River City Stop – Music Man Square

My mother introduced me to the wonder of musicals, which served as a form of family entertainment, during my younger days. It seems that the golden age of musicals must have peaked by the beginning of the 1960s. That doesn’t mean that no good films came out in this genre after that period. An example of a later addition, and one of my personal favorites, is The Music Man. To this day I will put down the remote when I come across this classic. Just the mention of the title has the melody of “Seventy-Six Trombones” running through my mind. That alone is enough of a reason for us to arrange a River City stop at Music Man Square in Mason City, Iowa.

We want to thank Visit Mason City for hosting our visit. Rest assured that all opinions are our own. 

The Meredith Willson Boyhood Home is an historic house where the composer grew up.

The Family Home

Having a chance to visit the boyhood home of Meredith Willson, was an opportunity to learn more about the Midwestern composer responsible for a substantial body of work. After checking in at the Music Man Square, we joined a few other visitors for a guided tour. Willson was born and raised in Mason City, which is situated on the Winnebago River. From a young age he was interested in music. By the time he reached adulthood, he was an accomplished musician on the flute and piccolo.

Tours of Meredith Willson's Boyhood Home included insight into his family life.

Growing Up with Music

After attending the Damrosch’s Institute of Musical Art, in New York City, he would go on to perform in John Philip Sousa’s band. Willson moved on from that role to perform with the New York Philharmonic. He would eventually move to San Francisco where he would become musical director for the NBC radio network. By 1940 he was busy composing scores for movies like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and The Little Foxes with Betty Davis. World War II would find him working with stars like Gracie Allen and George Burns. After seeing the home, and Willson’s boyhood bedroom, we were ready to move into the Music Man Museum.

Visitors can learn more about the early days of marching bands and watch a film about The Music Man.

The Music Man

Here we would get detailed background on his most famous piece of work. Drawing on his memories of his hometown, Willson wrote the story of a con man named Harold Hill, who visits a small town in Iowa. Hill’s River City stop is designed to convince the townspeople in their need to organize a community band to the tune of “Ya Got Trouble”. While his intentions are underhanded, he becomes sidetracked when he falls for the local librarian, “Marian the Librarian”. The resulting commotion results in an unexpected ending that features an impromptu marching band. Along the way we are treated to some of the other classics like “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Shipoopi”, “Goodnight Ladies”, and “Till There Was You”.

Music man Square is filled with artifacts and memorabilia about Meredith Willson.

Memorabilia Galore

Moving through the museum, we found a wide variety of artifacts and memorabilia associated with The Music Man. There are also other pieces that center around his other works. Willson’s other big musical hit is The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which tells a fantastical tale of a wealthy woman who survives the sinking of the Titanic. The story is loosely based on a real person, Margaret Brown, who hailed from Hannibal, Missouri. During our time in the museum, we also discovered that Meredith is responsible for the 1951 song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”.

Music Man Square has a replica of a downtown Main Street from 1912.

Mainstreet USA

Once we completed our time looking at the accolades and awards, we headed back toward the museum entrance. This area is designed to mimic a River City stop along Main Street. Visitors can meander down the road peering in the storefronts. Each one is filled with items that would have been commonplace in 1912, which is the setting for the musical. Strolling to the end, we discovered an ice cream shop that was open for business. You know us, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to enjoy a sweet treat while we looked out over the diorama.

The authors pose for a selfie during their River city stop at The Music Man Square.

River City Stop

The Music Man Square and Meredith Willson Boyhood Home are an interesting side note in the history of Mason City, Iowa. It is easy to see how the city has embraced this hometown hero. The entire city has a distinct artistic side which makes it especially interesting for tourists. When The Music Man premiered, in 1962, it was right here in his hometown. He even led the parade through town, which was attended by stars from the silver screen. Much like his imaginary counterpart, Meredith brought music to this Iowa town. Do you remember The Music Man?

the authors signatures.

12 thoughts on “River City Stop – Music Man Square”

      1. No, I don’t remember maybe because I lived in the Philippines
        til I was 54. But the songs, Seventy Six Trombones, yes, Til There Was You, and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

  1. Oh, what a blast from the past! I also love musicals, and The Music Man is such a classic. Who can resist singing along to “76 Trombones?” What a great opportunity to visit Meredith Wilson’s boyhood home.

  2. What a fascinating tour and visiting the Music Man Museum with all its fascinating collections and other memorabilia. This is a fun music tour in a town I didn’t know much about. Thanks for sharing the tour.

  3. Ahhh, Iowa. Where I grew up, and the corn never stops. In more than one sense. I do love that show, though. Thanks for the reminder. Maybe one day, we’ll have to stop at that museum. We used to pass Mason City often on the way to visit my parents, but never stopped in.

  4. I remember watching The Music Man when I was a kid and have even watched it a few times since. Interesting read about Meredith Willson. Nice tour of Mason City. I’d like to visit sometime.

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