that John hated practicing medicine.

                So, he decided to shift careers from practicing medicine to practicing law. He began studying to become a lawyer, and by 1852, he had become a licensed practitioner of the law. From there, his star began to rise very quickly.

                First, John became the prosecuting attorney for Scott County, Iowa. By the late 1850’s, he was elected a Judge of the Seventh Judicial District of Iowa, which covered four counties in the eastern portion of the state. By 1863, he had been elected to the Iowa Supreme Court. John continued to rise through the ranks of his profession, being made the Circuit Judge for the Eighth Judicial Circuit of the United States, which put seven states under his watchful eye.

                Starting during his time as a district judge in Iowa, Dillon had begun writing books on the law. Eventually, royalties from these would make him a small fortune, especially a best-seller that he wrote in 1872. That same year, he also helped to establish a law journal they named the “Central Law Journal.” Dillon, to help get the journal off the ground, would fill it with a lot of material that he wrote.


                Eventually, he tired of being a federal judge. He retired to New York City, where he became the general consul for the Union Pacific Railroad Company and the Western Union Company.

                But as successful as he became, he was always faithful and proud of his family. He had married Anna Price, a daughter of prominent Davenport politician Hirum Price, in 1853. Together, they would have a son, and two daughters named Susie and Anna.

                John and his family, though they lived in New York City, still loved Davenport, and returned here several times over the years to visit friends and relatives. Anna also loved to visit Europe, and had taken three tours of the continent. But still she could not get enough of it. In 1898, Anna planned her fourth trip and persuaded her mother to come with her.

                They booked passage on French steamer ship named the La Burygogne. When the time came, they excitedly boarded the ship in New York City and set off for the cities of Europe.  It would be the last voyage that they would ever take.

An Ill Wind Blows


                On July 4, the LaBurgogne was travelling in the waters off of Nova Scotia, Canada in heavy, thick fog. At around 5 o’clock in the morning, while moving at a fast speed, the steamer collided with the Cromartyshire, a British ship. The LaBurgogne hit the iron vessel with enough force to tear off her bow. While it was not enough to sink the vessel, the crew of the Cromartyshire immediately went to work on clearing wreckage and repairing damage from the collision.

                The LaBurgogne, however, fared much, much worse. The Cromartyshire had torn a nearly ten foot gash in the starboard side of the steamer. Being such an early hour, most of the passengers were below decks at the time of the crash. Some continued sleeping. Others, awoken by the crash, rushed to the main deck.

                One woman, a Mrs. LaCasse, was roughly awakened by her panicked husband, who had been on the deck at the time of the collision. The woman, half-asleep, began to move toward the main deck, half pulled by Mr. LaCasse. He was already aware of what she was not – the ship was sinking fast. As quickly as they could, they raced to the main deck and straight into a scene directly from a nightmare.

Chaos on the High Seas

                Men, women, and children rushed to get into lifeboats. Several men rushed forward, brandishing knives, which they used to attack anyone who got in their way. Women and children alike were thrown aside as they desperately tried to get into the lifeboats. Some of the boats had been cut free by the second officer. His actions were some of the only noble ones of the day.

                A lifeboat filled to capacity by nearly forty women was never cut loose, and those on board went beneath the icy waves of the Atlantic with the LaBurgogne as it gave a last, hissing sigh and passed to the depths below. Almost all of the officers, including the captain and brave second officer, perished with her. While their struggle was over, it was far from done for those who were still struggling to survive on the surface.

Hell in the Deep Water

                In the water, people tried to survive any way they could. Some swam, while others clung to makeshift rafts. Some had managed to board lifeboats. There were many who tried to climb into the boats from the frigid water, desperate to survive. To their shock, the ruthless and callous people who were already in the boats threw them back into the water to die.

                One man survived by clinging onto the lifeline of one of the boats. As he held on for his very life, he was forced to watch as his mother, a short distance away, was pushed under the waves with oars by the lifeboat passengers as she tried to climb into their boat. This was far from an isolated incident.

               Men and women alike were assailed with oars and boathooks. Some were bludgeoned to death by iron bars or oars, while others were pushed under the water to drown.

               One man, Charles LIebra, had put his two sons on board a lifeboat before the ship sank.  Liebra himself went into the water with the LaBurgogne, and when he surfaced he could not find his sons. Desperately, he tried to climb into a passing lifeboat, only to be beaten black and blue by those on board. Back into the water he went, staying afloat any way possible for nearly eight hours before he was rescued.

               The Cromartyshire was still busy repairing the damage done to her by the collision. The fog had lifted a bit, and they were able to make out two lifeboats coming toward them. Discovering what had happened, the iron vessel quickly went to where the steamer had sank and began rescuing as many people as they could. To take on even more survivors, the British ship threw a large portion of their cargo into the sea.

                The LaBurgogne had sunk in a little over ten minutes. Out of approximately 725 souls on board the LaBurgogne, only about 163 survived. Mrs. Lacasse was the only woman survivor, rescued by her quick-thinking husband. Many of the atrocities witnessed that day, both on the ship and in the water, were committed by the crew of the LaBurgogne itself. The LaBurgogne would become the largest maritime disaster in history until the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

A Great Man Mourns

                 But back in New York, very little of this mattered to John Dillon. He just wanted to know about his wife and daughter. He wanted to hold them and know that they were safe. And so he waited. Soon enough, he discovered the awful truth, and knew that he had lost them forever. John was devastated. What was even worse is that their bodies were never recovered, claimed forever by the jealous Atlantic.

                John Dillon never forgot his beloved wife and daughter. He commissioned a forty foot tall granite obelisk to be carved, bearing their names. The monument was erected on the family plot in Oakdale Cemetery in Davenport, Iowa.

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                John Dillon passed away in New York City in 1914. His body was shipped back by train to Davenport, his boyhood home, and interred with the rest of his family, just behind the granite monument. John made sure that their memory and the disaster that claimed their lives would be forever etched in stone. And even though he could not be buried near their earthly remains, he made sure that his memory and theirs would be close to each other for the rest of time.


Downer, Harry E. A History of Davenport and Scott County, Iowa. Volume II. Chicago; S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1910.

Asheville Citizen-Times. 7/6/1898

The Morning Astorian. 7/7/1898

The Observer. 9/25/1898

New York Times. 9/7/1898

Davenport Daily Times. 7/7/1898

Davenport Democrat and Leader. 7/6/1898

Davenport Democrat and Leader. 7/7/1898

Davenport Democrat and Leader. 9/3/1898

Davenport Democrat and Leader. 7/3/1914