James T. Kirk, Famous Iowan

I should say up front I’m not a Trekkie. So it’s strange that I’ve been to the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Riverside, Iowa, population 1065, is a close neighbor to Iowa City, where I went to college.

Riverside owes its association with Star Trek to an enterprising (get it?) city council member. In 1985, Steve Miller read in a book by Gene Roddenberry that Captain Kirk hailed from an unnamed Iowa town. Miller proposed to the city council that Riverside claim to be that small town. His proposal passed with a unanimous vote.

Several tourist attractions were born out of Riverside’s new claim to fame. The city changed its yearly festival theme from River Fest to Trek Fest. Miller drove a stake in the ground behind the town barber shop, and declared it the exact location of Kirk’s birth. The stake was eventually replaced with a permanent monument, a visitor’s bench, and a donation box shaped like a shuttlecraft.

In 2008 the Voyage Home Riverside History Center opened to visitors. The Star Trek museum, as it’s commonly called, splits its space between Star Trek-themed exhibits, and city history.

Here’s the cool thing about this story. First Riverside, Iowa declared itself part of Star Trek, and then the city was accepted into the show’s background story. Two Star Trek novels and the 2009 movie contain references to Riverside, Iowa. Actor Walter Koenig, who played Chekhov in the original series, was part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the museum. And in 2004 a Spike TV reality show called Invasion Iowa sent actor William Shatner to Riverside for a week of filming.

To me, this is a great example of Midwestern moxie staking a place for itself in the world. Or should I say, in Space….the Final Frontier?

3 comments on “James T. Kirk, Famous Iowan

  1. What a fun fact, Jane. This feels like something Leslie Knope would do. I think people really ought to give Iowa a try.

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