Posted on August 9, 2020
(My regular column is suspended during the pandemic so we decided to run some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. This one is a followup to one the ran two weeks ago, on the confusion between Idaho and Iowa.)
The scene: a service station in South Carolina.
Georgia traveler – We’ll be home soon. Where is your home?
Idaho traveler – Boise, Idaho.
Georgia traveler – Well now! I don’t rightly know if we come through there or not. We come through St. Louis.
Idaho traveler – You probably didn’t come through Boise then. It’s about 1,600 miles from St. Louis.
Georgia traveler – It is?!
Idaho traveler. Yes. It’s less than a day’s drive from the Pacific Ocean. Idaho isn’t anywhere near St. Louis. It’s part of the Wild West.
Georgia traveler (backing up, checking for six-shooters) – Start the car, Billy Ray! And don’t make any sudden moves.
The story, with modest embellishments, is true. It happened to Idahoan Betty Burke. The Georgians, of course, were wondering whether they had come through Boise, Iowa. An astonishing number of Americans are convinced that there is a Boise, Iowa.
And a Des Moines, Idaho, a Coeur d’Alene, Iowa, a Sioux Falls, Idaho …
No offense to Georgia, but the state of geography appears to be in serious trouble there. Lynn Adams of Red Oak, Iowa was traveling through the Peach State when one of its residents asked the inevitable question:
“So, where do you call home?”
“Iowa,” she replied
“Iowa, let me see now. Wait, I’ve got it! That’s the one up there by Washington and Oregon, isn’t it?”
In 1989, the Idaho Falcons soccer team toured the now defunct Soviet Union, competing in its republics of Russia, Moldavia and Ukraine. It was the first time a U.S. amateur soccer team had been invited to play in the Soviet Union, and the Idahoans were justly proud to be representing their country.
Until they arrived at the stadium in Moscow for their final game. Among the spectators there was a Russian high school student with a large, hand-painted banner: “Go, Iowa!”
No one could persuade him that the names of the two states weren’t interchangeable.
Idahoan Lyman Larson decided to have some fun with the confusion. His contribution: an “Idawa” postcard.
“Why do Idaho and Iowa have such an identity crisis?” he asked. “What is it that makes a person confuse them? Is it their geographic proximity, renowned rivers or perhaps their famed agricultural products? In honor of confused fellow countrymen everywhere, I designed the appropriate postcard. It is my hope that it will simplify that confusion. Or just simply confuse.”
The postcard pays homage to “Idawa, the Gemeye State.” (Iowa is the Hawkeye state.) Larson’s Idawa map looks like Iowa’s with Idaho’s panhandle jutting from its northern border. Its capital is Des Boise. Idawa is the home of “Famous Corntatoes,” and “a Pacific Midwest paradise bordered by the mighty Snake and Mississippi rivers.”
Indianan Patricia Roderick married an Idahoan in Idaho and took him home to Indiana to introduce him to her fellow Hoosiers at an open house.
“In northwest Indiana, an open house is a popular way to celebrate events,” she said. “I circulated continually as a good guest of honor should and spoke with at least five people who asked, ‘So, how do you like Iowa?’
“Being ignorant of the Idaho-Iowa connection at the time, I kept wondering why people would ask me how I liked a state I had only passed through. This experience was my first inkling that the two states might be interchangeable in people’s minds.”
When she returned to Idaho from Indiana, she “hadn’t been back at work two minutes when one of my co-workers asked, ‘So, how was Iowa?’”
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin discovered the pitfalls of name identification during his 1992 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Harkin was one of the few primary candidates who actually campaigned in Idaho. On a campaign stop in Boise, he told his audience that the problem was bigger than any candidate.
“I go all over the country,” he said, “and I’m invariably introduced as Sen. Tom Harkin of Idaho.”
Late Idaho Sen. Frank Church claimed to have the same problem in reverse. People outside Idaho thought he was from Iowa.
There has never been a president from Idaho. Iowa has produced one, Herbert Hoover.
The father of the Depression.
Idaho probably took the rap.