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This Rare Footage In The 1930s Shows Iowa Like You’ve Never Seen Before

We typically think of our Iowan ancestors as simple folk, but why should we assume they were any different from us? It may seem strange, but when you go to the cinema to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster, you’re indulging in the same vices as a State Fair goer in the early 20th century, especially if they were at this one!


The Iowa State Train Collisions come from a time when the entertainment industry was much different. It was a wider industry, and was not dominated by movie makers and video game producers. It was a wider-reaching net that encompassed travel and mystery, shock and wonder. But the truth is the people of the past are not too different than us today, and many of the tropes today’s industry uses were pioneered by our ancestors before us.

Michael Bay wasn’t the first one to capitalize on the people’s love for explosions and mayhem, nor Joe Connolly, or “Head-On Joe” as he used to be known, but he is responsible for this footage we obtained. He was born in Colo, Iowa in 1859 (though some reports argue it was ’58) and in the late 19th century, he made a business out of crashing trains. His opportunity arose when the Iowa State Fair audiences were dwindling. His solution? Stage a high speed, head-on crash between two massive locomotives for the people’s amusement. He later took the show on tour across the United States, and became an amusement tycoon.

This crash in particular was more than a showdown between tens of tons of coal and steel, it had a political theme creating buzz around the fair. 1932 was the year Iowa-born president Herbert Hoover lost in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was a time in the election process similar to where we are today, so news of the battle for presidency was at its peak.

It’s rare we find ourselves watching these archives of old, but the splendid show of “Head-On Joe” deserves to be immortalized in digital footage. He pioneered effects and upped the ante for the entertainment industry, and for that, we thank him.