Researching to find out information about the some 22 steamboats that plied the Iowa Great Lakes over the years has been inspiring. We have attempted to secure factual information about each of the steamers and some have a great deal while others are very scarce.
The steamer Queen was built in 1883 and was on the Lakes until 1972 when it was shipped to Des Moines. It had a steel hull while most of the steamers were wooden thereby lasting about 20 years depending on how well they were maintained and stored during the winter months. Two others were steel hulls: the steamer Sioux City and the steamer Des Moines were ordered and built for Fred Roff.
One of the steamers had scant information but it really became a story in its self. The steamer Lillian had a very mixed history being that it was first used at Lost Island Lake and later moved to Okoboji where it moved passengers especially in the low water era of the Iowa Great Lakes which occurred at the end of the 1800s. The steamer Lillian was not very large, and at best could only transport 20 or 25 passengers. The owner of the steamer was Al Hagedon in its early years but was owned and operated by others later. It appeared in the newspapers about 1884 and the last entry was in 1914 when he moved it to Okoboji from Lost Island Lake.
I am sure that among our readers are people who remember the Electric Park at Lost Island Lake. Research seems to indicate it was more or less reinvented in the 1920. My wife Connie remembers it being there but never went into the Electric Park itself. Her recollection of Lost Island Lake was while on a picnic with her family she went wadding in Lost Island Lake and got blood suckers all over her legs. Not a very pleasant memory.
Electric Park is a legend and is located just two miles north of Ruthven. In 1884, the Baldwin Hotel was built on the shore of Lost Island Lake near the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone on Lost Island Lake was used for a landing step for the steamboats that operated on the lake. The Blarney Stone was also the scene of a first kiss by young lovers. The hotel was a three story structure with a dance hall.
The first hotel burned and another was built. The second hotel was later cut in sections and moved to a site at Arnolds Park. (Anyone with information about that move please contact me -- Aubrey LaFoy -- as I have not been able to track that bit of information down.)
My interest in the Electric Park occurred when I read in the Ruthven Centennial book, "One steamer that stopped at the hotel was called the 'Lillian' and was owned and operate by an Al Hagedon. Many people enjoyed the scenic trips around the lake for a charge of 25 cents."
The name Electric Park came into being with "Frank Tishenbanner, a developer, about 1920. Electricity was not yet in general use at that time period. Mr. Tishenbanner put a row of electollers (cement supports for the electric lights) that were placed along the waterfront and at night made a beautiful picture when viewed from a distance. The lights were an attraction by themselves."
The Electric Park that was revived in the 1920s "had a toboggan slide, shooting galleries, ice cream parlors, bath house and a skating rink."
In 1931, J. K. Mapel took over the operation of the café and dance hall. Dancing -- both old and new -- was the big draw for the area. Among the orchestras and bands were Lawrence Welk and Jan Garber. Some others were Cab Calloway, Al Gables and Chet and His Chesterfields. The Electric Park was a swinging place in its time."
Connie and I just had to visit the area, so we drove over to Ruthven, headed north and followed the signs to Electric Park. The old hotel and concessions are long gone but inquiring of several residents did locate the Blarney Stone. Six years ago we journeyed to Ireland and a must was to "kiss the Blarney Stone."
THE BLARNEY STONE
It is no simple matter to "kiss the Blarney Stone" in Ireland. It would be much simpler to "kiss the Blarney Stone" at Lost Island Lake. The Blarney Stone on Lost Island Lake is huge stone on the very shore of the lake and by stepping on the stone it would be a simple matter to "kiss" it. I couldn't at age 90, but younger people could easily accomplish the feat.
Connie and I discussed why some early promoter would dub a rock on Lost Island Lake as a Blarney Stone and our conclusion was probably because of so many Irish living in and around Emmetsburg. St. Patrick's Day is a big event at Emmetsburg and even the beer is green, or so I have been told. Guinness beer is a big deal in Ireland but it was not for me, as I didn't like the taste.
To kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland is a struggle. The stone is way up on the top of Blarney Castle. The castle is in ruins but by climbing and winding through narrow passage ways, up and up, one finally gets there. The Irish had it down to a system as you stand in line until it is your turn, and then you lie down on your back, scoot forward with your head up and kiss the underside of the Blarney Stone.
Sort of gross but they clean the stone after each person. They will take your photo. I don't remember, but I know it was not free. I was a bit disappointed after all the hoopla about "kissing the Blarney Stone." It is much easier to "kiss the Blarney Stone" at Lost Island Lake but the geese had been on the lawn next to the stone earlier and left their "deposits" so one had to step lively.
It still amazes me when I started out seeking information about the steamer Lillian to stumble on the Blarney Stone at Lost Island Lake. When information like that happens, it makes research exciting.