Nearly 20 years after the release of Field of Dreams, visitors still come to the Iowa site where the beloved movie was filmed.
By Jim Loomis
Heading west into Iowa, not long after you cross the Mississippi River, the roads narrow, the countryside undulates in gentle waves, and you’ll begin seeing corn. Lots and lots of corn. It was a warm summer afternoon when I visited, but I turned off the air conditioner and rolled down the windows. It was a perfect day to be on the road.
I was on a pilgrimage, really. I’d come to Iowa to visit one special farm in the town of Dyersville, still an hour or so up ahead.
Twenty years ago, in the winter of 1987, a woman from the Iowa Film Commission visited that very same farm and knocked on the front door of the old farmhouse. When Don Lansing opened the door, she astonished him by asking if he’d be willing to have his farm used as the location for a feature movie.
The film was Field of Dreams. It starred Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones and told of an Iowa farmer who, in response to instructions from a mysterious voice, built a baseball diamond in his cornfield, where the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and other old-time ballplayers came back to play the game they loved.
I’ve never been able to explain adequately what it is about the movie that grips me so, but the first time I saw the film I knew that one day I’d come here.
Dyersville is at U.S. 20 and State Route 136, and the Lansing farm is northeast of there by a few miles. You can drive a motorhome all the way to the farm, and ample parking is available, but you must be willing to take a dusty dirt road, the sort that parallels the boundaries of the cornfields in these parts.
You see the weathered, white, two-story farmhouse with the wraparound veranda in the distance: it’s unmistakable. To the left of the house, beyond 15 or 20 acres of dark green stalks of corn, stand the tall, wooden poles for the lights that surround the famous baseball diamond. The turnoff to the farm is just ahead, and soon you travel down the wide driveway, cross a little bridge over a creek, and turn into the spacious gravel parking area. While I was there, it was occupied by a dozen cars and a couple of RVs.
I parked and then walked over to the backstop to peer through the wire mesh at the activity on the diamond. A middle-aged man lobbed soft pitches to a youngster at the plate. A dozen more kids were lined up along the third-base side, patiently waiting their turn at bat.
The defensive alignment was haphazard, with a handful of adults and six or eight kids scattered around the field. Some were focused on the batter; others played catch among themselves, while keeping an eye out for batted balls that might come their way.
Don Lansing, whose family has owned this farm for nearly 100 years, said he often thinks about that knock on his front door in the winter of 1987. “It was an honor to have my farm chosen,” he said quietly. Once the work actually began, things happened fast. The baseball diamond was created in a matter of days, and the interior of the house was renovated to make it easier to film the actors as they moved from room to room.
The actual shooting started on April 11, 1988, and continued through the first week of August. Then, within days after the movie’s release in April 1989, people began showing up, irresistibly drawn to the house and the baseball diamond. “It was a new experience at first,” Mr. Lansing said. Then, with characteristic understatement, he added, “but you adapt.”
In the first year after the film’s release, approximately 7,000 people visited the farm. After that, Mr. Lansing said he expected the number of visitors to begin dropping off; instead, twice as many showed up the next year. Attendance doubled again the third year. In fact, defying all rational expectations, the number of visitors to the Lansing farm is still increasing. No formal head count is taken, but from the number of signatures in a guestbook behind the backstop, Mr. Lansing estimated that at least 60,000 people visited the farm in 2006.
There is no admission charge at the Field of Dreams, although Mr. Lansing acknowledged that people would willingly pay to visit the farm. But that just wouldn’t be right. He mows the grass and tends the baseball diamond by himself, and his maintenance costs are covered by sales at a modest souvenir stand.
On that sunny afternoon, and back on the field, a man in a Red Sox hat, who had been the only adult standing in the line of kids waiting to bat, finally came to the plate. He swung at the first pitch and tapped the ball weakly into the ground in front of the plate. He chuckled in an embarrassed way, and I wondered how many people watching him, like me, instantly recalled a similar scene in the movie. He recovered, however, and on the next pitch lofted a soft fly ball into left field, where another man deftly caught it in one hand while clutching a video camera in the other. Appreciative applause came from some of the spectators, so he doffed his cap and waved.
Ten minutes later, the same man was standing next to me as we added our names to Don Lansing’s guestbook. “Nice catch,” I offered. “Pretty lucky,” he said with a grin. Our conversation was easy and relaxed, as between old friends with much in common.
“This is my sixth time here,” he said. For each visit, he and his 11-year-old son wake up early and drive for 2 1/2 hours to get here. They toss a baseball around for half an hour or so, then get in the car and drive home again. He’s from Rockford, Illinois “” 120 miles away.
“Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?” he said.
“Sure, it does,” I said. I told him I’d come all the way from my home in the Hawaiian Islands. We both laughed some more.
More people were arriving all the time I was there. A large tour bus had parked in the lot. An older couple disembarked and walked hand-in-hand along the right field foul line, then beyond the diamond into the cornfield. Other people sat in the bleachers and watched the informal play on the field in front of them. No one was yelling; no one was in a hurry. Time seemed to stand still. Shoeless Joe could have appeared at any moment.
But, alas, too soon I had to be on my way. I said good-bye to Don Lansing, stopped at the souvenir stand to buy a cap and T-shirt, and headed for the parking lot.
On the way out, I passed a neatly hand-lettered sign: “Live the Magic; Have Faith in Simplicity; And Always Dare to Dream.”
Visiting The Field Of Dreams
Field of Dreams Movie Site
28963 Lansing Road
Dyersville, IA 52040
The site is open April through November from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission is free. Directions and a map are available on the Web site. Dyersville is approximately 200 miles west of Chicago and 25 miles west of Dubuque.
This list may not be complete. For additional listings, please check your favorite campground directory or FMCA’s Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
New Wine Park
16001 New Wine Park Way
New Vienna, IA 52065
This county park offers 26 sites with water and electric, plus showers and rest rooms. Hiking trails, playgrounds, and fishing available. Reservations not taken.
Tri-State Raceway RV Park
2217 270th Ave.
Earlville, IA 52041
Sites with full hookups; fees include water, electric, sewer, and use of showers and rest rooms. Laundry facility available. Dragstrip activities from mid-April through October. Reservations recommended.