So who is famous and from Keokuk ?
Born in Keokuk ? Lived in Keokuk ? Worked in Keokuk ? Just happened to pass through Keokuk ? Famous internationally ? Famous in the state of Iowa ? Famous locally ? And the distinction of being exactly ‘from’ Keokuk is debatable. So let’s break it down into the before mentioned categories and explore.
Born in Keokuk
Conrad Nagel: born March 16, 1897, was a silent movie film star, who made the transition to ‘talkies’, Nagel also was a radio performer and hosted a television game show called ‘Celebrity Times’ in the 50’s. He also hosted a television show called ‘Hollywood Preview’ in 1955-56. He was a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy Awards or Oscars), and a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. He hosted the Oscars in 1930 and 1932, and co-hosted with Bob Hope in 1953.
Nagel only lived in Keokuk for 3 years, moving to Des Moines and later to California. His last movie appearance was in 1959, in the film ‘The Man Who Understood Woman’. He is mentioned in the TV show ‘MASH’, in the episode ‘Abyssinia, Henry’. Nagel died in New York City in 1970, and is buried in the Lutheran Cemetery in Warsaw, Illinois, which is next to the Oakland Cemetery in Warsaw.
Elsa Maxwell: born May 24, 1883, she was a famous newspaper gossip columnist in the 1940’s. Before that she hosted parties in the U.S. and Europe, attracting the elite of the day, such as movie stars and writers and such. She seems to have only lived in Keokuk a short time, being raised in San Francisco. Her parties in the 20’s were devised around ‘themes’, she is credited with inventing ‘scavenger hunt’ type parties. She publicly condemned homosexuality, while she herself was a lesbian, and carried on a lifelong partnership with a famed, female, Scottish singer. Maxwell died in New York in 1963.
Edward Kimball: born June 26, 1859, he was an actor in many silent film movies in the 1920’s and was a stage actor also. Died in Hollywood in 1938.
Edward Alexander: born January 11, 1907, was a historian, author, museum administrator and educator. From 1946 to 1972, he was the vice president for interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. He died in 2003.
Edward John McManus: born February 9, 1920, he served as Lieutenant Governor of Iowa from 1959 to 1961. He ran for governor in 1960 but lost to H.C. Loveless. McManus was nominated by President John Kennedy on June 23, 1962 to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. McManus died in 2017.
Mike Pyle and Palmer Pyle: Palmer born June 6, 1937, Mike born July 18, 1939, The brothers were both NFL players. Palmer played with the Baltimore Colts, Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders in the 60’s. Mike played for the Chicago Bears in the 1960’s. Mike died in 2015.
Frank Steunenberg: born August 8,1861, Frank was the Governor of Idaho from 1897 to 1901. He was assassinated in 1905 by a bomb planted on the gate to his house. A former miner with the Western Federation of Miners was arrested, and tried and convicted of the crime.
Richard Page: born May 16, 1953. Lead singer and bass guitar player for the band ‘Mr. Mister’, a popular group in the 1980’s. He lived in Keokuk briefly before moving with his family elsewhere.
Dave Merrick: born December 8, 1952, Dave is an artist who started his career in 1989. He is known for his western themed work. He currently has a studio in Colorado.
Grace Medes: born November 9, 1886, Grace was a noted biochemist, who discovered tyrosinosis, a metabolic disorder known as tyrosinemia. She died in 1967.
Jeremy Soule: born December 19, 1975, Jeremy is a composer of soundtracks for film, television and video games. He has been extremely successful in the video game market, working on the ‘Harry Potter’ games and others.
Lloyd Steel Lourie: born September 3, 1877, Lloyd was an orthodontist who developed the high labial arch appliance. He was also the President of the American Association of Orthodontists in 1904 and 1905. He died in 1959.
Richard Hutcherson and Ron Hutcherson: Richard was born November 30, 1931, Ron was born April 24, 1934. ‘Dick’ and Ron were part of the famed Keokuk racing members. They were the only ones to actually have been born in Keokuk. They both raced in NASCAR races in the 1960’s. Richard died in 2005.
James Vandenberg: born November 24, 1989, quarterback for the Keokuk Chiefs high school football team, he led Keokuk to a state championship in 2007. While playing high school football, he set many Iowa high school football records including being the single season and career touchdown passes. He later attended University of Iowa, playing as a quarterback for the Hawkeyes. After college he was signed by the Minnesota Vikings, but released before he could play a game.
Others have a claim as ‘from Keokuk’, actors who are seen on the IMDb website here
So these are the famous folks born in Keokuk, even if most of them seemed to leave after a very short while and lived elsewhere.
