For 15 weeks during the summer of 1988, a few people went to a cornfield in Iowa to make a movie about baseball. So, I thought it fun that my visit coincided to the 30th anniversary of the making of Field of Dreams movie. The movie was released a year later.

I remember seeing the movie at a drive-in theater in the summer of 1989. Even though it had been almost 30 years since I’d seen the film, I remembered the iconic baseball field surrounded by rows of corn. I remembered the farm house. More than 90% of filming took place in those two locations. So, visiting the movie set was like taking a step back in time. Except for the addition of a little gift shop building, things looked as they did in the movie.

If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, it’s worth your time to watch it again.

A Knock on an Iowa Farmhouse Door

The story begins in December 1987 with a knock on a farmhouse door. Don Lansing’s world was about to change dramatically and in ways the Iowa farmer never could’ve imagined. A location scout, working with the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Iowa Film Board, told Mr. Lansing a movie might be made in the area and asked if she could take a few pictures of his farm.

After a few inquiries and because he liked baseball, he consented. Many farms were considered but a few months after the knock on the door, Mr. Lansing’s farm was selected and he signed a contract with Hollywood.

His farm turned out to be perfect. The one required feature of the future movie location was a long road into the farmhouse. The reason? The last scene of the movie. More on that in a bit.

Field of Dreams: Movie Set and the Tour

Mr. Lansing’s farm is in Dyersville, a town 30 miles west of Dubuque. I think because the Dubuque Chamber found the location, plus the proximity, plus the fact that the non-farmhouse scenes were filmed in Dubuque is the reason Dubuque promotes the tourist attraction as if it were its own. When Ray tracks down Terrance Mann, for example. Those scenes were filmed in Dubuque.

Baseball signed by James Earl Jones.

Baseball signed by James Earl Jones.

You can think of the attraction as two parts. And you can do either or both. First, there is the baseball field itself. Visiting and playing on it is free. In the open air gift shop bats and gloves are available for rent. Baseballs are available for purchase. The tour of the farmhouse itself is the second part. It costs $20.

I experienced both, though I didn’t play baseball. I watched a father and son play. The tour of the farmhouse was great. The farmhouse scenes took place predominately on the porch, in the kitchen, living room and dining room. The other room on the first floor is a second dining room, used now as a movie memento area. The upstairs rooms, originally bedrooms, are now used for offices. The entire tour takes place in the dining and living rooms. So, this isn’t a high step tour if you are tracking steps for exercise.

In the memento dining room you’ll find a curio cabinet with both baseball and movie memorabilia. I suppose I must confess to not being much of a baseball fan. So, some of the displays were lost on me. I enjoyed a baseball signed by James Earl Jones, who played Terrance Mann, though.

In the living room, Field of Dreams plays on a continuous loop. But it remains on mute. Why, you might ask. Guests tend to watch and listen to the movie, instead of watch and listen to the tour guide.

Tour guide at Field of Dreams movie set in a 1919 White Sox baseball uniform.

Clarence. Field of Dreams movie set tour guide in his 1919 White Sox uniform.

Speaking of the tour guide. He’s a kick. Clarence dresses in a 1919 White Sox wool uniform. In an Iowa summer, you have to call that dedication. Even though you only take about 100 steps on the tour, he makes sure you get your money’s worth with tons of movie trivia. I cannot give everything away, but I’ll share a couple of fun tidbits.

Remember the ending of the movie? Worrying about money and possibly losing the farm, Ray and Annie decide to charge people to come watch the ghost players play ball. That’s how they envision saving their farm. They wonder if people will come. Then the camera pans up, looking down on that long road into the farmhouse. It is filled with a line of cars.

Here’s the fun tidbit: the very first car in that long line was driven by Mr. Lansing, the owner of the farm.

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner was a huge star at the time and he was the producers’ number one choice for the role of Ray. They were sure he wouldn’t take it though because he’d just made another baseball movie. Bull Durham.

But they offered it to him. And to their delight, he accepted the role. He was smart enough to understand Field of Dreams (though at the time it was still being called Shoeless Joe after the book by WP Kinsella it was based on) was a baseball movie about more than baseball. It was about the complex relationship between a father and a son. And ultimately, it was a movie about redemption.

Baseball field at the Field of Dreams movie set in Dubuque, Iowa.

Baseball field taken from the farmhouse porch. Can you see the corn beyond the outfield?

The story I got the biggest kick out of, indirectly, was about Costner. Toward the end of the shoot, they were getting tight on time. The movie had to wrap up on time because Costner was scheduled to start filming another iconic movie, Dances with Wolves.

To increase the filming time, they brought in tons of super bright movie lights to mimic daylight in order to shoot daylight scenes at night. But they were in the middle of farm land. Can you guess what happened?

I’ll give you a hint. Similar confusion happens during an eclipse.

It messed with the surrounding farm animals’ minds. After all, they don’t own or know how to read clocks. In Hollywood land, they might have been mimicking daylight but in animal land they thought it was real daylight. And the animals started in with their daytime noises. Mooing. Cock-a-doodle-doing. The animals’ “good morning, world” sounds were picked up on film. This was in the day before isolating different sounds to manipulate the final product was possible.

In other words, their brilliant idea was an epic fail. I guess no one told the animals Hollywood had come to town.

Can’t you just see it? That cracks me up.

Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa

After Hollywood packed up and left town, Mr. Lansing expected life to go back to normal. He expected to return to his pre-Hollywood life as a farmer.

Field of Dreams gift shop.

Outdoor gift shop where you can purchase memorabilia, rent bats and glove, and, of course, purchase the movie.

But that was not to be.

Following the movie’s release, he got another knock on his door. This time it was a group of Japanese tourists. They’d come to see the ball field and the farm house. Mr. Lansing kindly showed them around and even gave them baggies to take a handful of ball field dirt back to Japan.

Another group followed. And another. Soon Mr. Lansing realized, he wasn’t an Iowa farmer any longer. He was a tourist attraction. He adjusted his life accordingly with the addition of the outdoor gift shop and tour guides.

A few years back, Mr. Lansing sold the farm / movie set.

Final Thoughts

Ray Loves Annie carved into wood from Field of Dreams movie set.

Ray Loves Annie carved into one of the benches of the bleachers.

As I sat on the bench looking out over the Field of Dreams ball field, I couldn’t help but reflect on why some movies get us in the gut. Why, after 30 years, do people (65,000 annually) still flock to a baseball field in the middle of Iowa farm country? What is the drive? It certainly doesn’t look any different from any other baseball field in America. Well, except for the corn past the outfield.

I’m not sure I know the answer. But here I have two thoughts. The first comes from a line in the movie. Build it and he (they, in this case) will come. Had Mr. Lansing plowed the baseball field and went back to growing corn, the hubbub would’ve died down pretty quickly and people would’ve stopped visiting. That’s the practical answer.

The other answer speaks to hearts and guts and minds of movie and baseball fans. The other answer is that Field of Dreams movie is a baseball movie that isn’t about baseball at all.

To see products recently purchased by readers or to browse and shop at Amazon, follow either of these links. Huge thanks for your support.