The Ottumwa Courier


September 13, 2010

Newsreels feature Ottumwa in 1950s

The road less traveled

OTTUMWA — A lot of changes have occurred in Ottumwa over the past 50 years.

That’s evident if you take a trip down Memory Lane via the Internet.

I was forwarded a link via e-mail to a site that features old newsreels and government archives. The link pointed me to six U.S. Army documentaries made about small-town American life featuring Ottumwa back in the 1950s.

You’ll see familiar sights and perhaps, some familiar  faces in these old clips.

There are scenes of a very different looking downtown to pictures of the courthouse, Central Park and other locales.

It’s interesting to look back, but what was remarkable was Ottumwa’s portrayal in these films.

Idealized, the government films portray Ottumwa as the all-American city.

It was by design, as in one of the documentaries, the presenter in the film discusses the challenge of the “current communist threat” and how American liberty can fight off that challenge.

The presenter, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army, says the following: “In the city of Ottumwa, in Iowa, we believe we have found a living example of everything we the American people stand for.”

The narration continues over scenes of a bustling Ottumwa: “At the crossroads of the nation in southeast Iowa lies the city of Ottumwa. It might be your town or any town USA. For here in this typical hometown, just being itself, can be found that intangible substance which we call ‘the American way of life.’”

I’m sure local historian Sue Parrish and others are familiar with these film clips, but it was new to me and gave me some insight into the Ottumwa of old.

If you would like to see Ottumwa 50-plus years ago, go to and type in the word “Ottumwa” in the search category.

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