Debate still simmers over ‘Field of Dreams’ site
DYERSVILLE – A quarter-century after “Field of Dreams” debuted in movie theaters, the northeastern Iowa farm where it was filmed remains at the center of simmering debates.
The film, which premiered in Iowa 25 years ago Sunday, turned the land into the state’s most famous farm, according to the Des Moines Register.
Against the backdrop of a white, two-story farmhouse and a red barn, Hollywood transformed 3.5 acres of fertile cropland into a magical place where the ghosts of baseball legends could materialize out of the fields.
The movie tells the story of Ray Kinsella, a farmer who tears up some of his corn to build a remote baseball field at the request of a mysterious voice. The field attracts the ghosts, and the voice leads Kinsella – played by Kevin Costner – on a journey that ends up being about more than baseball.
The movie also set off a property dispute that has become bigger and more divisive as years passed.
The latest issue involves an Illinois couple who want to develop the farm around the field into a $74 million baseball and softball complex for traveling youth tournament teams. The proposed All-Star Ballpark Heaven has sparked feuds and lawsuits between neighbors and against the city of Dyersville.
The company behind Ballpark Heaven, Go the Distance Baseball LLC, now owns the 193 acres, but its zoning remains in dispute.
Residents have shed tears in city council meetings. They’ve fought public relations battles on Facebook. The Iowa Legislature stepped into the fray two years ago by offering up to $16.5 million in tax rebates for the proposed Ballpark Heaven. But financing and construction delays have pushed back the projected opening to 2015.
As the debate rages, cast members are scheduled to return in June for the movie’s 25th anniversary celebration.
As much as “Field of Dreams” now seems ingrained in Iowa’s cultural identity, it wasn’t a sure bet that crews would film there. The filmmakers’ agents scouted farms just across the state line, in Nebraska and Illinois, and in locations as far away as Canada.
It was a Canadian, W.P. Kinsella, who dreamed up the tale of “Shoeless Joe” while enrolled at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, the university-town setting for his original short story and eventual 1982 novel.
Filmmakers discovered the field in 1987 with help from Sue Riedel, who taught speech and theater for 38 years at Hempstead High School in Dubuque.
Riedel was a local volunteer for the Iowa Film Office, a state government effort to lure Hollywood business to Iowa’s prairie. She was deployed to crisscross the dusty gravel roads of northeast Iowa in search of the perfect example of agricultural eye candy for the silver screen.
Riedel knocked on the door of the farmhouse, home to the family of Joe Lansing and his descendants since 1906. She explained to Joe’s grandson, Don Lansing, that she had sent a photo of the farm to Universal Studios. The studio might want to come make a movie.
“I was born and raised here, lived here all my life,” Lansing told the newspaper. “And one day you get a knock on the door, and it changed my life forever.”
Don Lansing, 71, still is found most days on a lawn mower or tractor, tending to the Field of Dreams and his former farmstead, even though he and his wife, Becky, sold the land in 2012.