Friday, June 1, 2012

Clear Lake

Our return trip to Forest City involved very little time in Winnie Town. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and parked overnight outside the Winnebago Visitors Center. Early Wednesday morning, Bullwinkle was back in the hospital. While we were away we got the call we were dreading. Our moose was going to spend at least the rest of the week in service. So, we packed up and headed south about 30 miles to Clear Lake.

Once again, we checked into our familiar, pet-friendly motel. We're getting so comfortable here we know the staff by name, and vice versa!

This is our third stay in Clear Lake. But, somehow we've never made it to Clear Lake's most famous sights. With a couple of days and absolutely nothing to do but watch the walls close in, we set out to see what we have missed. Our first stop was the Surf Ballroom.

Since 1934, the Surf Ballroom has been "the" musical venue in Clear Lake. The original ballroom was destroyed by fire in 1947. The new, and current, Surf was built across the street from the original and opened in 1948. Named a historical landmark in 2011, the ballroom has been lovingly preserved and still reflects a "surf" motif and the ambience of a south sea island. In the 1950s, the Surf was one of the first ballrooms in the state to feature rock-and-roll. Some of the most popular performers of the decade played at the Surf. Artists like The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Little Richard, Jan and Dean and Conway Twitty all took the stage here as the Surf became a "must-play" venue.  The tradition continues today, as the Surf is a popular spot for current performers. Today's marquee promoted tonight's performance by David Allen Coe, and Kevin Kostner's appearance later this month.

On a cold, snowy February night in 1959, the Surf was a tour stop for the Winter Dance Party, which featured Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper Richardson, Dion and Waylon Jennings. According to accounts displayed in the Surf Ballroom's Museum, the show was a huge success. With a gig scheduled for the next evening in Moorhead, Minnesota, Buddy Holly decided to charter a plane instead of traveling on the tour bus, which was poorly equipped for the extreme weather. Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, who had the flu. Tommy Alsop lost his seat in a coin flip with Ritchie Valens. Dion decided not to fork over the $36 for the flight.

Soon after takeoff in the early hours of February 3, 1959, the chartered plane lost radio contact and crashed into a cornfield northwest of the Clear Lake airport. There were no survivors. Years later, Don McLean dubbed the tragedy "The Day The Music Died." Compelled by our new understanding of this fateful day, we trekked out to the crash site, which is still an Iowa cornfield. The "trailhead" is marked with a simple tribute to Buddy Holly.

A half-mile or so into the field, a small memorial marks the place where the plane came to rest. More than 50 years later, the memorial is adorned with flowers, trinkets and notes of visitors to the site.

Since 1979, the Surf Ballroom has hosted a Winter Dance Party the first weekend each February to celebrate the life and times of these beloved musicians who played their last gig at the Surf. If you find yourself in Clear Lake that time of year, we understand it's an event not to be missed.

This morning we got the call from Forest City that the moose would be ready to roll early this afternoon. Shortly after we arrived at the service center, Bullwinkle was delivered to us by our favorite Winnie technicians Jerry and Paul. We inspected their work and everything looks terrific. For the first time in nearly a year, our moose is perfect! We couldn't be happier. Tonight, we're back in the comfort of the Visitors Center parking lot. Tomorrow, we'll head out early for a new state for Bullwinkle, with a special stop along the way.

But, for now, everybody - especially our girl kitty - is happy to be home.

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