Lately, I’ve been fascinated with an event that occurred in rural Iowa in 1932. Many of my friends at work have heard me talk about this, some at great length because I get so absorbed in describing what I’ve discovered in my research. The story is not a pleasant one, but it’s pretty typical for the times, given that 1932 was in the heart of the Depression, an event that took its toll on Iowa farmers in many ways, economically and, more importantly, very personally.
When I was a child, I remember coming across an old newspaper clipping my grandma had in a cedar box on her dresser. It told the story of horribly tragic murder of a family in the little town of Stout, Iowa. I knew from the way my grandma reacted to it even then that the story carried with it difficult memories and associations for her. She grew up on her family’s farm just outside of Stout, which was a very small community filled with groups of Dutch and German farmers. Stout, like most areas, suffered its share during the Depression years, a fact proven in a search through its newspapers at the time. The clipping told the story of the Andreesen family murders. The father, Nanno, killed his wife, children, and his sister-in-law, and then killed himself. Fascinated by this story, I never really forgot it. However, the “busy-ness” of life took over and I forgot about the story for many years.
When I moved back to Iowa after graduate school and began teaching, I recalled that box of clippings and asked my grandma if I could see them again. I made photocopies of the clippings so that I would have a record of them for myself. Occasionally, I’d return to them, but it wasn’t until recently that I took a real interest in learning more about the Andreesen story. It’s been difficult to find much information as the event occurred so long ago, but I’ve been reviewing newspapers from the area/era and have been trying to make contacts wherever I can. Thankfully, I still have my grandma to ask, which I did, and I have some very supportive friends who’ve guided my investigation along the way.
What do I expect to find? I have no idea. I’m not beginning this journey with an end in mind. A lot of people ask me, “Are you going to write a book?” The answer — I have no idea. I have no idea where this will go…what I will find…if I will find anything…or if anything I find will be interesting enough to other people. What I do know is that I am fascinated by this story — for reasons I don’t know and can’t explain — and I want to know more, if for no other reason than to just remember this family, the children who died so young, the pain felt by the parents and the community, the tragedy of what life was for the rural Iowan during the Great Depression. Theirs is one story among many of Iowans that should not be forgotten. I hope that my search and my writing does not stir up any old wounds and does not hurt the families of those who may have known or be related to this family. In my research and story-telling, I aim to do nothing but show respect and compassion for the lives of the people I write about.
More about the journey to come.