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Beyond the Hilltop

  By Blake Rasmussen '05  

Field of Dreams

“If you build it, they will come.” Well, they built it, filmed it, and reran it on Turner Movie Classics 27 times in the last month, and it all started in Iowa.

Swinging at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville.

For those who don’t know, the Kevin Costner drama Field of Dreams was filmed about 45 miles north of Mount Vernon in Dyersville. Situated on the 91-year-old Lansing farm, the field has been kept in pristine condition since Costner and Ray Liotta played pitch-and-catch.

The movie, about Costner building a field so the ghosts of the 1919 White Sox could come back to play baseball, has been cited consistently as one of the greatest sports movies of all time. Open April through November with free admission and plenty of souvenir hats for sale, the Field of Dreams may be one of the few things your friends out on the East Coast will ooh and ahh over.

Late-night Perkins run

If there’s one thing Mount Vernon seriously lacks, it’s late-night food. While the lack of after-bar cuisine is odd and inconvenient in a college town, it has spawned a Cornell ritual which everyone should try at least once: The late-night Perkins run.

At nearly all hours of the morning, be it midnight as a bar substitute or at 2 a.m. once the bars are closed, Perkins has been there to satisfy students’ late-night hunger. It may be cheap food, the service may not be great, but it is open. And open 24 hours.

Jen Swearingen Wittwer ’91 had this to say about the late-night ritual: “Indeed, the late night Perkins run was an essential. I remember my best pal Mindy Kruckenberg [Eckhardt ’91] having a ‘usual’ order which included hash browns with cheese, sausage links and a hot fudge sundae!”

So until someone in Mount Vernon wises up and builds something open till all hours of the morning, find a sober driver and head to Cedar Rapids.

Train Bridge

They wake you up in the middle of the night. They break your concentration, and residents of the Eighth Avenue apartments rue their very existence.

A train passes through Mount Vernon near Ash Park.

If there’s one thing that breaks the relative peace of Mount Vernon, it’s those noisy trains. Somewhere between 75 and 85 trains pass through town every day, with the highest traffic coming between midnight and 8 a.m.

The trains themselves are something every Cornellian must deal with, so why do they make the list of things Cornellians should do?

It’s not the trains that are of interest, but rather the train bridge. Located just west of the football field, the train bridge is a favorite spot for late-night walks and daylight breaks from studying. Standing on the bridge as trains fly underneath is probably best described as intensely relaxing.


Abbe Creek

Some of the most pristine locations around Cornell can get crowded at times. Lake MacBride pulls in all kinds of visitors and the Pal can sometimes be filled with plenty of Cornellians. It makes a small picnic something of a complication on some days.

Abbe Creek School Museum is a step back in time.

But on those days, when a quiet, gorgeous locale is all you need, head down Old Mount Vernon Road and follow the signs to Abbe Creek.

It’s marked by the historic Abbe Creek one-room schoolhouse, believed to be the oldest standing brick schoolhouse in Iowa. If you’re interested in small-town Iowa history (and who isn’t), the schoolhouse is now a museum and historic observatory. Don’t be surprised if you show up to find a bus full of third-graders learning about pioneer schools.

But on any given day, when the sun is shining and the air is warm, when the breeze is slight and the afternoon is young, Abbe Creek offers a perfect spot for a picnic just a few minutes from campus by car and easily reachable by bike.

The Pal

If you’re reading this and have not yet been to Palisades-Kepler State Park, or “the Pal” as Cornellians commonly call it, then you’re already missing out.

One of the most serene and beautiful locations in all of Iowa, the Pal has been Cornell’s personal playground since well before it was established as a national park in 1922.

Parker Parsons '01 hangs out at the Pal, a popular destination for the Mountaineering Club.

The Pal is 970 acres of parkland about five miles from campus and runs along the Cedar River. It has marked trails, a pretty good imitation of a beach along the river’s shore, grills for cooking, and large open spaces for doing just about any outdoor activity.

Cornell used to even hold an annual Pal Day in which nearly everyone at the school would spend the day along the river, picnicking and socializing. Cornellians have visited the Pal for a variety of activities, from spending whole days just grilling and socializing, to swimming, to climbing on the various bluffs.

On a beautiful Iowa Saturday, nothing beats a day at the Pal.

Pres Hill

Winters on the Hilltop can be harsh. Many Cornellians have pined for warmer weather in the face of an Iowa December.

But snow days in Mount Vernon can make the freezing weather well worth it. Though the hill behind Pfeiffer Hall is a favorite for residents of the tri-dorm area, most everyone, Mount Vernon natives and students alike, loves to sled down Pres Hill.

Named for the Presbyterian church at the top, Pres Hill starts at the top of Third Avenue North at Main Street. During every major snowfall, Mount Vernon blocks off the street and leaves it unplowed so sledders can take advantage of the steep incline.


When the snow flies, Third Avenue North in Mount Vernon is closed for fun.

Sleds can be borrowed from the Information Desk at The Commons. But the truly ingenious have fashioned them out of everything from cardboard boxes to Sodexho trays.

Cornellians have been taking off down Pres Hill for generations. It’s one of the few things a graduate in 1905 would have in common with a graduate in 2005. Graduates as far back as emeritus biology professor Ed Rogers ’39 still fondly recall Pres Hill. Rogers, in fact, was quoted in the Feb. 1, 2003, Cedar Rapids Gazette as saying, “It was a great place in the winter, and we really prayed for snow.”

 

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