A pilgrimage to the birthplace of John Wayne

CR Rae
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Plaquemine Post South

“Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim,” is a famous John Wayne quote (Tom Doniphon in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” 1962). Winterset, Iowa, is a place for visitors to take ’er easy and enjoy a look into the life of the Duke at the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum.

Marion Robert Morrison was born May 26, 1907, in a small home in Winterset to Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison. Today, visitors can explore the four-room home, which displays interesting artifacts and iconic movie items from guns and props to Wayne’s dark green Pontiac station wagon, specially made to accommodate the Duke’s tall stature.

The Morrisons moved to a nearby city for a job with their young son and, in 1914, the family moved to California. However, Wayne always referred to the Iowa city as his hometown. Winterset and its residents have celebrated the actor in a variety of ways over the years.

The museum came about because so many fans made a pilgrimage to this city of just over 5,000 residents to see the house where the future actor was born. Owners of the former Morrison home became inundated with Duke fans and sold the more than 130-year-old house to the Chamber of Commerce. In 1982 the John Wayne Birthplace Society was formed. Over the next 35 years the town was packed with visitors who wanted to tour the home, and it became evident that Wayne fans wanted more Duke.

Today, the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum is home to the largest collection of everything John Wayne and is a destination for movie buffs of all ages. The 6,100-square-foot space includes permanent and traveling exhibits and a retail store. Items not to miss include the outfit Wayne wore in “Big Jake,” the saddle he rode in “The Cowboys,” the military coat worn in “The Green Berets,” the life-size statue at the entrance of the building and the eyepatch worn in the movie “Rooster Cogburn.”

The museum theater is also a part of the Duke experience, designed to represent a theater in Winterset and filled with seats from the famous Hollywood Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Take in its documentary on the phenomenal career of the Duke.

May 22 and 23 is the John Wayne Birthday Celebration in Winterset. The event will include multiple showings of “Big Jake” at the historic Iowa Theater, an all horse parade, a benefit dinner and auction, and special guest stars Christopher Mitchum and musical headliner Marty Stuart. Visit for more information on hours, pricing and places to stay during your visit, or call 877-462-1044.

Other special events for 2020 in Winterset/Madison County include a Chocolate Walk Feb. 8 and Winterset Wine Walk May 9. In June there are two events with dates to be announced: Macksburg National Skillet Throw and Women’s Weekend. July 15-19 is the Madison County Fair and July 31-Aug. 2 is the Hinterland Music Festival in St. Charles, Iowa. Visit for more information.