Field of Dreams
Hollywood once built a baseball field for ghosts in an Iowa cornfield. That was in July 1988, and the field is still there, and it's one of the top tourist attractions in Iowa.
"Field of Dreams has affected the public in a way seldom matched in movie history," according to a sign at the Field. The steady stream of cars pulling into its parking lot confirms their continued affection.
(For those who don't know, Field of Dreams tells the story of an Iowa farmer who plows up part of his corn crop to build a baseball field, and then the ghosts of famous dead players come and play baseball on it.)
Hollywood could've planned better. The Field was built across the property line of two farmers, Don Lansing and Al Ameskamp. After the film crew left, Ameskamp plowed up his half and planted a new crop of corn. But when the movie became a hit and tourists began arriving, he realized he'd made a mistake. Ameskamp and Lansing quickly restored the Field to its original appearance, and for the next two decades they ran competing attractions, only a few feet apart, each with its own gift shop selling nearly identical stuff. It was not quite a dream, more like a schizophrenic episode. "We try to keep things pleasant," the now-deceased Al told us during a 1990s visit. "The Field's been good to us."
Don Lansing finally bought out Al Ameskamp on August 17, 2007, and the Field was united at last.
What do people do at the Field of Dreams? Mostly, they just show up. Some treat it as a shrine, happy to take a pinch of the infield dirt or snap off an ear of corn (Both are officially discouraged), or to stand on the same spot as Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster (It was his last film). Al told us he'd met people who'd seen the film "99 million times."
Some visitors come to play ball with whoever happens to be around. The people that we saw arrived with everything from professional baseball gear to beach balls and over-sized clown bats.
"When do they turn on the lights?" asked one man at the gift shop. "They don't," replied the girl at the cash register (The Field is closed and gated every day at 6 pm). If you look up at the light towers, all of the bulbs have been removed.
On occasional Sundays in the summer, a local semi-pro team dresses in old-timey uniforms as the "Ghost Players." They hide in the corn beyond the outfield, then walk out to toss a ball around with happy visitors. But even the film's most devoted fans can't commandeer the Field of Dreams for their own private ballgames. "We do not allow organized games," warns a sign. "Thanks for giving everyone a chance to play ball."
The Field of Dreams is free: a baseball diamond with a backstop, a pair of simple wooden bleachers, a white farmhouse, and lots of corn (in season). It's still just the way it looked in the movie -- but maybe not forever. In 2010 Don Lansing put it up for sale, and its eventual buyers (for $3.4 million) were not Iowa farmers, but a couple of wheeler-dealer land developers from Chicago. They had their own dreams, which involved bulldozing acres of the surrounding corn for a sprawling sports complex with some very large parking lots. The developers called it "All-Star Ballpark Heaven," and promised to preserve the little Field of Dreams, and some of its corn buffer, in the middle of the sprawl, as an attraction.
The Dyersville city council approved the necessary zoning changes. But neighboring farmers and folks in town hated the idea, and tied it up in court (They also voted out of office the council members who approved it). Potential investors became gun-shy. The sports complex, which was supposed to open in 2014, remains just an idea.
For now, at least, the Field of Dreams is the way it's been since 1988, surrounded only by pastoral countryside. "So much of the magic is still here today," says a sign at the Field, and and we'd guess that most of its visitors would like to keep it that way.