Lived in Keokuk
Howard Hughes Jr.: born in 1905 in Texas, the eccentric aviator, millionaire and recluse, was baptized in Keokuk on October 7, 1905. He never really lived in Keokuk, but did visit his grandparents several times for extended visits, who did live there. His father, Howard Hughes Sr., did grow up in Keokuk after moving from Lancaster, Missouri where he was born. Howard Jr.’s grandfather was Felix Hughes, a judge and one time mayor of Keokuk.
Ernie Derr: born in 1922, Ernie was a prolific stock car racer in many events held in the United States in the 50’s and 60’s, mainly in the IMCA circuit. His accomplishments, along with others from the area, made Keokuk the ‘Racing Capitol Of The World’ in the 1960’s. He died in 2014.
Don White: born on June 24, 1926, Don was a very successful stock car driver with IMCA and the USAC stock car circuit in the 1950’s and 60’s. Don won the most USAC races in their history, followed by A.J. Foyt. Ernie Derr was his brother-in-law and together they put Keokuk on the map for stock car racing, along with others. Don died in 2016.
Ramo Stott: born on April 6, 1934, Ramo was a successful stock car racer with NASCAR, USAC and ARCA in the 1960’s and 70’s. His greatest achievement was second place at Talladega in 1972.
Craig Moore: born April 15, 1946 was a bass guitar player for the garage band ‘Gonn’ and ‘Ilmo Smokehouse’. The band Gonn released a couple of singles in the 1960’s and later reunited for tours in Europe. The band Gonn has had many members, and many reunions over the years, and was inducted into the Iowa Rock n Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2004. Moore has continued throughout his life in the music business. Gonn later released some albums in 1988, 1996, 1998 and 2008. Ilmo Smokehouse released an album in 1971.
Orion Clemens: born July 17, 1825 Orion was a printer in Keokuk, moving there in 1855. He was the big brother of Samuel Clemens, known more by his pen name Mark Twain. Clemens died in 1897 in Keokuk.
Mark Twain: born November 30, 1835 Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens), lived in Keokuk for maybe a year, or year and a half (1857) working for his big brother in his print shop, before moving on to become world famous writer and lecturer. Twain died in 1910.
Samuel Ryan Curtis: born February 3, 1805, Curtis was a Congressman from Iowa, a veteran of the Mexican-American War and a Major General in the Civil War, he is famous for his victories in the Battle of Pea Ridge (1862) an d Westport (1864). He also served as mayor of Keokuk in the 1850’s. His residence in Keokuk at 2nd and High Street is on the National Register of Historic Places. He died in 1866. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Keokuk and a statue of him, in uniform, on a horse is located in Keokuk on the riverfront.
Chief Keokuk: born around 1788, Keokuk (or Keokuck) was a part of the Sauk or Sac tribe that resided in what is now Eastern and Southeast Iowa. He cooperated with the US government after seeing that the ‘whites’ were an unstoppable force. He later went to Kansas where he died on a reservation in 1848. Before the town was called Keokuk it was called ‘The Foot of the Lower Rapids’, or ‘The Lower Rapids’, or ‘Puck-e-she-tuck’. The town was named after him, presumably by local fur traders, and his remains were returned to Keokuk to be buried in 1883 in Rand Park, where a statue was erected in his honor. It is interesting that the town was named after him while he was still alive.
John Irwin: born on December 25, 1844, Irwin moved to Keokuk as a child. He served in the Civil War, returned to college and then worked at his family’s dry good business in keokuk.He served five terms as Mayor of Keokuk and two terms in the Iowa House of Representatives. He was appointed Governor of the Idaho Territory in 1883, and also the Governor of the Arizona Territory from 1890-1892. He was appointed Minister to Portugal in 1899. Irwin died in 1905 and is buried in Keokuk’s Oakland Cemetery.
James Howell: born on July 4, 1816, Howell was a lawyer, politician and newspaper editor. While living in Keosauqua, Iowa he purchased the ‘Des Moines Valley Whig’ newspaper, in 1849 he moved himself and the newspaper to Keokuk. He renamed the newspaper the ‘Gate City Daily’. He later was named postmaster and also to fill the U.S. Senate position left after the resignation of J.W. Grimes from January 1870 till March 1871. Howell died in 1880 in Keokuk and is buries in Oakland Cemetery.
Hugh Reid: born October 18, 1811, was a General in the Civil War and large landowner of properties in Iowa. He died in Keokuk in 1874 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery.
Passed Through Keokuk
Teddy Roosevelt: Roosevelt stopped in Keokuk on April 29, 1903, October 1, 1907 (while he was President of the United States), and again in 1912.
Jimmy Carter: came thought the lock and dam on the Delta Queen in 1979 and gave a short speech from the deck of the boat, while he was President of the United States.
Most political candidates from 1980 on have made a stop in Keokuk to promote themselves.