When it comes to icons of manliness, one person comes to mind more than any other - The Duke! John Wayne or Marion Robert Morrison was born on May 26, 1907 in rural Iowa and would go on to become one of the greatest movie stars in America as well as a cultural icon across virtually every other medium too. Anyone who has ever watched a John Wayne movie deserves to visit the museum here and explore some of its artifacts as well as learn more about this legendary actor.
While the formal museum housing numerous movie memorabilia items and other John Wayne artifacts opened in 2015, the John Wayne Birthplace Museum is celebrating it's 40th anniversary on August 27, 2022 and that's pretty remarkable for a museum like this.
But then again ... John Wayne was a pretty remarkable guy!
Tickets for the museum and birthplace can be purchased in the main building that houses the exhibits but then guests will be able to take a self guided tour of both sites. There is no official John Wayne house tour here but there is a guide who was very helpful in pointing out important things that visitors shouldn't miss.
While there are other museums dedicated to celebrating The Duke, such as the John Wayne: An American Experience in Fort Worth that is run by John Wayne's son Ethan Wayne, this place is special because there is only one John Wayne birthplace. The opportunity to step inside the home where he was born and see what life was like makes it that much more remarkable as to where he ended up later in life.
Inside the home that John Wayne was born in, you will find that it has been restored to what it looked like in 1907. While the objects you see here are period accurate, they are not actual artifacts from Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison (John Wayne's parents).
However, it is very cool to see the environment that such a man was born into. His father, Clyde was a pharmacist who worked in the nearby Winterset historic town square, so unlike other birthplace sites that you might have visited this one is actually fairly middle class. However it's still a small house with simple décor.
Right next to the John Wayne home is the museum, which opened in 2015. The John Wayne Museum celebrates the legendary life and movie career of The Duke. This is where we can learn more about the movies that he is famous for, including The Comancheros, True Grit, Stagecoach, Rio Bravo, and Sands of Iwo Jima. It's astonishing to consider that in his 50 year career that he was able to star in 169 feature films as well as countless appearances on TV and voice-overs. His impact is still felt today.
In addition to movie memorabilia, guests can also watch classic John Wayne films in a fantastic screening room complete with actual seats from the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
The John Wayne Museum is also the home of The Duke's 1975 Pontiac Grand Safari. While you might think that a star of Wayne's stature would be seen driving around Hollywood in a sports car, this was actually his last personal driving car. Granted, this isn't your every-day station wagon, it was a custom job by Barris Kustoms the features a raised roof and came well equipped with air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control and a 455-cu.in V-8 engine with a "Three-Speed Hydra-Matic Transmission". At 5,090 pounds, this wasn't going to be the fastest vehicle on the block, but we bet it was comfortable and discrete.
What's even greater than the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum is that the town itself has embraced The Duke and you'll find classic comic books decorating the walls of donut shops like The Bakery Unlimited and meals named in his honor such as the pork tenderloin covered in brown gravy and mushrooms at Northside Cafe.
Interestingly though, John Wayne isn't the only iconic male movie star who made an impact here. The town of Winterset Iowa is also the center of Madison County and while it's a far stretch from True Grit and Rio Bravo, the Bridges of Madison County stars Clint Eastwood along side Meryl Streep so there is also tons of movie spots to explore for that movie here as well.
While John Wayne passed away in 1979 at the age of 72, his legacy lives on in this museum. While Winterset, Iowa is a bit off the beaten path for most guys ... we're big fans of visiting Iowa and this is just one of the many reasons to come here!