Keeping Iowa Weird: Grotto of the Redemption

Geodes, crystal stalactites, Catholic icons in a rocky hand-built cave. Entering the Grotto of the Redemption feels a bit like slipping into a dream, or finding yourself in a giant fish tank decorated by a particularly pious owner. It’s disorientingly beautiful and strange to walk through the Stations of the Cross while the rocks sparkle around you.

We visited the Grotto on Easter morning on our way to Church and an egg hunt in Whittemore, Iowa, where Joe’s grandparents live. Even if you aren’t seeking a religious experience, the Grotto of the Redemption is one of those sites in the state that every Iowan should check off a bucket list! I want to go back and do the full tour and everything at some point.

This June marks the 100th anniversary of the Grotto (there will be festivities!), which was the life’s work of Father Dobberstein, a German priest who built it as a shrine to Mary to fulfill a promise he made while sick with pneumonia and praying to get well.

If you go to the Grotto and aren’t the teetotalling type, I would be remiss to not advise you to stop by the watering hole in Whittemore for a “Whittemore Fog,” a local specialty shot that factors into the parties of the super fun family I married into.

Joe’s uncle Randy sweet talked the bartender into giving us the recipe, and she took me and Joe’s cousin Caitlin into a back room for a lesson in making them. It’s a combination I’d never put together, but somehow it works. Everything is walking distance in Whittemore, so after a few rounds we ambled back to the house under the full moon.

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