Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand …
Twirling a baton and marching to “Seventy-Six Trombones” in a parade when I was eight years old, I was unaware the song was from the movie The Music Man, an Academy Award winner in 1962 and prior to that, a Broadway hit. The catchy tune has stuck in my head for fifty years, but it was only this year, when visiting Mason City, Iowa, that I learned the classic musical’s fictitious River City was modeled after composer and songwriter Meredith Willson’s hometown of Mason City, Iowa, and inspired by the city’s annual North Iowa Band Festival. Mason City pays tribute to likely the city’s most famous resident with The Music Man Square, which includes a museum with a reproduction of The Music Man movie set and his boyhood home.
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Meredith Willson Museum
Enter the museum, and you are on the movie set, made up of mostly facades. However, a few of the storefronts house real shops, like the ice cream parlor that offers ten hand-dipped flavors. The original movie set in Hollywood has been used in several other films, including Back to the Future.
The Music Man, the most well-known of Willson’s accomplishments, has brought much pomp and circumstance to Mason City over the years. The movie premiered here in 1962, complete with red carpet and stars in attendance, coinciding with the North Iowa Band Festival weekend. Stars Robert Preston, Shirley Jones and Ronny Howard, as well as Willson, returned many times for the band festival, which at its peak, included a parade with bands from 100 high schools across the country. One display in the museum meshes the band festival with the movie.
Meredith Willson home
Next door to the museum, the home in which Willson spent his entire childhood provides a glimpse of his formative years. The youngest of three siblings, he made his way into the world in a big way, born at 14 pounds, 6 ounces. With his father an attorney, the family wasn’t wealthy, but they were comfortable.
The house has been restored, and many of the family’s possessions are displayed, thanks to Willson’s widow Rosemary, who donated a semi-load of items from the estate.
Rosemary was also financially instrumental in getting The Music Man Square off the ground, as she donated $5 million to the project, while an additional $5 million was raised by the community in an effort not unlike the way the community came together for a cause in The Music Man.
If you visit The Music Man Square
The Music Man Square, located at 308 S Pennsylvania Ave., Mason City, Iowa, is open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Check the web site for further details.
Accommodations: I stayed at the Historic Park Inn Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Write, during my visit to Mason City. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor
Disclosures: My visit to Mason City was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link, which means that if you book a hotel room through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
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