I first discovered Glenn Miller in high school band, when the opening bars of In the Mood grabbed my imagination and would not let go. Later I tapped those memories to write a book about an Iowa girl who joins a second-rate swing band during World War II. So when I found out about the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum in Clarinda, Iowa, I couldn’t wait to check it out.
Alton Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda in 1904. Though his family moved to Nebraska a few years later, the town of his birth has embraced their native son. The museum tells the story of Miller’s Midwestern boyhood and his rise to fame as the most popular band leader in America. It moves on to his military service during World War II, as the director of the Army Air Force Band, and his mysterious disappearance over the English Channel in 1944.
The museum collection reflects not only Glenn Miller the legendary bandleader, but also Glenn Miller the man. My favorite glimpse behind Miller’s polished façade is a letter he wrote to his wife during the war. Set alongside his trombone, movie memorabilia and awards, his tender words show he was human after all.
The annual Glenn Miller Festival, held the second weekend of June, brings together musicians from around the world to celebrate Miller’s legacy. Concerts, dances and picnics fill the schedule. The city of Clarinda is chock full of visitors that weekend, so it’s best to book hotel rooms well in advance.
Clarinda is worth a visit for many reasons besides the Glenn Miller Museum. Check out this Midwest Almanac post, World-Class Art in Small-Town Iowa!, for more.