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1965 Stong's State Fair Controversy

Morning Register (Des Moines) February 7, 1957

Home Folks Ban Stong's "State Fair" for 25 Years


Morning Register

Des Moines, Iowa

February 7, 1965


KEOSAUQUA, IA.-The best-known novel of Keosauqua's Phil Stong was banned in the city library here for 25 years after it was published, on the ground that it was a dirty book.

The book is "State Fair" a best-selling story of an Iowa farm family's annual trip to the Iowa State Fair.

The Keosauqua Women's Improvement Association which ran the library here, refused to put the book in its collection when it was published in 1932.

"It wasn't anything really exciting," says the late novelist's widow, "but they said it was immoral.

"There was a seduction scene between the lines but it was in the best taste.  Nothing to get upset about."

Mrs. Arthur Secor of Keosauqua, the librarian at the time and an officer of the Women's Improvement Association, declines to talk about the ban, except to say:

"I suspect we talked about it.  There was quite a controversy about it.  Of course, you know, times were different then."


Died in 1957


Stong, a onetime Des Moines Register reporter and author of 60 books, died in 1957 in Washington, Conn., where his widow still lives.

"State Fair" has been the basis for three movies (1932, 1945 and 1961).  Several other Stong books were made into movies, but perhaps his most important book is an Iowa history, "Hawkeyes."

Shortly before Phil Song's death, the Keosauqua Business and Professional Women took over the library and asked him for a copy of "State Fair."  He refused.

"It wasn't good enough for you then so I don't want you to have it now." he's quoted by his brother Jo, an attorney here and a former Iowa Highway Commissioner.

So it wasn't until a few years ago - Edna Johnston, the librarian the past 16 years, doesn't remember who donated it or exactly when - that the library got a copy.


Only 3 Books


Although Stong drew on many residents for his characters and used Keosauqua, Van Buren County and several nearby towns as the settings in a great share of his books, the Keosauqua library has only three Stong books: "State Fair, " "Career" and "Honk the Moose," a children's book.

The library at Bentonsport (Pop., 35) about five miles from Keosauqua (Pop., 1.023) has Stong's complete works, all autographed.

So does Jo Stong, and until recently he had been carrying his brother's fight with the library.

A former resident, Dr. Ralph S. Roberts of San Diego, Calif., gave Keosauqua $10,000 to build a new library.

So the city created a library board.  Stong's law partner, James Dorothy, is the chairman.  Says Stong:

"While Phil lived, he forbade it. But if the new library board is interested, and they are, we will donate copies of his work."


Hurt His Feelings

Says Phil Stong's widow, Virginia (who still owns the family farm in Van Buren County, which Grandfather Stong bought with gold he'd mined in the California Gold Rush of 1849 and which Phil used as the basis of at least one book):

"Phil was good natured and when he first heard what the library had done he was faintly amused.  It may have hurt his feelings but I doubt it.

"Faintly amused is the best description."

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