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Midwest Americana

Glenn Miller Birthplace

Clarinda, Iowa

Devotees of big-band icon Glenn Miller will appreciate the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum. To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the exhibit “Next to a Letter from Home” explores the legacy, impact and history of Glenn’s Army Air Force Band. It’s a story that people may not associate with Glenn Miller.

“In 1942, his band was making $15,000 to $20,000 per week, and he gave it all up to serve his country,” said director Rick Finch of the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum. “Glenn enlisted because he wanted to modernize military music and boost the morale of the troops.”

The 7,000-square-foot visitor center pays tribute to Miller’s time in Clarinda, his rise as a big-band leader and his military career. A one-hour PBS film titled “Glenn Miller: America’s Musical Hero” tells the story of his early beginnings and rise to stardom. It also recalls his mysterious death when his plane disappeared en route to a European performance in 1944.

The museum displays one of Miller’s last trombones that he played while enlisted. Also on exhibit is an original Art Deco silver-plated bandstand from Cafe Rouge, which was inside New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania. The house tour takes visitors back to Miller’s birth year of 1904 and showcases personal items, including Miller’s piano.

“We’re looking forward to our annual June festival, and we consider it a cultural exchange as well as a music festival,” said Finch. “We’ve invited the Osaka Rakers Jazz Orchestra, the Toronto All-Star Big Band and, of course, the Glen Miller Orchestra.”


The Henry Ford

Dearborn, Michigan

More than 80 years ago, The Henry Ford institution opened as a school, driven by Ford’s belief that American ingenuity wasn’t being taught in textbooks. Today, attractions at The Henry Ford immerse groups in stories of innovation that have shaped America.

On-site, the Henry Ford Museum showcases American technological and social ideas and innovations that have changed our lives. Groups can explore the first 40 years of flight, browse through the world’s premier automotive collection and view presidential limousines, including the one in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Thousands of artifacts are on display: the bus on which Rosa Parks took a stand for civil rights, George Washington’s camp bed and the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was seated when he was shot.

At Greenfield Village, visitors experience 300 years of American history through 83 historic structures, including Henry Ford’s childhood home and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. Visitors can ride in an authentic Model T and experience four living-history farms with costumed interpreters. Nationally renowned artists create one-of-a-kind 19th- and 20th-century pieces in pottery, tin and glass.

From the museum, groups can hop a shuttle to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. Recently renovated theaters feature large-screen films that showcase Ford Motor Company’s history and immerse visitors in production using state-of-the-art special effects. Groups visit the living roof and hear about the plant’s eco-friendly practices before going into the factory itself.

“It’s a really cool tour in the Motor City that definitely adds to the experience at the museum and village,” said media relations manager Deanna Majchrzak at the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People really enjoy watching the new F-150 assembly line, seeing the completed trucks and observing the test activities.”

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.