Photo of the belfry of the Sheldall School, in Story City, Iowa

Weekly Gem #81 One room, one story, many stories

Published 7/30/2016

Location:   This 'hidden gem' is located near the intersection of Hillcrest Drive and Broad Street in Story City, Iowa (see Clue Me! Map).  Iowa was an early and ardent educator of its youth. In fact, to ensure universal access to schooling, Iowa state law at one time required a school every two miles. As a result, 12,000 schools like the Sheldall School popped up across the state, and gave students ample opportunity to learn their lessons.

And of course, lessons learned need not only be inside the school, as demonstrated by this particular hidden gem.

Imagine the teacher, watching the student advancing with his lunch bucket, on home-made stilts that put the student on level with the belfry. What could go wrong?

Well, according to Nehemias Tjernagel (an eye witness to the bell ringing and face planting):

"Sometimes we would walk on stilts, but only a few proved to be expert at it. One of the older boys was long and lanky and athletic to a degree, and when with his enormous stilts he swung along-side the school house, shook hands with the chimney and sat by the belfry to eat his dinner, we thought he was the greatest acrobat ever. He would rise and crow gleefully like a self-confident rooster when he had finished his meal, then stride majestically forward. But on one occasion he was too cock-sure in his movements, causing him to break one of his stilts. The mishap flung him forward thrice the length of his body before he was properly flattened out on the ground."

A nice lesson in physics, including gravity, acceleration, and Newton's first law of motion (the part about any object in motion will stay in motion, unless something stops it).

And that's just one of the many stories of the Sheldall School.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


Sheldall Belfry


The belfry of the Sheldall School

Why It's Interesting

There are lots of interesting things about this one room school house, but you may not hear this story if you visit. According to legend and Nehemias Tjernagel, it was during the 'stilts' craze of (about) 1870. One fellow had long enough stilts that he was able to walk up next to the school and sit by the belfry for lunch.

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