Good weather has led legions of people to California. At the end of the 19th Century, the transcontinental railroad gave mid-westerners a way to escape harsh winters and enjoy life in a more temperate climate. Many were from Iowa.
So many, some referred to Long Beach as “Iowa by the sea.” An Iowa picnic took place on the bluffs in 1900, and Iowa picnics soon became an annual event.
The latest in that tradition will take place Aug. 12 this year, at a relatively new Iowa transplant — the USS Iowa. The battleship is moored in San Pedro as a living museum.
But the picnic tradition still belongs to Long Beach. In the mid-20th Century, picnics took place in Bixby Park; others were in Recreation Park. The number of attendees was staggering; reports say 100,000 people gathered at Iowa picnics during the 1940s.
Howard Genrich left Algona, Iowa, and moved to Long Beach to teach science in 1954. The 92-year-old said he went to his first Iowa by the Sea Picnic in 1955 at Recreation Park. At that time, he said the park was divided into 99 areas, representing Iowa’s 99 different counties.
Upon arrival at the Iowa picnic, guests would sign the clipboard of their native county, Genrich said. Picnics served as reunions, he explained, allowing California-based Iowans to chat with one another and hear news about events back home.
“It was also a time to lie and talk about how bad the snow was when you were a kid,” he joked.
Jo Ann Kock said she was happy to trade the cold of Rockford, Iowa, for the warmth of Long Beach in 1962. She went to an…
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