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Hall of Pride is Enough to Make You Proud

Marc Hansen

Des Moines Register

February 24, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by The Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other or commercial use requires the prior approval of The Des Moines Register.]

I arrived at the new Iowa Hall of Pride about an hour after the official opening Wednesday morning and quickly realized that all the glowing tributes were on the mark.

The place is one-of-a-kind spectacular - an interactive, 26,000-square-foot, $12.5 million orgy of all things Iowa.

I spent two hours there on opening day pushing buttons, pulling levers, touching computer screens like a kid - and could have stayed till closing without overdosing on the greatness of the state's athletes, scholars, inventors, musicians, actors, debaters and other notables.

Not only did I watch Nile Kinnick score the winning touchdown against Notre Dame, but I saw a speech and debate team perform at the all-state meet.

The Hall of Pride had everything. Everything, on this day, except a tidal wave of visitors.

If you walked through the door bright and early on opening day, you pretty much had the place to yourself.

Thousands of wrestling fans are in town for the state meet. I figured they'd be lined up to see the gold medal Dan Gable won at the 1972 Olympics.

The wrestling fans were on the streets and skywalks. They were in the restaurants and shops. They were in the arena. For some reason, they weren't in the Hall of Pride.

Maybe they were saving the experience for later when their favorite competitors weren't competing. Maybe they were off helping somebody cut weight.

The folks who run the Hall of Pride seemed undaunted. They're still looking forward to 90,000 visitors the first year.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. You can't expect a full house on a Wednesday morning. The ribbon-cutting is today, which should bring out a few more paying customers.

I ran into a few dads and a few high school kids during my tour, but that was about it. The pace picked up as the day went on, but in the morning there might have been 50 computer displays for every person.

The ratio isn't all bad. No waiting in line at the cool balls-and- strikes-calling baseball exhibit.

That's the one where you look through a virtual catcher's mask at a Valley High School pitcher throwing to an Urbandale High hitter at the Ankeny High ballfield. Blow a call, and a voice from the stands tells you what a bum you are.

When you get your score, you realize what a lousy umpire you'd make, so quit your bellyaching about the officiating already.

If you wanted to play the virtual golf game or view clips of John Wayne in "True Grit" or see Peggy Whitson hanging out at the space station, you could do it to your heart's content.

If you wanted to watch the 90-minute Bob Feller interview in its entirety, nobody was there to stop you.

It wasn't all sports, and the picture wasn't always rosy. I was fascinated with the exhibit that showed how the school districts had disappeared since 1940.

Touch the screen. Choose a county and year. Up pops the name of every school in the district and the enrollment. Touch the screen again and watch the shrinkage as the years pass.

The Hall of Pride is a cheap ticket. Five bucks ($4 for students) gets you in and gives you access to four of the interactive games. Three more dollars gets you a crack at four more games.

The high school kids I saw catching the 12-minute introductory tribute to Iowa and Iowa values were mesmerized.

The tribute, on a giant screen in a 96-seat theater, was a tad hokey. But then Iowa itself is a tad hokey, so the depiction rang true.

"It almost brought me to tears," said Takara Onoo, a senior from Mason City. "It was awesome. I loved it."

The Mason City girls cheered and screamed when a baseball player from their school appeared on the screen.

"I was smiling the whole time," said Lauren Burgmeier.

Opera star Simon Estes, sounding like a prairie-born James Earl Jones, was the narrator. He gave a picture- postcard representation.

If I was trying to sell someone on Iowa or Des Moines, the Hall of Pride would be the first stop on my recruiting tour. It would have come in handy last spring when a colleague and I took a prospective employee around town.

The city was beautiful. The trees and the lawns were lush and green. The streets and sidewalks were clean. The new downtown buildings sparkled in the setting sun.

The only thing missing was the people, who seemed to be in hiding somewhere. It made you wonder if this was Des Moines or DeSoto.

If the crowds don't turn out for the Hall of Pride - after you see the place you have to believe they will - the smart money could be on DeSoto.