Linda Betsigner McCann of Waverly has always loved history and has been doing genealogy for years, but it wasn’t until she visited cemeteries with her granddaughters that she realized she had stories to share. She began telling her granddaughter about the research she was doing on their ancestors. A native of Iowa, McCann’s research uncovered that she was a descendant of the founder of Shell Rock. No one in her family knew this information and she was curious to find out what other important pieces of family history her family didn’t know. Thus began her quest to share the stories of her family’s history as well as many others by writing history books.
McCann started the historical society in Shell Rock where people gave her artifacts from towns like Coster that no longer exist.
“Someone felt it was important enough to name this town, then it is important enough to remember it,” McCann said.
When her granddaughters were 8 and 10 years old, she took them to Irma, a lost town with only one house left. Her granddaughters didn’t understand why they were there, so McCann told them her grandmother was born there.
“The girls kept asking me where the hospital was. That’s when I knew I had to keep sharing these pieces of our history,” McCann said, laughing.
That trip started her new career of writing the “Lost Counties of Iowa” book series that includes, “Lost Cedar County” and “Lost Linn County.” Other counties she has written about include, Bremer, Black Hawk, Chickasaw, Franklin and Grundy. She is now looking for information about lost Benton County towns or any other lost Iowa towns.
To date she has written more than 20 books with several more in the works. Most of them can be found at www.Iowan.com as well as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
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While talking I mentioned a few lost Fayette County towns near and dear to my heart, including Lima, Albany and Dundee. Maybe that will be another book in the works as well.
It is through interactions with other Iowans that she uncovers ideas and information to include in her stories. She spends much of her time traveling to libraries, senior centers and nursing homes talking about her books.
While talking about her book “The Cedar Valley Road” audience members told her stories about the train that ran between Waterloo and Waverly, which is how her latest book “Prohibition in Eastern Iowa” began. One of the stories involved men filling their suitcases in the “wet” county and bringing alcohol home to their “dry” county. At that time Bremer was a wet county and men would travel back and forth to stock up on alcohol, taking it back to Black Hawk County. The stories piqued her interest and started the research bug to investigate Prohibition in Iowa.
McCann found that some people didn’t even know Prohibition was a law in Iowa, confirming to her that a there was a story to tell.
McCann does most of her research at the State Historical Society Library in Iowa City reading old newspaper articles, but she also gathers much of it from personal stories shared with her. While writing “Prohibition in Eastern Iowa,” she was surprised to find that people were hesitant to tell their stories or to name names. At a book reading, she was reading from her Prohibition book and a woman in the audience was shocked to hear about a bootlegger.
“The woman as shocked because she said she dated the man and never would have guessed him to be involved in that,” McCann said.
McCann said it takes her about a year to research and write her Lost Towns series books.
“The off-topic books ... like the Prohibition and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), take about two years each. Mostly because I don’t usually devote full time to the book,” she said.
McCann loves what she is doing but wishes she had started writing sooner.
“I wish I would have had this idea 10 years ago. I want to find the people that are still living. They have stories to tell,” she said.
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Her current book that she is now researching came about because of stories she heard about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a camp that was just outside Waverly as well as locations in Belle Plaine and Marion. These camps were part of creating Backbone State Park as well as helping with soil erosion and drought relief.
“I’d love to talk to anyone who may have had family members that worked in these camps. So many people didn’t even know these camps existed and I want to be sure their stories are told,” she said.
Linda Betsinger McCann will talk about her books and solicit stories from audience members at the following events:
7 p.m. Sept. 8 at Van Horne Public Library, 106 Main St., Van Horne. Cornerstone Apothecary will offer a wine tasting from 5 to 7 p.m. prior to the event. Refreshments also will be available at the library
10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 at Tipton Nursing Home, Tipton
5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 at Stanwood Public Library, 202 E. Broadway, Stanwood