John Wayne Museum Director: Hard to Miss Us In Winterset, Iowa

The man in charge of keeping John Wayne’s legacy alive in his native Winterset, Iowa says he’s not blaming Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) for her apparent gaffe regarding the actor’s birthplace this morning.

But Brian Downes, executive director of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, pointed out that other presidential candidates — Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Barack Obama in 2007 — have found their way to John Wayne’s boyhood home.“It’s hard to miss,” he told TPM. “We’re only 25 minutes from Des Moines, and we’re at the intersection of two major interstates. Those highway signs are marked clearly.”

Bachmann briefly caused a Twitter meltdown on Monday when a blogger at the Washington Times noticed she told Fox News that Waterloo (her childhood home and the site of her Iowa-focused presidential announcement speech) was the birth place of “John Wayne,” whose spirit Bachmann suggested she wanted to channel.

“What I want them to know, just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa, that’s the kind of spirit that I have, too,” Bachmann told Fox.

Turns out there was a John Wayne from Waterloo, but as anyone who was near a computer Monday afternoon now knows, it’s not the John Wayne that Bachmann was thinking of. The famous John Wayne from Waterloo is John Wayne Gacy, the notorious serial killer.

Actor-not-murderer John Wayne’s parents briefly lived in Waterloo. They left because it was too far away from their relatives, so they moved to Winterset to get closer. All this happened before John Wayne was born.

Downes said he’s guessing Bachmann made a simple mistake.

“I don’t think she was thinking of John Wayne Gacy at all,” he said. “He was there about as long ago as she was.”

Bachmann, 55, left Iowa in her early years. Gacy’s reign of terror lasted between 1972-1978.

Downes said he wasn’t going to “criticize somebody for something every human being does” — namely, say something embarrassing.

“Anybody who talks makes gaffes,” he said. “From our local mayor to the president of the United States. The more you talk, the more your tongue is going to slip.”

Asked of his political leanings (more specifically, if he’s a Republican), Downes laughed. “Am I?” he said. “No, I came out here from Chicago, Illinois.”

Downes wouldn’t weigh in on whether or not confusing which town the actor and Iowa favorite son John Wayne was from might hurt Bachmann with Hawkeye State voters. But he said his door is always open for her if she wants to see the house where Wayne (actor, not murderer) grew up.

“Whether she knows or not [where John Wayne was born] I don’t know. I’ve not met her,” he said. “But she’s welcome to come anytime — but we’re not in Waterloo, we’re in Winterset.”

Masthead Masthead
Editor & Publisher:
Managing Editor:
Senior News Editor:
Assistant Editor:
Editor at Large:
Investigations Desk:
Front Page Editor:
Editor for Prime & Special Projects:
General Manager & General Counsel:
Executive Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: